Also known as When They Cry or When the Cicadas Cry, Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni is a story about Keiichi Maebara who moves with his family to a small mountain village called Hinamizawa.
There’s a lot going on in this village. Between possible curses from the gods, mental illnesses, seemingly corrupt police, the sometimes suspicious actions of the village council, a group of school friends who are more than what they seem, oh and the occasional murder of everyone in the village and then the resetting of time.
Maybe there’s something about remote villages and murder sprees but a lot of Japanese horror anime seem to use the remote rural setting as the backdrop for bloodshed.
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Higurashi is one of those anime that truly divide the viewers. Some people love the slow approach and the absolute contrast between the cute kids doing absolutely nothing to the horrendous violence that will follow, whereas others are bored to tears by the every day activities of the characters or are nauseated by the level to which the violence is taken given the age of the characters.
I definitely fell into the loved it camp but I will acknowledge that the series does have a number of glaring flaws. I’m going to attempt to avoid any major plot spoilers but that does mean that there’s going to be some points that I’m just going to have to skip.
I’m going to start with the main flaws of the show so that I can end discussing the many good points about Higurashi that have kept me coming back to it again and again. That said, I haven’t jumped onto Gou because to be honest I felt like Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni and Kai more or less told the full story. I was satisfied.
First Criticism of Higurashi: The art and animation
I’m not even going to pretend that there is a justification for some of the animation in Higurashi. While at times it seems that the clunky style and odd off-model characters are being used for dramatic effect, mostly it just seems inconsistent and at times even ugly.
I’m not normally one to criticise this aspect of an anime unless something is an unwatchable eye-sore (like Hand Shakers) but in Higurashi it is absolutely the weakest part of the anime and I know from some people that this is the deal breaker for them.
Second Criticism: So season one finished and we know…?
Yeah. If you watch Higurashi you are definitely investing in a two season viewing. The time loop aspect of this show certainly gets under some people’s skin (but that’s what this show is so if you don’t like time loops you probably aren’t even going to start watching this), but that isn’t the problem.
The problem is that you watch an entire season of time loops and while there are definitely some crucial reveals in that first season, you have no idea what they are or what is happening because explanation of the phenomenon starts with episode 1 of season 2.
I have no idea what happens in the subsequent sequels with Rei and the new Gou and honestly, I don’t really want to as there doesn’t seem like there’s anything more that needs adding. But, you can’t just watch the first season and stop. Or I guess you can, but you’ll know pretty much nothing.
On that note, the reason this didn’t throw me from enjoying this is because I accidentally watched season 2 first, not knowing it was a sequel. I just thought the flashbacks were flashbacks until I found out that they were actually scenes from the first season.
And that’s kind of a criticism. When the entire first season is actually unnecessary to make sense of your mystery (it does add some important character points and certainly enriches your understanding of some things but it isn’t necessary) then you have to wonder if the plot might have been able to be trimmed down into one season in the first place.
Third Criticism: Science
I know I said I was going to avoid major plot spoilers and so that’s going to make this point a bit threadbare however anyone who understands anything about mental health, parasites, or epidemics is going to tear some of the explainers in this anime apart.
And while the vaguely supernatural feeling of the show (and some actual supernatural elements) may allow us to excuse some shoddy science, a lot of what enables events in the plot is the funding into the research taking place in the village. Who would fund that research with the explanations the audience are given?
Final Criticism: Too cute is too cute
The character designs of the group of classmates, the weird punishment games, the overly cute way of speaking attributed to Rika, Satoko’s pretend villains laugh, and even the theme that banding together will allow you to overcome trials you can’t by yourself…
For a horror/suspense/mystery piece there’s a lot of overly sweetness and cuteness running around and at times it detracts from the atmosphere of what is otherwise a reasonably solid effort. Yes they are trying to establish a contrast and succeeding, but the balance (particularly in the first season) is thrown out by the length of time we watch kids playing games with little to nothing happening.
Even the first arc of the second season seems to drag us through a slice of life comedy rather than anything even vaguely suspenseful.
Let’s move on to the good stuff.
First Reason To Love Higurashi: Understanding of horror
Higurashi is not just a slasher gone wrong with the expectation that it will shock audience because the cast are so very young. The violence is actually crafted beautifully to play upon the universal fears of the its audience.
It finds those actions and thoughts that it knows will elicit a very strong response and presses those buttons in just the right manner to make you feel that little bit shocked, sickened and completely and totally engaged.
So if you aren’t a horror fan and don’t like the feelings that horror done well can evoke, then Higurashi is never going to be for you. But for those who want horror that actually gives them that emotional response (and not laughter at the cheesiness of something) then you will find some really well developed psychological attacks in this story.
While the animation and at times the characters themselves may intrude upon the experience, it is horror done well.
Second Reason To Love Higurashi: Resolution
Too many stories, particularly horror stories, just leave you hanging. There are unresolved plot threads and character arcs left dangling and some things just never make sense. Maybe they were distractions or red-herrings but they just never fit with the overall story.
Higurashi isn’t that story. By the end we know why we are time looping (even if the specifics of the power behind it aren’t explained). We know who was behind orchestrating the tragedies that occurred in each time loop. We know how they finally broke the cycle of tragedy. We know what each character’s individual weakness was and how they faced it to move forward. Really, what few plot threads are left open (mostly about characters and events outside of the village) do not seem very important.
We have all the answers we truly need and it is satisfying.
And unlike other horror anime (Another, I am pointing the finger at you), Higurashi decidedly ends the tragedy. There’s no next year where things are just going to start all over again with a new group. The only thing that isn’t resolved with any level of satisfaction is the question of whether any of the characters will ever be able to leave the village.
Thrid Reason To Love Higurashi: It get’s better on rewatch
I’ve mentioned this when talking about a few anime (such as One Punch Man), that some stories just don’t hold up to a rewatch. I know that punchline, that character isn’t very interesting a second time round, there’s no compelling reason to be engaged with the plot a second time.
Higurashi wasn’t like that for me. In fact, every time I rewatch it I find something new that I hadn’t noticed before. Some throw-away line that adds significant understanding to a character action or choice, some expression on a character’s face that signifies what they will do later in that arc, the links between arcs and timelines, there’s always something new to find.
Fourth Reason to Love Higurashi: Memorable characters
I know I haven’t given the characters a good write up so far. The kids are overly cute and the adults are all on the periphery, but they are all actually more compelling than they might appear at first. On the surface of the kids you have the smart boy who has gotten into trouble but now has his own little harem, the troubled girl with the bad home life, the cute priestess type, the tom-boy, and the weirdly obsessed with cute things girl.
However each of these characters has a detailed story and through each cycle you learn more about them and by the end of the second series the audience really can connect with these characters which makes their success even more satisfying.
As I said at the start, I do fall into the camp of loving Higurashi. I love horror and this anime hit the right notes for me. I found the mystery engaging, I really grew to love the characters, and I got just the right amount of shock from the horror in the story (though the needle in the food kind of froze me for a moment even though this is arguably one of the less horrific moments).
Should you watch Higurashi? That entirely depends on what you are looking for and what you can tolerate in an anime. If bad animation is a deal breaker, then you are probably going to pass on this. If you like fast moving stories or horror that just keeps ramping up the violence, you will probably pass on this. That said, there’s plenty for horror lovers to enjoy in this story.
If you’ve watch Higurashi, let us know your thoughts.
Images from: Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni. Dir. C. Kon. Studio Deen. 2006.
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