Each volume of Higurashi: When They Cry manages to be both entertaining and a fascinating intellectual exercise. After all, how many ways can you kill off the majority of your cast and still create a satisfying narrative arc that can sustain reader surprise and shock? The conclusion of the “Cotton Drifting Arc,” however, goes above and beyond mere “exercise” and reaches the level of pure horror perfection.
Unlike the first arc, which seems like a mindless bloodbath in comparison, the Cotton Drifting Arc is a tale of overwhelming suspense; a feeling which grows heavier and more terrifying through the course of the volume. Keiichi makes a terrible and innocent mistake the night of the Cotton Drifting Festival — he “trespasses” on sacred ground, a temple where town outsiders are not allowed to enter. Since he enters the temple with three other people, it seems like the Oyashiro (the demon’s) curse — in which the night of the town’s yearly festival one person is killed — would be the perfect and fitting end for all four of them.
However, in this arc things don’t go that smoothly….the beating heart of this tale is pumped by a constant and rising anxiety about who might know about Keiichi’s little transgression and how a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. Keiichi’s made such an innocent and harmless mistake but his actions create a spreading stain of evil which spreads out from that night and touches Keiichi’s friends and pretty much everything he holds dear. Because Keiichi is left alive after those near seem to vanish off the face of the earth, he struggles to reason his way through what is happening. As the narrative progresses, he circles closer and closer to the truth behind not only the death of his friends and acquaintances, but the disturbing and disgusting symbolism behind the ritual of the Cotton Drifting Festival. (Let’s just say the ritual of sending cotton pieces drifting along a river will never seem innocent ever again).
This was a spectacularly creepy volume — I hardly breathed while I raced through the pages of the book, watching Keiichi’s attempt to reason his way out of trouble fail miserably in the face of madness and evil. Unlike the first arc, which was a kind of boody massacre tour de force, this volume ends up being much more of a mind-screw, with blood taking a back-seat to a horror show of the mind. I can’t recommend this disturbing thrill ride highly enough, particularly to you horror fans out there.
Review Copy provided by Yen Press.
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