Note: Review copy supplied by MVM Entertainment
Title: Higurashi: When They Cry
Anime Studio: Studio Deen
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Genre: Horror / Mystery / Supernatural
Released: September 24th 2018
Language: English / Japanese
Extras: Clean OP and Ed, Trailers
It’s not paranoia if they really are trying to kill you! Moving to the picturesque town of Hinamizawa is going to be a big adjustment for Keiichi. For all its beauty, it’s also tiny… so small that there’s only one school, one where most of the students have known each other all their lives. Fortunately, he soon meets four girls… Rena, Mion, Satoko, and Rika, who’re willing to let the new guy in town join their afterschool club. And for a while, things seem wonderful. Until Keiichi starts discovering strange things, like the project manager for a controversial dam project being found dismembered five years ago.
As he digs deeper, there are whispers and rumours of other murders and disappearances, stories of a town curse, and mysterious rituals. And then people he knows start to die. What secrets have the people of Hinamizawa kept hidden from the rest of the world? And could his new friends somehow be involved?
The shocking answers will be revealed WHEN THEY CRY!
Originally airing in 2006, Higurashi: When They Cry is an adaption of the popular visual novel series of the same name. This first season of the anime covers six of the story arcs from the games, with each set over multiple episodes. It should be noted here that each arc reaches a clear conclusion, so if you aren’t aware that you are essentially going to hit a time jump at that point and restart the story with a slightly different approach each time, it will likely get a little confusing. So, expect to see characters die and return with a fair amount of frequency.
And when I say die, I mean die horribly. Throughout the 26 episodes, the various characters suffer through multiple brutal forms of torture and death. We’re talking everything from fingernail ripping to cutting their own throats here. Even when the events take place off screen, you’re given enough to paint a clear picture in your mind, then shown the aftermath to confirm that what you pictured was correct. Part of what makes this so effective in terms of causing shock is the art style. The majority of our lead characters are children. Not only that, they’re drawn in that old style that makes them look a little younger than they are. As a result, every harrowing scene stands apart tonally from the way the characters look, increasing the impact as a result.
That’s not to say that the series relies entirely on gory shocks though. For one, we’re treated to a lot of scenes with the children just being teenagers. There are plenty of lighter moments throughout the series, all the while reminding us that the story is set in an ordinary town where ordinary people do ordinary things. This is perhaps best illustrated in the opening episode where we move straight from a graphic baseball bat assisted murder to a normal school day. Then, when things are set to get darker through the following episodes, the subtle things start to creep in. The girls’ eyes glaze over, and their vocal tone changes to something far creepier, for example. Yet, even with all the creepiness being thrown around, you still get a real sense of intrigue. Everyone is harboring secrets, and the girls’ reactions towards our leading male Keichi sometimes make it seem like killing him isn’t the first thing on their mind. We also get a couple of different approaches to what the underlying cause of the murders is, adding a few extra layers to the mystery.
Visually, the series is really quite good. Despite the vintage style, the animation is such that it doesn’t feel too dated. There are a few nice touches thrown in too, like the marks under Keichi’s eyes when he hasn’t slept. The gore is of course well done, and the aftermath of the more brutal moments feel authentic enough to pack a real punch. Meanwhile, the series is also no slouch in the audio department. The voice acting is good, the pained screams realistic, and the backing music and ambient sounds are decent. The opening theme is a memorable one, bringing to mind a mix of the .Hack//SIGN opening and the background music in Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex. Meanwhile, the piano tune playing over the preview sections at the end of each episode is absolutely beautiful, and once again often sits in direct opposition to the events unfurling in the story.
With enough brutality to rival Elfen Lied, and a twisty plot that should keep both mystery and paranormal fans entertained, When They Cry is a truly harrowing wild blend of styles. It’s an easy recommendation for those that can handle the bloodshed. 4.5 out of 5.