Higurashi: When They Cry [Anime Review]
Higurashi is a really confusing, complex and difficult to explain anime. Some may view it as belonging to the horror or psychological genre; some may find it as a really weird harem series containing crazy, killer lolis; others may consider it a failure since it doesn’t seem to belong to any of the afore-mentioned genres. Considering how much amount Higurashi incorporates, all views are understandable; this certainly isn’t a series that’s easy to comprehend by everyone. Higurashi is a mixture of mystery, blood, humor, romance and especially nice moral stories; but above all – Higurashi should be perceived as a really challenging logic problem.
Basically, there are two approaches when watching Higurashi. You may choose to view it as any other anime: wait for the story to unfold, wait for the characters to develop, wait for the plot to advance. It isn’t a wrong choice; this way, you may either like or dislike Higurashi; yet you will probably never get beyond the ‘killer lolis’, ‘aww Rena is so adorable’, ‘okay, something is seriously wrong with this anime’ stage. Yes, you might like, maybe even love it; but you will certainly NOT enjoy Higurashi to its full potential, for everything it has to offer.
If you choose the other road, however, you’re in for a big torment. You will be annoyed, hurt, growling, and most of all, you will get headaches from the fake hints; to put it easier, you will be mindfucked. Higurashi manages to do something that very few series have succeeded in doing: involve the viewer by making him interact with everything that unfolds on the screen.
Higurashi’s main characteristic is that it’s intelligently and elegantly indirect. You are shown almost opposite images of the same place, person or event and left to judge by yourself whether that’s relevant or not, whether there’s something hidden behind the apparent motives and whether it’s the correct portrayal of what’s actually happening. What may be the correct deduction of a sequence of events at some point is completely overthrown later on; the theories you may have built in the very beginning, some more far-fetched than the others, all crumble as the story progresses. Because Higurashi is so brilliantly created, it actually presents a lot of fake hints, irrelevant tips and confusing matters; but that’s all the more reason to enjoy it in the very end and re-watch it as many times as possible.
To put it simply, it’s not wrong to view Higurashi as a math problem. You may wait for it to be solved by a teacher or someone in your class and understand it along the way. Or you may try to solve it yourself, by bumping upon walls and dead ends, reaching incorrect results and choosing the wrong parameters – but having a feeling of a much deeper satisfaction once you finish it.
Higurashi’s story is its strongest point. The viewer is presented a series of 6 of the 8 main sound novel arcs, all beginning at approximately the same point, having certain common characteristics, but unfolding differently. If you are not a fan of ‘what if?’ scenarios, then this certainly isn’t for you. However, if you do enjoy putting the pieces together and forming a puzzle (which lacks the very core—the margins, only to be completed on season 2), then you will find this extremely entertaining.
Checking Higurashi’s synopsis, you will see that there are question arcs and answer arcs. Do not be naive. Answer arcs might solve apparent issues, but they only bring up even more questions – related to the overall story. Don’t watch Higurashi expecting to see that if ‘a+b=c, then b=c-a’. Higurashi will simply say: ‘a + something = c, I’ll only give you bits and scraps hinting to what that certain something is, so use your brain to figure out the truth, ’cause I’m not gonna tell ya directly.’
If you are to take each of Higurashi’s arcs separately, they all follow the same pattern. Each scenario begins with a peaceful, tranquil Hinamizawa in the summer light, only to end up in a diametrically opposed atmosphere. This might sound quite repetitive in the beginning, but do not forget that it’s only a means of hiding the true face of this show. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking each arc can be seen individually; Higurashi does have an overall plot that links together the sectioned, secondary stories.
Higurashi’s characters are all really refreshing, strong-determined and easy to recognize. Although their evolution throughout each arc might seem a bit inconsistent, they do develop from scenario to scenario, which only adds up to the enjoyment.
Keiichi is a strong main male character. And he should be, considering what he has to face. It’s not just unusual club activities or dealing with a lot of girls; Keiichi has to have the willpower to take what he sees as the (often regretful) right decision at the right time. Keiichi isn’t a person to back up when it comes to challenges or teasing; if it’s within his reach, he’ll do anything to have the best possible outcome.
Rena is a character that might seem extremely likable in the very beginning, but her patterns of acting do tend to get a bit overused as the series progresses. Rena is a typical, nice, charming girl; however, remember that this is Higurashi, so nothing actually is as the first impression suggests. Rena has her dark sides too; quite a lot, in fact. She’s one of the elements that give the series its most eerie moments.
Mion is the sanest of all the characters. She’s pretty much a walking contrast between how she acts and how she feels. Mion is a game freak and a challenges and penalties lover; that, and the fact that she refers to herself as ‘an old man’, give off a tomboy aura. Despite this, Mion also has a lot of girly sides, which are mostly shown throughout the second and fifth arc, which center around her and her sister Shion.
Most of the times, Shion is missing from the main, 5 club members group. However, she has an entire arc shown through her perspective. Shion’s story is one of the most touching and well executed throughout the show; it clearly shows how easy it is for a person’s completely logical and functional world to be thrown upside-down through a series of misunderstandings that pile up and make it crumble eventually.
Satoko is quite a controversial character. Most of the time, she acts like an annoying brat that tries to show off – however, she also has a darker side of the story, materialized through the torments received from her (adoptive) parents and the disappearance of her brother Satoshi. Satoko’s arc might seem a bit repulsing in the beginning; however, it only gives her the right portrayal of her personality.
I deliberately left Rika for the end; she’s the only character that doesn’t have her very own arc in the first season, and there’s a good reason for that. As the first 6 scenarios suggest, there’s something more that comes to Rika than her joyful ‘Nii~pa’ or her habit of patting the heads.
ART AND SOUND
Higurashi’s art is probably its only flaw. It certainly differs from the symmetrical, big-eyed, perfectly aligned bodies the viewer might be used to. This might seem like a turn-off in the beginning, but it actually manages to catch the unstable spirit of the anime quite well after a while. Despite this, there is a good part too: a big effort was put into backgrounds; they look realistic and flow nicely, deepening Hinamizawa’s tranquility.
Unlike the art, the sound of Higurashi is excellent. The actors did an extraordinary job managing to capture all voice fluctuations, especially the negative inducing ones. Shion’s laughter is probably one of the creepiest things you’ll find in an anime; Rena’s ‘Uso da!’ will surely give you a chill down your spine; Keiichi’s paranoid screams will make you paranoid as well. It’s not easy portraying such a wide range of emotions, yet Higurashi doesn’t fail. There’s also the constant chirping of cicadas that can be heard in the background; hence the series’ name. This often compensates the background music, which is only above average. OP theme is terrific, being one of the very first elements that might attract the viewer into watching the anime, since you’ll just feel like listening to it countless times; still, ED might seem a bit unusual, since it’s sung in (a pretty weird) English.
Like I mentioned before, Higurashi isn’t a series for everyone. If you watch it expecting to be a horror, bloody show or just another harem, then you’ll probably not like it. Higurashi’s main function isn’t to have horror, fanservice, tragic pasts or cute moments. Sure, it does contain its fair share of all of these; but Higurashi’s purpose is to involve the viewer into a really intricate and entertaining mystery and make fun of him being fooled by fake pieces of information. If you do expect something different, however, you might just discover a hidden behind the curtain masterpiece – for Higurashi is certainly special and extremely enjoyable.
In a world where a lot of anime series offer fans simple, almost nonexistent plots with cliché and predictable characters, humor that’s either brilliant or fail, tons of useless fanservice and many other simplicities just for the sake of existing, Higurashi certainly stands out – as being an intelligent series where a lot of effort was put into breaking the boundaries and giving the viewer an overall extremely satisfying impression and enjoyable (though often confusing) watch.
A review I wrote back in 2009 on MyAnimeList about my favorite (at that time) anime, Higurashi no naku koro ni.