- Genre: Horror, science fiction, harem
- Episodes: 26
- Studio: Studio Deen
Have you ever wanted to start over? You know, just sort of hit reset on your life, move to a small town where you can just enjoy lazy summer days with the lovely local ladies for ever! Leave all the hustle and bustle of big city living behind and opt for something calmer, simpler…nicer. Keiichi has. Even though moving Hinamizawa wasn’t exactly his idea and he was pretty much against it at first, now that he’s made a few friends who all happened to be very cute and fun girls, things aren’t looking too bad. Like any isolated rural community, Hinamizawa has it’s own traditions which may seem a little odd at first but why not have a festival in which you let cotton balls flow down a river? And yes, it does seem that some strange events have happened in this region but let’s face it, it’s the same everywhere. And that’s just long gone history. The only thing Keiichi has to worry about now is not loosing the next punishment game with the club so that he doesn’t end up having to walk home with marker all over his face!
I got HiDive recently. Very recently. The main motivating factor was the chance to see a bunch of series I couldn’t find elsewhere and Higurashi was not on that list. This said, when I noticed it was available I got pretty excited since I had been wanting to watch it forever and it ended up being my very first HiDive show. Here’s what I thought.
HiDive has a few interesting features and one of the details I’m enjoying is the extra information I get compared to other platforms. For instance, you can easily see the original air date of every episode. That’s how I know that Higurashi first hit the screen in late 2006.
That doesn’t seem like such a long time ago. Sure it was 14 years ago and some of my readers might have been babies at the time. But still, when you compare it to Bebop’s 1998 or Eva’s ’95, it seems to be a closer generation. But it looks older.
By that I mean the designs are not ugly but very dated. It’s an art style I haven’t seen at all in forever. The art is also extremely inconsistent with some very weird angles and proportions that just don’t work in certain scenes. The animation itself is sluggish (except for the last episode where it got quite good in fact) and the colour palette is drab. I have to insist that none of this makes it look “bad” exactly, just unpolished. I also have a feeling that funding may have been limited. In any case, if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought it was older than the shows above.
This said, the story does use shadows for dramatic effect and I think that’s the one visual that really works. It helps that they use it in a very bold and exaggerated way. Also, although the visuals may be a tad passé, the dialogue and acting is snappy and generally sharp which really vitalizes the production. Sound design is super on the nose with wild cicada screeches punctuating all the dramatic moments in a campy fun way.
For those of you that may not know, When They Cry is considered by many a classic of anime horror and is based on an equally well liked kinetic novel. Kinetic novel is the term I use for visual novels without any game play mechanics. There are no choices and no routes, you simply read with some pretty backgrounds and occasional character sprites. So really it’s like any other novel, simply in a slightly different format. Moreover, it’s a doujin game. As in indie or you could even say…fanfic.
Why did I just take you on this long walk down memory lane? Stay with me now, we’re almost there. So riddle me this, why is it that when Japan decides to adapt a mildly sexual fan work with suspense or horror themes we get Higurashi and when we do it we get 50 shades? That doesn’t seem fair…
Wasn’t that joke worth the hundred word or so? No? Fine!
I’ll be frank with you, I started out completely engrossed by Higurashi. I though (and think) the first stretch maybe even the first 12 episodes or so, are brilliant. I wanted to love this series and for a while, I thought it might even exceed my expectations. However, as it often happens with horror series, I found that it did quite stick the landing.
The game is much slower paced. I watched a bit of a playthrough on youtube and gave up around hour 7 and we were just about to get to the events of episode 3. That’s how condensed the anime was in comparison at least in the beginning. Usually that can be a problem but not here. I really liked that the series hit the ground running and got right to the action. It sort of switched the dynamic form the heavily character driven game to a much more plot driven anime but that’s not a bad thing. It makes the viewers really focus on the creepy events and the mystery of Hinamizawa which fits the tone of the story perfectly. I think the more dynamic and pliant story we are left with in the anime is just as good as the more emotional and developed one of the game and actually makes both iterations worth experiencing in their own right which is pretty rare.
Spoilers – not in detail or anything but just general ones about plot structure and stuff….
Higurashi is a non linear story and there are sets of events that are shown over and over again in the span of the 26 first episode. And despite everything I’ve said up until now, for me the biggest problem I had was that it was too long. I love stories told over and over again from different perspectives, it’s one of my favourite narrative devices. I also love time loop stories. I will defend endless 8 as a masterpiece all alone on my little hill with my last breath. But by the time Higurashi looped around for the forth time, I stated getting bored. There were still interesting tidbits here and there but the novelty wore off fast. Not to mention that the story was trying to outdo itself in shock value and ended up tipping into melodrama quite a bit as the season wore on which tarnished a lot of the fun for me.
I will say that I found the dramatic arc of the visiting special agent honestly touching though and even some of the shamelessly dramatic moments are well done. I just don’t think the anime managed to balance the tonal shifts as well as they could have.
The very last episodes are a little odd. The animation style shifts and becomes more interesting. By that I mean it’s really nice in some places. The pacing and tone starts to mimic classic noir instead of the slice of life horror mix it was going by and the ending is… great. Be warned, there is a second season that aired a year later and it is completely set up in the ending of this season. You sort of realize that maybe you’ve been following the wrong character and everything is very open ended.
Even with it’s weak spots I enjoyed the Higurashi: When They Cry more than enough to make me want to see the second season. Not right away but definitely soon. Jury’s still out on the game. I did see that steam has most of the chapters so I may get tempted. If you are considering watching this show, let me put a warning right here. The main characters are girls ranging from 10 to 15 years old (I actually thought the 10 year old was 6…) and we do get to see some nudity, very mild fanservice and very intense violence. If that puts you off when child characters are involved, you might want to skip this one.
Favourite character: Like I said this isn’t really a character driven story at all so it was actually really hard to pick anyone. Still for the sake of the impact of the arc (if not the actual character) I’ll go with Akasaka Mamoru
What this anime taught me: Everybody lies
Looks like you have a lot on your mind. Wanna drink about it?
Suggested drink: Cicada (I’m getting too literal)
- Every time we Keiichi and Mion bicker – take a sip
- Every time Satoko does the himesama laugh – take a sip
- Every time anyone takes a photograph – take a sip
- Every time Rena goes to the dump – take a sip
- Every time anyone says “dam” – take a breath
- Every time any one “doesn’t know” – be suspicious
- Every time anyone is lying – get some water, you don’t want to kill your liver
- Every time anyone’s eyes get weird – take a sip
- Every time Oishi puts out a cigarette – another deep breath!
- Every time we see a circular light bulb – take a sip
- Every time the main characters play some type of card game – take a sip
- Every time Oishi is on the phone – listen
- Every time anyone mentions Satoshi kun – pour some out
- Every time a girl makes food for Keiichi – get a snack
- Every time Rika says “mi” – awwww
- Every time we hear (see) the school bell – take a sip
- Every time anyone jumps to conclusions – agree
Here are a few more pics for you