When They Cry: Higurashi – Volume One
When They Cry (alternatively known as Higurashi no Naku Koro ni)’s origins are humble ones–a personal, or doujin, project on the part of a Japanese man known as Ryukishi07 to create a PC text adventure game. The initial premise is one that feels very familiar to us–the story of a boy named Keiichi Maebara, newcomer to the small village of Hinamizawa, who grows close to a circle of friends composed of four girls. Things take a sinister twist, however, when Keiichi hears whisperings of the dark history that surrounds the peaceful village–stories of brutal serial murders and dark cults, and becomes alarmed and increasingly paranoid as he begins to suspect his friends are involved.
The depth of the writing and intricate way the story built intrigued thousands of fans, and as the series’ popularity swelled through word-of-mouth, When They Cry eventually became successful enough to prompt a manga adaptation, a port to the Playstation 2, several light novels, and, of course, a televised anime series. It was hailed to be incredibly evocative and powerful despite its simplistic drawings, and the first chapter alone contained a mystery that was boasted that only “one out of a hundred” members of its audience was able to come close to solving.
The anime, produced by Studio DEEN, attempts to recreate the experience for a new audience, and kicks off to an excellent start with the first of what will eventually be nine animated chapters, the “Spirited Away by a Demon” chapter, which provides a tantalizing and well-executed taste of what brutal secrets lurk beyond the village of Hinamizawa and its residents. The storytelling method is unique and intriguing–the viewers are presented with nine story arcs the present nine different paths the events surrounding Keiichi could have taken, and it’s up to the audience to piece together the triggers and the contradictions to find the true solution to the mystery.
On seeing images and early clips of When They Cry, the impression one gets is that it seems to be a light comedy anime revolving around the most tired device of light comedy animes–the harem. But right from the start the anime makes sure you know that this art style is a deliberate choice made to contrast the brutal content of the story–as the first episode opens with the scene of a young man viciously beating the life out of two girls with a baseball bat. The opening itself is praiseworthy, haunting and eerie and promising of a place of no return–there is a distinct poetry to its design, surrounded by flowers and the cast of characters in various states of anguish.
From there, the majority of the first episode can be described as inoffensive at best–showing Keiichi explaining his recent move to Hinamizawa, and his happiness in playing silly games with his newfound friends. Most of this doesn’t seem particularly interesting on the first showing, but once past establishment of the setting, the series quickly moves on to inform you that not all is what it seems with the introduction of Tomitake, the cameraman who knows more about the village’s history than Keiichi’s friends are willing to let on. The transition from sweetness into growing horror was very well done–vague suspicion in the first episode transitions into a short burst of outright terror in the second, devolving into outright paranoia in the third, and finally ending in what feels like a tragic but inevitable climax in the closing chapter of the first arc.
The choice of episode selection on the DVD is an interesting one. While the first four episodes compose of the first complete story arc, the “Spirited Away by the Demon” chapter, the fifth, which ushers in the “Cotton Drifting” chapter, informs the viewer that there is much more to come; that there is more to meet the eye in terms of the series’ structure and compositional depth. With the beginning of “Cotton Drifting”, the series returns to the light tone that also began the first chapter–but for the audience, it’s merely a matter of waiting for the next installment to see how this new situation will, inevitably, end in disaster.
It’s recommended to view the episodes in the original language of Japanese; although a few of the English actors do a nice job in their roles (Mion Sonozaki is notable), on the whole their performances seem rather strained–to the point, unfortunately, that it distracts from some of the tension in the climactic scenes.
When They Cry is an excellent anime for any fans of horror, mystery, or even simply those who enjoy an in-depth and well-told story. Even though I, personally, am no great fan of the horror genre, I could not help but be spellbound by it; it grew to become one of my favorite series in recent years. I highly recommend it.
The “Spirited Away by Demons” chapter is an extremely well-told introduction to the series; over the course of four episodes its inoffensive and fairly generic beginnings build exquisitely into a story of horror and tragedy that will stay with its audience for a long time to come. The “Cotton Drifting” chapter hasn’t had much of a chance to shift into high gear yet, but the setup with the sisters–and the brutal preview of what’s to come at the very beginning–seems promising.
The sound and visuals were crisp and clear; unfortunately, there were no extras to be found on the DVD except a batch of Geneon previews.