Higanbana had a terrible start with a forgettable manga that I proceeded to drop faster than a gold ingot from a cliff. It became easy to realize so much of the story was being left out. I thought to myself, this is not the Higanbana I want to read. This is not the Higanbana I’m meant to read.
The very first bad impression
If you’re reading this I would ask you to Please stop reading the manga and read the visual novel instead.
With confidence I can say that personally and for many Higanbana no Saku Yoru Ni has had a bad rap since it came out on 2010. When the manga started I lost interest in it after seeing the story was an empty display of ruthless with lack of depth. It’s no exaggeration that Higanbana did extremely poorly based on the manga. The art was beyond redemption, the characters were unlikeable, the story felt uninspired, since then a lot of things have changed. What changed? The release of the visual novel.
Higanbana is no easy read and it does not try to be one. It deals with depressing, sensitive, and emotional themes as the manga first showed, however, the difference between the two is still tremendous. It is easy to see the difference when the Visual novel takes its time explaining events instead of rushing through them as the manga does. Higanbana takes time to get used to and like many 07th Expansion stories and it starts slowly. Chapter 1 is the hardest obstacle in getting into Higanbana no Saku Yoru Ni as few of the elements that make the story better don’t exist at that point. It is better to think of the 1st Chapter as a mandatory introduction to the story and one that explains two of the main characters.
For the concerned and natural skeptic this is the message: The quality does start to show after the first chapter. Higanbana is not for everyone.
Higanbana has a general story about encounters between youkai and humans in a supernatural driven school ordinary humans don’t normally notice. Higanbana’s story is told in Chapters instead of the standard “full story”. A system I was initially concerned about as I feared the story would feel all over the place. That was not the case. Higanbana’s chapter system actually improves the story by featuring different stories (for a total of seven) in which new characters and youkais are introduced, meaning in every one of them new main characters as well as villains are introduced in each story.
Higanbana brings a new set up for 07th Expansion main works. The idea works because it feels like a new story is starting and it feels like you just started reading the story again. Certainly, Higanbana reads as a compilation of stories or “tales” instead of the standard continuous string of linear story. In a way without the chapter system Higanbana would have been a weaker story otherwise. Not because it would feel unfitting but because the chapters system allow it to jump through different stories without losing additional consistency. Because of this it works fine, as though not the events are strictly linear, all the scattered chapters are actually connected to the main story.
Themes. I’ve mentioned in more than one occasion while writing about Ryukishi07’s stories, that his works are truly a mixed bag of emotions. What made Higurashi and Umineko complex stories were the multi-layers and themes to it which always managed to keep a “smart balance”. Initially they all play out as regular and positive stories before they spiral into deeper psychological mysteries. Despair. Misanthropy. Ryukishi07 has and makes great points in his stories which he explains thoroughly until the credits roll and beyond. Turning it around, it can be also be a minus for many when it drags on and on, sometimes also interpreted as ‘preachy writing’ as best seen in Umineko EP6 and EP8. Despite dealing with strong emotional themes all of the When they Cry stories posses dark tones however they are conscious that balance is a crucial part in their stories. The recurring themes in 07th Expansion stories are grim but not without their positive counterparts, the grimmer elements and themes tell a story, hardly failing to send a powerful message. The positive elements are to remind you that there is another side to the coin. Seeing both of them is truly knowing both sides of the coin.
The points made in Higanbana as well as in other When They Cry stories are well welcomed, yet Higanbana suffers from a fatal flaw – it lacks diversity. Higanbana abuses the use of recurring themes that it quickly becomes repetitive. It drives its point home and drives it many times over. What I want to say is and I say it regrettably, “Higanbana doesn’t know when to stop.” Higanbana knows its main theme and explains it well to all readers yet it keeps going. To many this could be considered a great minus even after being perfectly aware of this being Higanbana’s main theme therefore why it is so focused on it. Nevertheless after many stories the feeling of wishing for “greater variety” is always present. Higanbana does more than a decent job trying to mix it up, however while reading many will want something different every now and then. The chapters I enjoyed the most in Higanbana were more than the average tragedies presented, they had smart and shocking twists.
Older stories, the origins of some of the youkai entities, a what-if scenario, youkais from different schools – Higanbana can do more with its universe. This is the recurring idea many will think when reading story. It is not that Higanbana ignores variety completely. It is the recurring idea of thinking that Higanbana’s story can do more with its universe.
One of the decisive moments Higanbana’s story starts shining
Critiquing Higanbana on its characters is not the easiest feat. If past 07th Expansion games are full of dark and evil forces, the characters in Higanbana can be downright odious and vile. This goes beyond the the idea of liking a character but studying them as characters based on their role. Part of what makes complex villains are their motives and “who they are” as characters. Higanbana’s villains are downright disturbed, twisted, wicked by nature. That puts the story in a bad situation as all sides are too extreme and there are few explanations. Most of the characters are guilty and the youkai are blatantly twisted. In several scenarios the main characters are victims and the youkai are the puppet masters. There is an unbalanced force of evil vs good in Higanbana that the story will make the readers think that there are only villains in the story and very few allies if any at all. I’ll say it outright, there are almost no ‘good-natured characters’ in the story, that is to say, the characters are flawed, mentally deranged, or victims of fate. Everyone starts out as deeply twisted or are victims of their demented world ignited by supernatural forces and an amoral society. Beware those looking comfort as Higanbana’s world have a limited supply of ‘likeable characters’. After reading it one realizes that it isn’t about likeable characters but rather about characters who are intriguing than others.
Higanbana isn’t devoid of good-natured characters but you may have trouble finding one to (and this is the key word) ‘constantly’ cheer for. As the main character Marie acts the savior and protector of the weak in the story. Initially she is a weak, pitiful, and a helpless character that it is hard to see how she may grow in the story. Marie’s character and resolution considerably grows when she understands the mistakes of her methods and why it is so difficult to change things. That is an interesting thing that the story does – properly handling Marie’s character by trial and error. If by the start of the story one found her to be nothing special, by the end of the story one realizes that Marie, besides from her official main character position, is essential to the Higanbana universe. It so happens that many of the best moments in Higanbana Saku Yoru Ni are those featuring Marie struggling both failing and succeeding at changing an otherwise wrapped world one step at the time.
The main character is Higanbana herself and more of a lead than Marie is. Higanbana is mysterious. Higanbana is cruel. Higanbana is mischievous. Higanbana fills many roles in the story making by far not one-dimensional. Higanbana herself is not ‘good’ and we’d be fools to believe she is, not to mention the story is perfectly aware of it and that’s not the point. Partly what the story teaches the readers is that some figures in the world are not good, however, in time and by experience one learns there are worse figures. Higanbana no Saku Yoru Ni submerges itself, follows and enters deep into the ‘lesser evil’ territory. It follows the Law of the fittest, “that’s how the world works”, and snappy unwritten deal with it messages.
Higanbana is an intriguing character. I personally didn’t find myself as enthralled in Higanbana’s mysterious personality as I wished mainly due to Higanbana feeling much like a Bernkastel ver.2 making it a plus and minus. A plus if one is looking for something similar and a minus because Higanbana’s character doesn’t feel as original or complex as intended. This does not take away as much as it sounds from Higanbana’s character but it is one detail that have to be mentioned because she is such an important character to the story. This is a point that must be stressed.
At her core Higanbana’s character is the most mysterious character in the story by sending mixed messages. Despite having the most character interactions in the story Higanbana remains a not fully understood character. Higanbana does feel like a Bernkastel ver.2 (I’d say almost done deliberately) but small differences in their personalities prove they are not alike. The story will make the readers question Higanbana’s character and her consistency as there are Chapters that give one different ideas of who Higanbana is. To that I say that there’s a level of realism to the lunacy Higanbana no Saku Yoru Ni presents. Higanbana plays by the rules of her world. She can be an ally or foe and she will act depending on the situation. It is best to remember it.
The music pieces in 7th Expansion works are always top-notch. It’s no surprise that Higanbana was expected to be of great quality. The First Night also proves to be a mixed experience. On one hand, there are spectacular from composers such as Dai, M Zakky and Pre-holder that set the mood right. Despite the quality of some great pieces, mostly unfortunately some BGM pieces in the game sometimes don’t stand out enough. One may feel like one is listening the same or a similar track in more than one occasion. This is not always the case but one may get that idea. After listening to the OST I found that there is a decent variety in the pieces. Regrettably, I found that some pieces weren’t featured as much as others did. That said, Higanbana music probably won’t blow you away but they are nothing to sneer at. The darker, sinister, mysterious and always hypnotizing, nebulous “as if in limbo” pieces are undoubtedly memorable and will make you think of Higanbana even after you’re done reading. As expected of 07th Expansion’s works the musical pieces are nothing to sneer at and enough to recommend listening to after completing the main story.
It’s tricky to be positive about a so-thoroughly negative story and Higanbana doesn’t necessarily lends itself to discussion. One gets the feeling there are too many recurring “Dafuq and You Mad, Bro?” moments in Higanbana throughout the story. My biggest criticism is that The 1st Night needed balanced. The one-sided and and black or white mindset the story can put the readers was over the top. The lack of a mystery angle leaves little room for theory-weaving and how conclusive the stories are limit further discussions. Higanbana is fairly conclusive after all. It is really a story.
Despite the many Umineko comparisons Higanbana reminds one more to Higurashi than the former or one similar to the darker parts of Umineko that reminds one of what Higurashi’s world was. It is overwhelming, one-sided, the story is from a character’s POV. The world is illogical and brutal, twisted – deeply insane. Like an inescapable worst kakera.
Higanbana does differ from Higurashi and Umineko as it is less complex and more direct.The weakest link in Higanbana as characters go is that how everyone else was mainly a victim or a downright pathological villain. Its vision is black or white. That’s worrying because there is no middle ground and no middle ground means there is only one option to take. Higanbana’s story still mainly sees black or white but among those there are memorable anti-heroes and antagonists.
The following may sound more negative than it really is. “It is interesting yet I don’t think it is meant to be enjoyed.” Stories usually are meant to be enjoyed or give a message to the reader. Higanbana is very much the latter. It deals with strong, sensitive and very dark themes from start to finish. And these are not to be taken lightly. As someone who has read 07th expansion works before I cannot guarantee many will like Higanbana no Saku Yoru Ni. To 07th Expansion fans it will feel like a group of “Worst Fragments thrown together”. Higanbana is not an easy experience. It’s not meant to be an easy experience. I would highly not recommend it to newcomers to 07th Expansion works because it only shows a bit of what they’re about and what they can do. I can’t blame many readers or walking away but I would strongly ask them to finish the whole EP before making their final decision.
Higanbana is not an easygoing experience, it is an intriguing read.
Higanbana is a far cry from masterpiece nor is one of the Ryukishi07’s better works. Currently, there are only two Episodes to Higanbana no Saku Yoru Ni in total as far as I know and so Higanbana’s story is fairly conclusive and so the First Night showed a great deal of what this new story is. I enjoyed the Chapter system, connecting chapters, the clever BGM pieces. The First Night was an OK experience often relying on shocking factors and lacking some variety and with plenty of room for improvements and exploration.
One thing to be glad about is reading Higanbana in its full visual novel version as the manga left so much to desire. I gave it a 7 out of 10 and was the 25th person to finish it on vndb in the first week after the eng patch was released. For me, Higanbana no Saku Yoru Ni is more intriguing from a social and psychological point of view than as a story.
One last thing to mention is that Higanbana was written a something of a quick project, if not a short conclusive story unlike the much more complex When they Cry series, therefore Higanbana is not a total lackluster and not out of this world but at its best it can hold its own. You will not be seeing Ryukishi07’s bringing his A-game to Higanbana but you will see fragments in the best chapters. There are enough twists to keep everyone entertained and Higanbana has its strong moments where readers really get those mind-boggling moments where unequivocally one remembers why we follow 07th Expansion works.