*Contains spoilers for Higurashi When They Cry, Higurashi When They Cry – Kai, and Higurashi When They Cry – Gou*
In his essay on “Anti-Mystery and Anti-Fantasy” (included in 07th Expansion booklet released at Comiket 74), the creator of When They Cry series Ryukishi07 discussed about an issue called “Later Queen Problem” in mystery fiction. The problem is named after Ellery Queen, but we wouldn’t delve into why it’s named that way and instead focus more on the gist of the problem as explained by Ryukishi07 and how it factors in his works. When it comes to mystery fiction, specifically the kind known in Japan as “honkaku” or “orthodox” mystery that can be traced back to the Golden Age of Western detective fiction, the genre is treated by its enthusiasts as a form of intellectual game between the author and the reader. The reader has a chance to supposedly be able to solve the puzzle of the mystery presented in the story on their own before the solution is revealed at the end of the story.
This game, however, rests on the assumption that the author plays fair with the reader and completely reveals during the course of the story all the information that the readers would need to potentially deduce the correct solution themselves. But what if that’s not the case? How can we be sure that all the information presented in the course of the story is all the information there is, not missing some unknown details somewhere?
What if the author introduces a new information about the mystery after the story has ended, that completely changes the solution to the mystery in the story?
To demonstrate this, Ryukishi07 brought up the paired arcs “Watanagashi-hen” of Higurashi: When They Cry and “Meakashi-hen” of Higurashi: When They Cry – Kai. In “Watanagashi-hen,” Rena deduced who the culprit was, and said culprit conceded to Rena’s deduction. Rena’s conclusion is sound, consistent with the available information of the story, and with the suspected culprit admitting to it, it can pretty much be accepted as the right answer of the mystery at that time.
Then came “Meakashi-hen,” which appeared to retell the story of “Watanagashi-hen” (almost) identically, but told from a different characters’ perspective that revealed information Rena was not aware of. The new information changed the truth about who the real culprit of that particular scenario was. To further hammer the point home, Ryukishi07 then proposed a hypothetical future where he wrote more new chapter for a “Higurashi: When They Cry – Shin,” that add new information about “Watanagashi-hen” and “Meakashi-hen” that would again, change who the real culprit was.
That is in sum how Ryukishi07 portray the “Later Queen Problem.” We can perhaps see this problem as an epistemological problem (a problem of what can be known in mystery fiction and how) that has ontological consequences (it disturbs what mystery fiction is understood to be, since the genre’s definition is tied to its epistemology). What Ryukishi07 refers to as “anti-mystery” is a skepticism that a complete answer or knowledge is actually possible in mystery fiction, since it cannot be guaranteed with absolute certainty that all of the information needed to reach the answer is already complete within the story. Even what the author says about their story might not be reliable as the so-called “Word of God,” as a sly author could just add new information about the story at some later time.
The impossibility of “mystery” is a central theme in Ryukishi07’s post-Higurashi work Umineko: When They Cry. But with a new Higurashi anime series coming out in 2020 (funny to think that after remembering the hypothetical “Higurashi: When They Cry – Shin”), it’s interesting to think how the “Later Queen Problem” factors in how Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou (as the new anime turns out to be called) fashions its twist, particularly to longtime audience that have consumed past Higurashi media.
The first arc of Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou, “Onidamashi-hen,” appears to follow many identical plot points and other elements from Higurashi: When They Cry‘s very first arc, “Onikakushi-hen.” The distinctive feature of “Onikakushi-hen,” as discussed with Frederica Bernkastel in the intro of “Minagoroshi-hen,” is that Keiichi got increasingly driven mad by paranoia as he suspected his Hinamizawa friends for keeping secrets from him, to the point where he was convinced that Rena and Mion conspired to hurt him.
Even though “Onidamashi-hen” has some noticeable differences in events and actions (like how Keiichi didn’t converse with Tomitake and Takano at the night of Watanagashi), the overall trajectory is still similar with Keiichi gradually becoming more suspicious of his friends throughout episodes three and four. But the anime also draws our attention to Rika’s reactions that indicate she is noticing the “doom flag” of “Onikakushi-hen” showing up again through Keiichi’s changing behaviour. Thus, with the knowledge Rika has from the experience of “Onikakushi-hen,” she goes ahead to calm down Keiichi, defusing his suspicion toward Rena and others before it reaches breaking point.
But as “Onidamashi-hen” reaches its climax, it implies that the knowledge from “Onikakushi-hen” is not complete. As mentioned above, previous discussion on “Onikakushi-hen” emphasizes Keiichi’s paranoid suspicion that leads to him killing Rena and Mion, who just keep the mysterious deaths of Hinamizawa secret from him to not make him worry. Taken like that, it seems that defusing Keiichi’s suspicion would be the only interference needed to avoid the bad ending of “Onikakushi-hen.” But “Onidamashi-hen” casts some doubts on what has been known about the former arc, by making Rena hurt Keiichi after he decides to trust her and let her come inside his house to (supposedly) deliver food while his parents are away.
While there are indeed noticeable differences between “Onidamashi-hen” and “Onikakushi-hen,” the overall similarity between them made it possible to question again the situations in the former. What if, Keiichi’s paranoia aside, perhaps Rena had indeed, intended to hurt Keiichi at some point in “Onikakushi-hen” too? If so, whether Keiichi continued to doubt Rena and Mion or if he had chosen to trust them, the scenario would still result in some form of bad end for them either way, just in different ways. Rika has apparently fallen victim to the “Later Queen Problem” by making her interference based only on one possible bad end.
This twist has made following Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou anime pretty exciting for me as someone who has seen past Higurashi media, since the existing frames of reference longtime fans have from those past media can instead be used to twist expectations toward the story of the new anime. It also reminds me of the time when I had finished reading a collection of stories from Edogawa Ranpo, who’s credited as one of the writers who introduced honkaku mystery in Japan. None of the stories included in that particular collection is actually a classical “whodunit” mystery, even the one that involves detective investigating a crime. But they still made me think about the idea of “mystery” in general in a different way, since the strange and bizarre situations told in them feel like they put the limits of human knowledge and understanding to the test. Perhaps we could think that the Higurashi series is carrying a similar spirit of “mystery,” by making us question again what we think we can know or understand about it, rather than making us feel as though everything can be completely known and explained with absolute certainty.
“I cannot quench your thirst because the truth that you expect does not exist” -Frederica Bernkastel
Facts and Figures
|Alternate Title(s)||Higurashi no Naku Koro ni – Gou
|Original Work||Visual novel by 07th Expansion|
|Cast||Chafurin as Kuraudo Ooishi
Mai Nakahara as Rena Ryuuguu
Mika Kanai as Satoko Hojo
Miki Ito as Miyo Takano
Satsuki Yukino as Mion and Shion Sonozaki
Souichiro Hoshi as Keiichi Maebara
Toru Ohkawa as Jiro Tomitake
Toshihiko Seki as Kyousuke Irie
Yukari Tamura as Rika Furude
|Director||Keiichiro Kawaguchi (Hayate the Combat Butler, Sket Dance, Nurse Witch Komugi R, Citrus, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart)|
|Scenario||Naoki Hayashi (A3!, Flip Flappers, Blackfox)|
|Character Design||Akio Watanabe (Nurse Witch Komugi, Monogatari series, The World God Only Knows)|
|Music||Kenji Kawai (When They Cry – Higurashi (2006-2007 anime), Fate/stay night, Eden of the East)|
|Opening Theme||“I believe what you said” by Asaka|
|Ending Theme||“Higurashi no Naku Koro ni” by Eiko Shimamiya (EP 1 only)
“Kamisama no Syndrome” by Ayane
|Studio||Passione (Citrus, High School DxD Hero, Interspecies Reviewers)|
|Broadcast Date||1 October 2020 (1430 GMT/2130 WIT/2230 JST)|
The Indonesian Anime Times | Written by Halimun Muhammad | This opinion is the personal views of the author and does not represent the views and editorial policy of The Indonesian Times or KAORI Nusantara