I just read Onikakushi myself. I saw the anime years ago, but I’ve never read the VNs, so it was like reading it for the first time when I’ve already had the whole story spoiled. Here are some of the thoughts I pulled from my notes.
I got the impression that the first part of Onikakushi is parodying and subverting a lot of eroge tropes. Rena in particular seems like a stereotypical girl-next-door eroge heroine, like Nagisa from Clannad (so, small wonder they cast Mai Nakahara for her), when we first meet her. Later, of course, we learn how she finds all manner of strange and disturbing things to be “cute”, kinda like the moe-obsessed otaku who would be playing eroge in the first place. It’s also interesting that Keiichi always refers to the other club members by their given name, when in an eroge or any other romantic story you expect the couple to transition from using family names to using given names. It seems to be telling us not to expect that kind of romantic development; this is a story about friendship, not romance.
Something that caught my attention was how the narration emphasizes the diversity of the club multiple times. The club members span different genders and ages, unlike other friend groups at the school, and they wear unique outfits to school, unlike the other students, who mostly wear the Okinomiya uniform. Granted, practically every story is going to do something to make its main characters be distinct and stand out from the crowd, but it’s unusual that Ryukishi is actually explicitly pointing this out. A diverse group like the club naturally feels more welcoming for new transplants like Keiichi and Rena. Also, while a more homogeneous group is more likely to be drawn together by commonalities external to the group itself, the club must make its own identity through the shared experience of eating lunch and playing games together. Thus, not only do we get to see that friendship being built, but also how Mion, who does most of the work bringing the club together, is an effective leader who cares deeply for her friends and for friendship in general.
I think Ryukishi does a good job depicting Keiichi’s struggle with Oyashiro-sama’s curse. All his beliefs, raised in the urban world of books and reason, are threatened by the possibility that a supernatural being may really exist. He quickly tells Ooishi that he doesn’t believe in the curse, not out of real conviction, but out of an emotional desire to keep himself from believing any further. The very act is self-defeating; it admits that belief is not a matter of facts, but of feelings. Nevertheless, Keiichi’s struggle highlights his uncommon awareness. Like Battler in Umineko, Keiichi seems to be the only person who appreciates how world-shattering the existence of supernatural beings is.
Oni are said to be able to take the form of people someone knows in order to bewitch them, which fits in with Keiichi’s belief that “something” is taking the places of Mion and Rena and pretending to be them. But when Keiichi starts brandishing Satoshi’s metal bat like an oni’s metal club, it’s clear that if there is an oni, it has really taken Keiichi’s place. (The same could be said of Rena when she used a metal bat in her rampage in Ibaraki.) The word “onikakushi” is grammatically ambiguous; normally it is interpreted to mean oni making a person disappear, but it could also mean making an oni disappear. It could also be parsed as “oni kaku shi”, or “oni-scratching death”. Either way, one can interpret Keiichi as meeting with onikakushi at the end of this episode.
Ooishi mentions that Rena was diagnosed with dysautonomia in Ibaraki. From what I could tell from a quick perusal of Japanese sites, it seems that dysautonomia has a history in Japan of being used as a catch-all diagnosis for vague mental illness, like hysteria.
When Keiichi says that he will skip club activities, Rena worriedly says, “Maybe you don’t like playing with girls after all?” I wonder if Rena and Mion think Keiichi is gay. It would explain why they don’t try to pry at all into his meeting with Ooishi. Him skipping school to have lunch with an old man at a restaurant in town is particularly suspicious. It would also explain a lot of Rena and Mion’s other behavior. Keiichi accusing Rena of keeping secrets would seem pretty ungrateful if Rena was keeping quiet about what she thought was Keiichi’s relationship with a man, and Rena and Mion coming straight to Keiichi’s house to ask him about his lunch would be necessary to quickly and discreetly warn him that he had been noticed. Rena and Mion’s silence on what exactly they think Keiichi’s secret even is also makes sense in this light, as well as Mion’s insistence that Keiichi not skip school again. To be fair, Rena could have simply noticed that Keiichi was extremely reluctant to talk about his conversation with Ooishi, and concluded that their relationship, whether romantic or not, was a secret that Keiichi did not want anyone to discover.
When Keiichi wonders why he has to be killed, I wonder if he’s actually dimly aware of his role as a piece on the game board. Ultimately, there is no real reason he has to be killed, other than to make the story dramatic and horrifying. “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”
I wonder what Rena’s strange laughter is really supposed to be, because it doesn’t seem like she would actually be laughing. Is Keiichi confusing the sound of the cicadas for her laughter, or is she really sobbing?
That’s all I could find for my first read. I’m interested to see what I’ll notice on a re-read, but first I have to read all the other episodes!