Anime Review: Higurashi - When They Cry Season 1

By Drew Hurley 02.12.2018

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Higurashi - When They Cry Season 1 (UK Rating: 15)

Announced back in May of this year at MCM Comic Con, MVM now has the rights to the complete anime of the When They Cry series and the first series containing episodes 1-26 is available now. Based on a series of murder mystery visual novels; set in the glorious '80s, 1983 specifically, Higurashi follows new transfer student Maebara Keiichi as he tries to adapt to life in the quiet little town of Hinamizawa, but the lighthearted story and charming old-school anime visuals belie the dark truth of the tale.

Keiichi seems to have hit the jackpot. He has moved into an idyllic little town and has quickly joined a group of friends. Four girls who have an after-school club playing games. There are two around the same age, Mion the tomboy, and Rion the cute, innocent girl next door. Then there are Rika and Satoko, two middle schoolers, Rika is a shrine maiden at the local temple and Satoko is an imouto obsessed with her older brother. Together they all play random games together, often with Keiichi losing and suffering a punishment for it.

A teenage boy surrounded by girls, living out his day to day school life in a quiet little town. At first, it seems to be just another little slice of life show, yet there's a lurking dread in the history of the town. The entire town was almost destroyed when a dam was built five years ago, the townsfolk managed to overturn the construction and save their homes, but one of the workers ended up murdered and dismembered in the local dump.

It's not the only murder the town has had to suffer through, either. Every year there is a special festival in town called the Watanagashi or Cotton Drifting festival, where people believe cotton balls draw all of the darkness out of a person, and then it's placed in the river where it is absorbed and washed away. It's a nice thought, but Keiichi finds there's a sinister history to the festival. For four years in a row, someone has died on the day of the festival.

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A detective starts asking Keiichi questions after the most recent death and suddenly his world is turned upside down. The girls he thought had become his friends start to seem threatening to him. In some of the things they say and in how they speak with him two of the girls seem disturbing. When he takes a day off ill they are kind enough to bring him ohage to cheer him up, and as he bites down he finds a terrible surprise within, a sewing needle...

After the first couple of episodes, things get weird. Adaptations of visual novels usually go with a specific route adaptation, or in combining elements from numerous routes together, often with some completely original content. Higurashi plays out six different paths or stories, and in quite a non-linear fashion, so that the unexpected will be absolutely baffled by just what is going on, as characters personalities change drastically, characters die, others kill. It's full of genuinely shocking moments and mysteries are in abundance.

The first path introduces the town and the main characters while showing Keiichi is at risk from his friends as he begins to find out too much. The second story introduces a twin-sister to Mion and begins to look into the dark history of the village. The third looks at one of the girls suffering from abuse and Keiichi trying to save her, embracing his dark side. The fourth is a prequel to the others, set five years previous, following police investigating the dam's protests. The fifth is again a prequel, although only a year before, following Satoshi's disappearance, before leading into the second story from a different perspective. Finally, the sixth actually gives something almost close to a happy ending… almost. Very different routes, all in the same setting, but, at the heart of each story, there are some core elements that remain the same. A god of the village named Oyashiro, the village once being known as the "Village of the Demon," a secret ruling family of the town, and a curse.

On the presentation front, the show looks pretty terrible. The show is over 12-years-old now, but even for its time it was unimpressive, with some utterly generic designs on the characters, noticeably messy animation, and a completely forgettable soundtrack. In a way, though, this mediocre quality enhances the shocking moments of gore - the sudden explosions of violence and disturbing acts. Removing nails, hammering nails between finger joints, suicide via knife headbutt… weak stomachs should skip this one. The quality of the voice acting is disappointing, too, often not matching with the facial expressions, moods, and general attitudes of those on-screen. This release comes with an English dub, too, and the voice actors suffer from the exact same issues in English as in Japanese, with the actors' voices rarely synching with the characters expressions on-screen, often lacking any feeling, especially anger.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
Higurashi - When They Cry Season 1 is a wonderfully confusing, dark, and melancholy mystery; one that rewards re-watching and establishing just where each story thread starts and ends, seeing how each character can be a hero or a villain. That being said, while many questions are answered by the series' end, many more are left outstanding. Thankfully, MVM has got the rights for the entire Higurashi tale and so fans can look forward to more dread and mystery when Season 2 arrives.

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