Being a Higanbana Beta Tester I had my first Higanbana the 2nd Night dose quite early and after reading it I can say that the 2nd Night is a vast improvement from the first title, but it is still no mystery that Higanbana lacks serious prominence among VN readers even among 07th Expansion readers.
Higanbana is still the odd cousin out of the 07thExpansion family. Pretty awkward, not as cool, or prominent and not many give it a proper chance. Factions are often divided between “love it” or perpetually “hate it”. Chances are that when someone is reading this at this moment this is one of the few places where one will find something of a review of one of 07th Expansion’s less popular works. The general response compared to its more popular titles is of simple acknowledging that it exists and expressing silent okays. In which case, this is probably you, my dear 07th Expansion reader, not expressing evident excitement.
Better flow, Better Stories (Again, Skip the Terrible Manga)
At this point, anyone who has read the first novella knows what to expect from the tales of school supernatural beings, troubled kids, and dickish scumbags middle school teachers. The result? Much more positive than the 1st Night. Thing is, Higanbana is not nearly as bad as it has been made out to be. But if we’re talking first impressions then Higanbana didn’t make a great one in the past. Saved for two chapters from the 1st Night, the quality was somewhat above average. The approach was too strong that it suffocated the reader. The writing was excessively bleak even by 07th Expansion standards. But the problem is not as much the miserably depressing content as lacking the – right balance – between disorder and harmony that made the other titles successful pieces. The result was a gritty supernatural novella that sporadically made you wish you weren’t reading it.
Then the 2nd Night comes and everything became relatively better.
The foundation set by the former makes the transition smoother, centering on new events rather than always starting from zero makes the experience easier and meeting again known characters adds a nice touch so that not everything the reader read before is forgotten. Lastly, all known youkai figures are presented making the 2nd Night feel like a more complete project. Finally, everything starts to come together. But in doing so it also seems like the story is complete.
The Really Good : Finally Toning Down the Grimdark
Saying that the dark elements are heavy in Higanbana is as much as an understatement like saying that the Korsakoff’s syndrome might be something of a trying condition. The 1st Night was a den of dark, grimy, pulsing negativity from some forgotten well. It was too much. Utterly too much to the point of unnecessarily being so.
Not perhaps but definitely, the greatest accomplishment of the 2nd Night along with solidifying what it already built is – reducing the amount of colossal soul shattering negativity that could make the most positive person question humanity as a whole. This point is especially, categorically, mentioned because it is in fact the reason why a large number of VN readers skip Higanbana. The extreme negativity. The apathy. The depressing elements that just seem to be there to be depressing. Take a look around and you’ll find that it is not as much as the quality of the novel but the dark elements behind it that discourages many to pick up one of the lesser known 07th Expansion titles before even touching it.
In fewer words, whereas one gets the feeling there was only pitch darkness in the 1st Night, in the 2nd Night one gets the idea there is light at the end of the tunnel while reading. That alone makes the latter an easier read.
Taking Everything with a Big Grain of Salt
“Well, let’s just forget about all the victims and whoever had the bad luck to be caught up in all of this and move on.”
The main problem with Higanbana is that – it tries to get away with stuff that Umineko/Higurashi did and it doesn’t work well because it is simply not them.
Youkai basically murder people to feed themselves and they make the world forget their targets even existed in the first place. Sometimes they have a reason based on how evil the person is, other times they just pick on the weakest students and kick them while they are already down. Sometimes they just want to eat or consume souls to get more powerful.
There is little or anything agreeable in Higanbana. From the very beginning the story is bound to be more ruthless no matter what. However, it also raises points as to the nature of the characters and the message of the story, which not many are easy to believe. Others are downright too disagreeable.
For example, one of the youkai condemns one of his victims to eternal damnation because he was unable to beat his challenge which consists of an unfair challenge of outrunning him through an alternate dimension school for 49 days. Everything about that chapter begs the question – Surely, that human was “useless” from that point of view, but does he deserve to die? And why is the youkai right to choose? It gives something to think about seeing that the only reason the protagonist of that chapter survives is because she desperately clings to life. The lesson in itself was positive. The result was also positive. But is the reader just supposed to forget about the disaster around them because the end result was positive?
In a similar vein other stories try to explain the good and evil in Higanbana’s world via more or less stating *the reason youkai exist which are sort of a necessary evil. For instance Higanbana’s story in which she explains how she obtained emotions and learned in the process *an* interpretation of what youkai are.
Yet, for all the explanations it provides and time it spends doing so it may ultimately hardly change one’s mind after everything is said and done. Be that because of : the little subtlety, being pressed by time to present its case better, or because the idea was fairly disagreeable from the beginning.
The Really Bad : Turning Villains into Cartoonish Figures
As mentioned Ryukishi07 plays with different views in his stories and but there is level, a state that works between the two opposing sides or at least they are handled in such a way the reader has few qualms with the developments. Some of these changes often seem right because of the story. This does not work well for Higanbana.
There’s the issue of Sumire who perfectly plays the role of a sadistic psychopath youkai who gets one of the main characters severely beaten, bullied, hospitalized, and nearly raped – just to appear in the 2nd Episode suddenly having more comedic moments than she ever did before then later at a tea party with all the other characters like everything was ok. It’s like everyone forgot how ridiculously psychotic she is. It makes no sense.
While Sumire is without a doubt the worst demented youkai in the 1st Night, she becomes something of a comic relief in the 2nd. As someone who rather have her as a villain joining the ranks of Satoko’s uncle as most hated without redemption villain in 07th Expansion games, turning such villain into a pseudo-villain – is a disappointment. Someone has to play the part.
It’s not character exploration. It’s about being consistent and knowing when it works.
Improved Story and Characters
In the end, I think I liked the characters – much more than I initially did, both humans and youkai. In the 1st Night is was tremendously difficult to find a character, aside from Marie, to be likeable since everyone was either a victim, the instigator, or twisted in some way. Most characters in Higanbana are disturbed, not often in a charming or intellectual way, mainly just disturbed. Yet here they manage to transform into figures with their own personalities and qualities. Aside from the rather sloppy handling of Higanbana’s (implied) main villain in the 2nd Night, Higanbana herself, and the other youkai are what any character in a story should be – interesting.
Unlike in the first game, human characters this time are not just victims but characters who have changed for the better; figures trying to make a difference. Michiru is no longer trying to send her fellow students to the hospital, Sakaki is adamant about fighting bulling in her class, Nonomiya is apparently alive. All of these are proper follow-ups from the first EP making them appear more alive and predominant in the series. Special mention for Sakaki for hanging there and being a small ray of hope in the pitch dark of humankind. We’d also mention Midori but that’s a different story altogether.
And Whatever you do, Read the “After School” Section
An unholy combination of laughs, giggles, and out of place commentary. The section of the game denominated “when R07 turns his brain off”. Ever imagined Sakaki as a tyrant? Reading one eyed Michiru saying you don’t have superpowers? Know how Marie conned Higanbana about sweets distribution? I didn’t either, but after After School I’m glad I did. It’s a short silly segment of fun. Like those Higurashi OVAs, but actually funny.
And Still, You should Probably Read Higanbana
I am certainly not here to give empty praise to each title I come across because it does an ok job, Higanbana manages to do things right. Not perfect but better than before. Comparing it to what it was and what it is now and where it is going the 2nd Night is a quite improvement.
Still a misanthropy inducing novella, Higanbana is not an easy read, but it is largely more manageable and positive than the 1st Night. Proving that reducing the intensity of the grim elements in a story makes it plenty more readable. Reduction of grimdark while keeping horror elements is a plus. Human characters are greatly improved. Continuation of their stories is not a minus but another plus that makes the second chapter come together.
The 2nd Night actually makes the youkai lot likeable, enough to not wish them all to be exorcised once and for all. Writing that tries to explain, if not justify, their nature in an attempt that both works and not. Seeing as messed up as the Higanbana world is, the 2nd Night is a worthy attempt so far. I can honestly say that. The improved writing from the 1st Night overall is a reminder the author can still write when all elements are ready at disposal and puts his mind to it. Read it with a fair level of skepticism. Don’t expect a big 07th Expansion hit. Expect a similar but shorter and noticeably darker experience. Alcohol may still be required, but this time it’ll be fun.
In the end, the Higanbana series might still be quite disagreeable but I can appreciate what it tried to do and what it did well. The project is quite out there and possibly will continue to remain “niche” even among this already niche medium. It would not be fully true if I were to say I excitedly want to read more EPs of the series, but if there were I’d likely pick them up. I think that for Higanbana’s case, less is more, and it has plenty. One final chapter to bring the series to a full close sounds plenty appropriate.
As always, appreciation for the group translating these titles into English is noted. Thanks go this time to Spider Lily that worked arduously to make Higanbana the 2nd Night a reality.