Right around when this new Higurashi shifts back into material from the original story, it’s right at the moment where everything starts to unravel for Hinamizawa. With the Cotton Drifting Festival’s passing, Detective Ooishi makes his move to get closer to Keiichi and give him the right amount of intel to be thoroughly suspicious of Rena.
Yes, I am dedicating paragraphs to the “USO DA!” scene. Higurashi’s bubbly school-life moments don’t get you too prepared for the news that Hinamizawa and the Festival are tied to a number of deaths and disappearances. But Rena pegging Keiichi for all of the secrets he’s been hiding is the event horizon for the series. The point where there might be some fun scenes here and there, but you would never pay attention to them because you’ll be on-edge about how much the girls know about Keiichi’s suspicions of Oyashiro’s curse and who will be the next ones “demoned away”.
Keiichi thinks he has the upper hand by being the one person that has contact with Ooishi by himself. But just as Keiichi is getting upset that Rena might be lying about how much she knows about Oyashiro, she directs questions right back at him about what Ooishi had told him about her, about her friends, and about the town. And right when he’s about to deflect to evade suspicion, she gives a startling shout, calling him a liar and telling him to watch himself.
But with the visual novel format, this shift in tone is communicated most effectively through the art’s transition from a cutesy, early 00’s school life aesthetic to the blank, piercing stares that Keiichi and the girls face along the way. With anime though, the transition is far easier to track with how much of an audiovisual focus there is on keeping the atmosphere intense when the point of no return is near.
In the first anime, it was difficult to hide the sense of dread when the art style had a somber, faded aesthetic. You still had chibi cuteness, but imagining that these characters would eventually have their faces completely distorted with madness wasn’t a reach. Nonetheless, because the story was operating off of a different mode of creating dread, it was still unexpected. You had Keiichi slowly peeling back the mysteries of Hinamizawa through subtle hints and conversations, and then suddenly, the subtlety and subterfuge is interrupted with a loud, abrupt shout. Rena’s creepy blank stare had been more prominent in the old anime, but nothing prepared you for the rabid dog expression on her face when she shouted “USO DA!”. It was startling in comparison to anything else, like someone banging their fist onto a table. From that point forward, Rena had appeared either with a blank stare or a rabid look on her face, as if she was biding her time before she could rip Keiichi apart.
With this new anime, the same events play out faithfully. Keiichi pries for info, Rena exposes his secrecy and hits him with the “USO DA!” before putting him in his place. But this is where all this talk about animation comes full circle. I’ve been skeptical about how the new anime’s art style would pull off some of the crazier scenes since it embraced the bubbly aspects of the story with its pastel colors and cuter character designs on-par with contemporary SOL anime. But that’s exactly how the visual novel let your guard down.
This adaptation focused so much on the fun and downplayed any of the moments where Rena or Mion took Keiichi’s prying personally that it made for a pleasant surprise to see that the animation style had it in them to make the characters look creepy. It made it all the more unsettling when they stopped going for blank stares or mouth shots and committed to having Rena look like she was ready to devour Keiichi right then and there. Having Rena’s “USO DA!” face the viewer instead of hanging onto her side profile is also a wonderful decision. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had goosebumps right when they showed her shouting face and it looked nearly spot-on with the eerie version that was in the manga.
Based on the remainder of the episode, it’s also reassuring to see that the paranoid tone is maintained until the very last scene. From there, it kept up the momentum with Keiichi getting more and more paranoid as the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together far too late for him to process everything. Right after Keiichi is lectured by Rena, Ooishi calls him up to tell him all about Rena’s troubled past right at the moment his parents invited her in to eavesdrop on him. It’s interesting to get some screen time for Keiichi’s parents, but his amused banter about Keiichi getting to know Rena is immediately undercut by the realization that she had gone up the stairs and heard everything that Ooishi was telling Keiichi.
What Higurashi’s first arc did best was build that sense of dread from how much our main character is out of the loop on the house of cards that are slowly collapsing on him as he tries to find out the reason for the deaths and disappearances of people in Hinamizawa. Knowing Rena has insight on the secrets Keiichi is keeping from her is one thing, but having the knowledge that she definitely heard him talking to a detective about how she keeps blabbing about Oyashiro and had to move after she smashed windows at her old school builds a whole new sense of anxiety for the viewer. How is she going to respond to Keiichi the next time she sees him? How dead is Keiichi now that she’s making homicidal cat-eyes at the camera? We’ll find out when the next episode rolls out.