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)

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