Contains spoilers–even in the screenshots! Be warned.
The beast in me
Is caged by frail and fragile bonds
Restless by day
And by night, rants and rages at the stars
God help the beast in me.
We saw in the opening sequence just how much the new series was going to focus on Rika. The previous season only hinted at her role in this accursed town, or her abilities–only, in one arc, to reveal her grisly end just prior to the Great Hinamizawa Disaster. Episodes 2 and 3 of the new season pretty much spell it out clearly, with her two voices (only one of which is Rika–and it’s not the cute “Nippa!” voice which is Rika’s), and with Mion outright admitting: Rika is likely none other than the current incarnation of Oyashiro-sama. And she is fated to die at this year’s festival.
That she is something of a god in this universe is clear at the start of episode 2, in which the multiply overlapping storylines are directly alluded to and beginning to be justified (though, if one has a knowledge of this show’s game roots, it’s also kind of funny: like the game, the goal is to get to one of the “happy endings”). I think, in fact, the first few minutes of episode 2 teeters on explaining too much, but given the number of completely unresolved puzzles that are left in this show, it could also be a welcome bout of clarity. There has been an increasing sense since the final arc in season 1 that a reckoning, an accounting, is on its way–some sort of explanation not only of what and how but the meaning of the events. And Rika is at the center of it.
The idea of Rika, an incarnation (or more accurately probably, an avatar) of a god, being fated to die sets off from interesting questions in this wannabe theologian’s head. My guess is that in some way, Oyashiro-sama really is protecting the village, and his* death is what will trigger the destruction of the entire town which we already know will happen. It would explain the fatalism of Deep Voiced Rika and the predictions of her own death. What is unexplained is still why the disappearances and murders each year are necessary–does Oyashiro-sama require it not only to be propitiated, but also to live? (Many cultures have rituals to ensure the continuity of the seasons and therefore crops, and therefore their survival.) Or, perhaps, since presumably Oyashiro-sama takes on different avatars over time, Oyashiro-sama undergoes generational cycles of death and rebirth? But the village’s end seems permanent and a close to any cycle, so that seems unlikely.
What’s clearer, though, is that the story and motive behind Oyashiro-sama is complexifying. Most of the first season presented him as a kind of demonic, bloodthirsty deity who demanded gruesome yearly sacrifice and who was behind a curse that played upon everyone’s desires. A more naturalistic explanation began to surface at the end of the first season and the first episode of the current one–but now, we have an avatar apparently show up in the form of this really cute little girl who speaks with two distinct voices. And in a way, solving the theological mystery–who is Oyashiro-sama?–is key to solving the show’s mysteries in general. Because everyone in this show is affected by this god and/or the myth inspired by him, whether it turns out to be true or not. Like any deity worth his salt, he is the center. All plot threads and questions lead back to him.
One last thing: I’ve always found interesting about Higurashi is the degree to which the kids’ games were often used as foreshadowing–sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly. Even from episode 1 in first season, no matter how slapstick the antics, every game was tinged with menace, particularly the whole concept of “penalty games.” Here it seems the writers were deliberately mocking their narrative strategy, in which some of the same ominous music, horror movie tropes, and explicit references to zombies were used for humor. (Might the game’s outcome be a straightforward foreshadowing of this arc’s resolution? It was such in the previous arc, though I felt it was handled a bit too obviously.) Nevertheless, in every arc so far, the real ominousness only begins when the photographer and the police detective show up. And it’s no different here.
Finally: I guess the lack of an episode preview is a permanent thing. Alas.