Higurashi no naku koro ni rei

Producer: Studio Deen
Runtime: 2009
Episodes: 5
Rating: PG

No. Higurashi no naku koro ni rei is not needed, not helpful, and more than anything it taints the prestige of the original two seasons. After the exceptional first two seasons of Higurashi, I found myself wanting to see the cast once more and was intrigued at the prospect of a short third season, but in retrospect I regret even wasting the time.

Rei picks up where Kai left off. After enjoying some time of peace with her friends, Rika finds herself thrust into a new scenario: in this Hinamizawa, the sins of each character do not exist and the terrible killings surrounding the Watanagashi Festival never take place. Rika must try to find out what has happened, why she is here, and how to - and whether she should - return to her old world.

Rei is quite bad. First, I'm not sure why it was created. Perhaps the reason is to provide an explanation of the metaphysics of the Higurashi universe. The explanation given in Rei is not only brief but substandard. It would be better if this question had simply been left to the viewer's imagination. Second, the story of Rei lacks the terror that made season 1 great, and while it does contain some suspense, it does not provide a rewarding solution/story as in season 2. Third, one might at least say that the show provides another glimpse into the lives of the Higurashi characters, but the show focuses nearly entirely on Rika, and the episodes that do heavily focus on the whole cast are pretty awful. In particular, the first episode was nearly enough to turn me off of the season entirely: sexual attitudes/suggestions pervade the entire episode and include a strange, slightly uncomfortable focus on the (young) girls and a homophobic remark. Episode 1 was not only offensive, perhaps reflecting the oddness that is Japanese sex culture, but was quite boring and cliche. The act by which Rika is thrust into the other world is pretty stupid. The next three episodes focus on the unsatisfying other-world story, and as if that's not enough, the final episode is a very tacky side-story involving (who'd have guessed) more weird sexual focus. Really the only redeeming factor of Rei is that it is, in the end, Higurashi. Fans wanting more Higurashi will at least be happy to have a bit more, but this is a bad package that comes across more as a quick way to make some money than a serious animation project.

The audio is no different from Ni and Kai, with the exception that the opening and ending song are markedly inferior. Indeed, the only respect in which Rei perhaps exceeds the first two seasons of Higurashi is animation. Everything is a bit crisper and more beautiful. On the other hand, the terror facial expressions, so common in the first season and worthy of praise, is appropriately absent.

I'm certainly glad that Rei is only 5 episodes. It's completely understandable that fans of Higurashi will find it necessary to watch Rei. Just don't expect much.

Story: 5.8
Animation: 8.1
Sound: 8

Overall Score: 6.5 (Good)

1 - Embarrassment Chapter
2 - Dice Killing Chapter 1
3 - Dice Killing Chapter 2
4 - Dice Killing Chapter 3
5 - Daybreak Chapter


Higurashi no naku koro ni

Producer: Studio Deen
Runtime: 2006-07
Episodes: 50
Rating: R

This review addresses Higurashi no naku koro ni and Higurashi no naku koro ni kai. There is also a third season, with a story distinct from the first two, Higurashi no naku koro ni rei, which is the subject of a separate review.

Perhaps because of its origination as a video game, Higurashi is a revolutionary in the anime community. Not only does the series offer a highly original mode of storytelling that asks not just who is responsible but what is happening, Higurashi accomplishes a feat that I have yet to witness in any other anime: it's creepy, and at times even frightening.

In the small village of Hinamizawa, tradition and custom are the rule, order is absolute, and mysterious murders are the norm. In June of 1983, Keiichi Maebara moves to the village along with his family and begins a new life. There he befriends Rena Ryugu, Mion Sonozaki, Rika Furude, and Satoko Houjou, and while it seems that this new life will be one of peace, he soon discovers that Hinamizawa, with its dark past and mysterious secrets, may not be at all what it seems.

Higurashi's strength lies in its suspense and its ability to invoke (mainly psychological) terror. Each of these aspects is facilitated and presented in a powerful way through Higurashi's unique mode of storytelling. The series is a mystery, and without giving too much away, there are multiple chapters (each typically made up of about 4 episodes) which present different scenarios in Hinamizawa either leading up to the Watanagashi Festival and the gruesome deaths surrounding it or providing more clues to understand that mystery. Thus, after each chapter, the viewer may formulate ideas of what is happening and who or what might be behind the events. New chapters, being new scenarios, present a new set of events in the same world and among the same characters. This method of giving the viewer an active role in the story (one of detective) makes Higurashi all the more suspenseful (will your next prediction be correct?). And of course, the fact that awful things are happening adds to that effect.

Also rare among anime that hedge their bets on complex, suspenseful stories, Higurashi manages by the end to close virtually every hole in the story, and the ultimate explanation for the events is neither predictable nor tacky.

Higurashi's only weaknesses seem to lie in the facts that it can occasionally be, for lack of a better word, lame, and the first and second season are very dissimilar. On the former point, it seems that the series never definitively picked an audience. This is simply not a show for kids (far too gory and frightening), but certain moments (especially those of resolution) seem to be directed at a younger audience and will likely leave the actual audience - mature teens, etc. - disappointed (e.g., you just need to open up to your friends!). On the latter point (difference in seasons), it should be stressed first that both seasons are superb. But because the first season is dedicated to unnerving scenarios while the second season is dedicated to providing answers and resolution, you won't find the gore/terror in the second season. This is not necessarily problematic as the second season is highly suspenseful and enjoyable, but it is a strange dichotomy. At least one major reason fans love Higurashi, the horror, is largely absent from the second season. Finally, the end of the first season is weak, but only if you try to determine legitimate answers at that point. Without the second season, the first, despite its positive aspects, would be seriously disappointing. Indeed, the first season will become not only clearer but better in retrospect as you watch the second season.

Higurashi's animation tends to get a bad rap due to its simplicity, but I actually liked it. True, there is nothing special in the character or setting design, but they are at least crisp, clear, and professional. And while criticism is understandable, in another sense it is not: Higurashi is unnerving precisely because it takes your prototypical cutesy anime girls and turns them into terrifying characters. It is particularly shocking to see them physically morph from "classic anime cute girl" to disturbed aggressor. And the animation for facial expressions (especially the eyes, reminiscent of Evangelion) is quite unsettling.

Higurashi's soundtrack and voice cast is, on the whole, quite good. Both the Japanese and American voice casts are well done. Many prefer the Japanese, but I would recommend watching at least some of the first season in English if only to hear the creepy way that the girls will draw out Keiichi's name and say "K-ey-y-ji." As for the soundtrack, it is generally quiet and complementary, though there are a couple of standout tracks (e.g., Opening Song for Season 1; Tsumi). Both the opening and ending songs for each season are very impressive and they fit each season's mood very well. but for the most part, this isn't a soundtrack that you'll probably be listening to in your spare time.

Higurashi is probably the most interesting anime that I've watched up to this point, if only for its originality, viewer engagement (through its meta-detective-style storytelling), and legitimate ability to convey a sense of fear. As big as the first and second of these aspects is, that last one is huge. I've seen Elfen Lied (just haven't gotten around to reviewing it yet), and I walked away understanding more clearly than ever that there is a difference between gore and fear. As another review has aptly put it, Higurashi's gore is secondary. It is merely to move the story along. What is truly frightening about Higurashi lies in the psychology of its characters and in the true uncertainty, both as to who or what is causing these atrocities, and as to why any of this would ever be happening in the first place.

Story: 9.5
Animation: 8.3
Sound: 8.2

Overall Score: 9.1 (Phenomenal)

Download Episodes

Chapter 1: Spirited Away by Demons
1 - The Beginning
2 - The Secret
3 - Suspicion
4 - Disturbance
Chapter 2: Cotton Drifting
5 - Jealousy
6 - Takano
7 - Lies
8 - Wish
Chapter 3: Curse Killing
9 - Older Brother
10 - Bond
11 - Borderline
12 - Lost Item
13 - Apology
Chapter 4: Time Killing
14 - Hinamizawa
15 - Sign
Chapter 5: Eye Opening
16 - First Love
17 - Settlement
18 - Demon's Blood
19 - Retaliation
20 - Cold Hands
21 - Conviction
Chapter 6: Atonement
22 - Happiness
23 - A Hope to Return To
24 - File No. 34
25 - Invasion of Earth
26 - Retake

Higurashi no naku koro ni kai (Season 2)


Avatar: The Last Airbender

Creators: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Producer: Nickelodeon
Runtime: 2005-08
Episodes: 61
Rating: PG

Nickelodeon probably doesn't come to mind when you think of anime, but Avatar is one of the best and most recent examples of American anime, a combination of anime and American cartoon elements. Avatar has enjoyed immense success both as a series and as a story: not only did the series garner record viewers for Nickelodeon, but the Avatar franchise now encompasses a movie by M. Night Shyamalan, The Last Airbender, and a spinoff series which will premiere in 2011 called Avatar: Legend of Korra. Avatar enjoys prominence precisely because it masterfully executes a highly original story in a manner that surpasses virtually any anime.

The world is divided into 4 peoples: the Fire Nation, the Air Nomads, the Water Tribes, and the Earth Kingdom. Within each group are benders, persons capable of controlling the element of their people. 100 years ago, the world was thrown into chaos when the Fire Nation invaded the other peoples. Only the Avatar, master of all 4 elements, could stop them, but he vanished and many believe he no longer exists. Sokka and Katara, two members of the Southern Water Tribe, discover Aang in a frozen iceberg, and the adventure to save the world begins.

There is little that needs to be said about Avatar. Addictive, entertaining, and emotional, it is one of the best anime that I have seen and it speaks for itself. Avatar delivers a potentially cliche story - good vs. evil and a plot of world domination - with a twist that makes it revolutionary and captivating from the first episode until the last. The story is executed magnificently, with not an episode feeling out of place or superfluous. The series is incredibly fast-paced, especially in comparison to Japanese anime which tend to drag things out and thus result in less substance. Indeed, what is so impressive about Avatar is that it manages to pack in so much substance, so much story, and yet every bit of it is superb. I often found myself thinking that an episode was about to end when it was just at the halfway point, simply because so much had already happened, and still the story was always addictive. Is there any weakness to Avatar's story? You won't like Avatar if you aren't interested in the traditional good vs. evil/save the world plot, and at times (especially in the first season) the series can feel more like a cartoon directed at children than an anime that should be taken seriously. But if you are interested in the traditional good vs. evil plot, Avatar does it as well as, if not better than, any other, and the series becomes strikingly mature and even philosophical as it progresses.

Avatar's animation is certainly more toony than other highly rated anime. Still, the animation is at least attractive and enjoyable, though not as crisp as I would have liked. This is mitigated in part by the exceptional (and frequent) battles; Avatar's elemental world means the show is full of intense, creative element-based fights. Can fire defeat earth? Perhaps, but that depends on how you use it. The elements make for an especially refreshing "level-up" approach as the progression is less fantasy and dull (i.e., the hero gets the next magic sword!) and more logical (the water-bender advances by learning to bend water in different and more powerful ways).

The voice cast is among the best of any anime as well: the voices of Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Iro, Azula, just to name a few, fit their characters perfectly and really add to the overall quality of the show and the dynamic nature of the characters. The soundtrack is very well done, with tracks that really capture atmosphere (a number of which are Asian inspired), e.g., Agni Kai, Tsungi Horn, and others which are just beautiful, e.g., The Avatar's Love. The weakness of the OST lies primarily in its length - it is surprisingly short for a show this long - and in the fact that it is sometimes repetitive.

Avatar may be a hard show to sell to those in the anime community, but it really should be seen. It takes the elements of anime that are so loved by viewers, gives them an American tint, and executes them in a truly fantastic way. Avatar takes you in and does not let you go until the very end, has excellent rewatch value, and if you're like me, you will be sad to see it end.

Story: 9.8
Animation: 8.3
Sound: 9.0

Overall Score: 9.5 (Phenomenal)

Download Episodes

1 - The Boy in the Iceberg
2 - The Avatar Returns
3 - The Southern Air Temple
4 - The Warriors of Kyoshi
5 - The King of Omashu
6 - Imprisoned
7 - The Spirit World (Winter Solstice Pt. 1)
8 - Avatar Roku (Winter Solstice Pt. 2)
9 - The Waterbending Scroll
10 - Jet
11 - The Great Divide
12 - The Storm
13 - The Blue Spirit
14 - The Fortune Teller
15 - Bato of the Water Tribe
16 - The Deserter
17 - The Northern Air Temple
18 - The Waterbending Master
19 - The Siege of the North (Pt. 1)
20 - The Siege of the North (Pt. 2)
21 - The Avatar State
22 - The Cave of Two Lovers
23 - Return to Omashu
24 - The Swamp
25 - Avatar Day
26 - The Blind Bandit
27 - Zuko Alone
28 - The Chase
29 - Bitter Work
30 - The Library
31 - The Desert
32 - The Serpent's Pass
33 - The Drill
34 - City of Walls and Secrets
35 - Tales of Ba Sing Se
36 - Appa's Lost Days
37 - Lake Laogai
38 - The Earth King
39 - The Guru; 40 - The Crossroads of Destiny
41 - The Awakening
42 - The Headband
43 - The Painted Lady
44 - Sokka's Master
45 - The Beach
46 - The Avatar and the Firelord
47 - The Runaway
48 - The Puppetmaster
49 - Nightmares and Daydreams
50 - The Day of Black Sun Pt. 1: The Invasion
51 - The Day of Black Sun Pt. 2: The Eclipse
52 - The Western Air Temple
53 - The Firebending Masters
54 - The Boiling Rock (Pt. 1)
55 - The Boiling Rock (Pt. 2)
56 - The Southern Raiders
57 - The Ember Island Players
58 - Sozin's Comet Pt. 1: The Phoenix King
59 - Sozin's Comet Pt. 2: The Old Masters
60 - Sozin's Comet Pt. 3: Into the Inferno
61 - Sozin's Comet Pt. 4: Avatar Aang

Avatar OST


Neon Genesis Evangelion

Creator: Hideaki Anno
Producer: Gainax
Runtime: 1995-96
Episodes: 26 (+2 special episodes)
Rating: R

This is a review of both the series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the finale movie, End of Evangelion.

Neon Genesis Evangelion has on numerous occasions been deemed the greatest anime of all time. Evangelion not only breathed life into the mecha subgenre of anime, but added in psychological theory, religious dogma, and post-apocalyptic fantasy to create a new anime form all its own. For these reasons, Evangelion is deserving of its place among the greats, but like most groundbreaking shows, the series suffers from certain setbacks that are perhaps to be expected when one ventures into the unknown.

It is the year 2015. In 2000 an event called "Second Impact" occurred which resulted in the death of half of the world's population. In this new world the organization NERV operates biomechanical creatures called Evas to defend what remains of humanity from giant entities known as Angels. Fourteen year olds, born 9 months after "Second Impact," are necessary to pilot the Evas. One of these children, Shinji Ikari, has just been recruited to pilot Eva Unit 1. Alongside the other Eva pilots and his companions at NERV, Shinji will fight to prevent humanity's extinction while facing the demons within his own soul.

Evangelion is, first and foremost, psychological. The vast majority of each episode (at least until the last 1/3 or so of the series) is spent on character development, focused on delving into their psyches and understanding what it is that makes them tick (and what it is that makes them eventually snap). Nothing more could be asked from an anime as far as character development goes: these are highly dynamic, complicated individuals that, for many viewers, will probably touch too close to home for comfort. It is through the analyses of these characters that Evangelion eventually forces the viewer to analyze his own psyche. The series ends with a powerful moral/psychological lesson for anyone who has also felt alone and a lack of self worth. This is the teen angst anime, but given that these problems can plague one throughout life, it can have meaning for viewers of various ages.

Evangelion's plot is highly original and well-executed, but it becomes clear that things are too complex and the budget too tight to resolve everything within so few episodes. The broad, overarching plot elements are ultimately resolved, but the viewer is left with numerous important questions (for instance, not nearly enough explanation is given regarding the prophecies). Many of these are answered in one liners from characters, but the resolution is generally not enough. The apocalyptic plot suffers for the sake of the psychological plot; nowhere is this more apparent than in episodes 25 and 26, which, for lack of a sufficient budget among other reasons, focus solely on the mental events happening in the mind of Shinji and tell us virtually nothing about how things are resolved in the external world. Fortunately episodes 25' and 26' (those created after the series and released as the movie, "End of Evangelion") do provide this external world ending, but even these feel rushed and are packed with insufficient explanations. It is in this respect that many have walked away from Evangelion feeling like they have been led on a wild goose chase: there is an overwhelming complexity to the show but a lack of planning and failure in execution toward the end. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Evangelion enterprise lives on in new movies such as Evangelion 1.0: You are (Not) Alone; the original Evangelion project simply lacks coherence and completeness. However, the credit due to End of Evangelion cannot be stressed enough. The film may not completely conclude the series, but it brings light to many issues.

Evangelion's animation is top notch, especially given its age. There is a significant level of detail (especially in the scenery and for the Evas) and the quality is movie-like throughout. The show employs a variety of anime styles to capture different feels (e.g., mental events within a character's head) and the Eva-Angel battles are typically not repetitive. Simply put, this is probably the best animation (short of Miyazaki films) of its time period. Evangelion's soundtrack is a masterpiece that does a superb job of capturing feelings of both suspense/action, e.g., Eva 00 and fear/eeriness, e.g., Marking Time Waiting for Death. The ending song, Fly Me to the Moon, while not a creation of the show, is a perfect selection for the series and the later remixes are very well done. The weakness of the OST stems primarily from the nature of the show itself: this isn't a particularly deep or beautiful soundtrack. It is the soundtrack for a mecha anime; it fits the show well, but it's probably not something you'll want to listen to apart from the show. The voice cast, both Japanese and English, is very good and each character is both unique and well-fitted to his voice.

Evangelion is tough to review. Many love it from start to finish, and even those that don't love it typically criticize only its somewhat failed ending. Either way, this is a very powerful series that reaches a level of complexity rarely matched in other anime. One must see Evangelion. Whether he will walk away believing it to be possibly the greatest anime ever made will likely depend on how well he can relate to the characters and their psychological issues. For many, Evangelion speaks to them. For others like myself, Evangelion has done something truly remarkable in its psychological aspect but has failed to provide a coherent, complete, well-executed anime due to the lack of attention given to aspects of the apocalyptic plot. A lot of interesting things are done with Evangelion, but it's not a perfect package.

Story: 8.5
Animation: 9.1
Sound: 8.1

Overall Score: 8.5 (Excellent)

Download Dual Audio (English/Japanese) Episodes

1 - Angel Attack
2 - The Beast
3 - A Transfer
4 - Hedgehog's Dilemma
5 - Rei I
6 - Rei II
7 - A Human Work
8 - Asuka Strikes!
9 - Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!
10 - Magmadiver
11 - The Day Tokyo-3 Stood Still
12 - She said, "Don't make others suffer for you personal hatred"
13 - Lilliputian Hitcher
14 - Weaving a Story
15 - "Those women longed for the touch of others' lips, and thus invited their kisses."
16 - Splitting of the Breast
17 - Fourth Children
18 - Ambivalence
19 - Introjection
20 - Weaving a Story 2: Oral Stage
21 - He Was Aware That he Was Still a Child
22 - Don't Be
23 - Rei III
24 - The Beginning and the End, or "Knockin' on heaven's door"
25 - Do You Love Me?
26 - Take Care of Yourself



Creator: Ryohgo Narita
Producer: Brain's Base
Runtime: 2007
Episodes: 13 (+ 3 OVAs)
Rating: R

Baccano! is the first project from Ryohgo Narita, creator of one of my favorites, Durarara!! While Baccano! is highly commended for its novel approach to storytelling, its complexity is unchecked by direction. This is Narita's first swing at his now signature form of storytelling and it is not perfect.

Baccano! is set primarily in 1930s America and follows the events that transpire on the "Flying Pussyfoot" express train from Chicago to New York City. Aboard the train are professional criminals, a monster known as the rail tracer, and immortals. While the train events play out, the story skips to different times and settings to reveal more about the characters, their pasts, and what is really taking place on the train.

From the opening scene (and with the closing scene), Baccano! makes it clear that this is a different form of storytelling. There is no main character (Firo is main character-ish, Carol says), there is no overriding plot (though many of the events do take place on the train), and there is no ending. This is a peek into the lives of humans, a story of their interaction with one another and their evolution - the story is infinite, and its continuation is explicitly left to the viewer's imagination. This is a fascinating and potentially very rewarding approach to storytelling, but the kinks are not yet ironed out in Baccano! This is a show that you must watch with absolute attention: the story jumps around nearly constantly, both in time and setting; there are nearly 20 "main" characters; and there are at least three significant "plots." The problem with all of this is not the complexity - complexity is good! But complexity must be presented in a comprehensible manner. There is simply too much happening and too much constant change in point of view to shove into 16 episodes, especially when the presentation is not so clear.

Nor is the plot remarkable. The elements of immortality and conflict among crime families have been done before. The plot is often all over the place and at times tacky. The characters can be enjoyable but many are not developed enough (there simply isn't enough time). The show can be pretty funny, sometimes touching, and pushes the limits with occasional grotesque scenes and some very unique characters like Ladd Russo and Claire Stanfield. There is potential here, but the execution is flawed.

Baccano!'s animation is crisp and attractive but at times murky. This might just be an attempt to capture an old 1930s feel, but it's unattractive. A number of the scenes involving the train itself are unfortunately done in 3D. Many of the characters are similar looking; this is especially problematic since there are numerous main characters and things are hard enough to follow as is. The show's soundtrack is relatively bland - there is nothing especially memorable and the music is often kept at a low volume to the extent that one might never notice it playing. The English voice cast is quite good and a variety of accents are used (often well, though a few characters, especially those with German accents, are tough to bear). The show should probably be watched in English so as to get the full 1930s gangster effect.

Baccano! is a highly celebrated show, most likely due to its pioneering way of telling a story. Unfortunately, the show is all over the place and is not presented in a clear enough manner, nor is the plot itself anything revolutionary. Baccano! is worth watching, especially given its praise by anime viewers, but if you want to see polished (more presentable) Narita, watch Durarara!!

Story: 7.1
Animation: 7.5
Sound: 6.0

Overall Score: 7.0 (Good)

Dual Audio (English/Japanese) Episode Downloads

1 - The Vice President Doesn't Say Anything About the Possibility of Him Being the Main Character
2 - Setting the Old Woman's Qualms Aside, the Flying Pussyfoot Departs
3 - Randy and Pezzo are Busy Getting Ready for the Party
4 - Ladd Russo Enjoys Talking a Lot and Slaughtering a Lot
5 - Jacuzzi Splot Cries, Gets Scared and Musters Reckless Valor
6 - The Rail Tracer Covertly, Repeatedly Slaughters Inside the Coaches
7 - Everything Starts Aboard the Advenna Avis
8 - Isaac and Miria Unintentionally Spread Happiness Around Them
9 - Claire Stanfield Faithfully Carries out the Mission
10 - Czelaw Meyer on His Scheme of Being Frightened by the Shadow of an Immortal
11 - Chane LaForet is Silent Before the Two Mysterious People
12 - Firo and the Gandor Brothers are Shot Down
13 - Both the Life of an Immortal and a Mortal are Equally Glorified
14 - Graham Spector's Love and Peace
15 - The Juvenile Delinquents Who Arrived at the Upscale Residential District are Still the Same as Always
16 - Carol Realized There was no End to This Story