When They Cry: Higurashi – Volume Two
A continuing hit success in Japan with remarkably humble origins, When They Cry is a suspense thriller set in the sleepy rural village of Hinamizawa, centered around the hapless Keiichi Maebara and his group of friends and using a unique and inspired storytelling device to gradually reveal information to the viewer. Volume Two covers episodes six through ten.
The structure of the narrative of When They Cry is undoubtedly a confusing one; each arc simple moves on after the next one has ended with no explanation, resetting events back to the time before anything went wrong. After the “Spirited Away By A Demon” chapter, we see Keiichi again living happily with his friends with no apparent memory of the tragedy and horror of what happened before. But with the smallest of triggers–in the case of Cotton Drifting, a simple prize in a game shop–makes events begin to twist down an entirely different path before Spirited Away, revealing different information to us and giving us different insights into what’s making the characters tick.
Cotton Drifting continues to focus on the Sonozaki twins, intentionally playing up their ability to switch in and out amongst each other, and offering several hypotheses and explanations as to the history of Hinamizawa and why the villagers and their habits are strangely “off”. It sheds a different light on many of the characters compared to the first chapter; Mion seems the primary threat as opposed to Rena, who mostly presents herself as a solid ally to Keiichi, which is an interesting contrast in and of itself. After its brutal conclusion, volume two introduces us to the third chapter, “Curse Killing”, focusing this time on Keiichi’s friendship with Satoko.
Rika and Satoko’s characters in general begin to come into their own in this volume, whereas they were mostly in the background during the first DVD. Satoko’s past and relationship to her brother Satoshi turn out to be key to much of the underlying tension amongst Hinamizawa and its residents, and shrine maiden Rika remains a mystery, seeming to know more than she ought to about what’s going on. Keiichi also seems to be becoming more and more proactive with each successive chapter, instead of simply acting out the role of terrified victim as he did in the beginning. His common sense leaves something to be desired, but he’s rounding out to be a fairly strong protagonist.
It is interesting seeing how the revelation of new information affects one’s viewing of the prior episodes. As the circumstances of Satoshi’s disappearance are clarified by the different events, Keiichi’s accusations and assumptions regarding him in the first chapter are revealed for the unfounded paranoia they were. The show also offers indirect clues and answers that viewers are invited to piece together, making the progression of episodes deeply involving even with the basic repetition of events. There is a definite sense, despite the cycle repeating itself, of our growing knowledge of what’s happening and that a clear answer lies in wait.
From chapter to chapter, the storytelling remains solid. Cotton Drifting builds well and breaks in a fairly spectacular fashion within its four episodes. The tone is beginning to shift, though, from the suspense and horror that made the first chapter so unsettling; Cotton Drifting remains eerie, its ending in particular heart-stopping, but Curse Killing seems to be taking a different tone with a focus on a tragic victim rather than a potential killer. At the same time, some kind of shift of that nature was probably necessary to keep the show from growing stale. Of what’s offered of Curse Killing, it does shed much light on what’s gone on “before” and seems an interesting, if foreboding setup as for how it will all inevitably go wrong in the end.
The English track still isn’t quite working for me. Too many of the voices are grating and detract from the tension of some of the scenes, though Keiichi seems to have settled a little more into his role and Mion/Shion remains solid. Overall, though, the Japanese track is strongly recommended once again.
There seems to have been a production mistake for the DVD cover itself–the episode summaries on the back are identical to those on the first volume! In addition, there are no extras at all asides from previews. Though the video and audio quality is fine, the overall presentation really does scream of a rush job, which is unfortunate.
It’s a little hard to wholeheartedly recommend When They Cry when the status of the continued English release of the show is in limbo with Geneon closing down; for a mystery show especially it’s infuriating not to know how it all ends up. Additionally, the presentation of the DVD does seem rather slapshod, with little else besides the episodes themselves to offer–on the other hand, the episodes themselves remain solid and the story intriguing, if somewhat less intense than the blood-chilling introduction of the first chapter of the series. The mystery presented is definitely one that pulls you in and the process of trying to pry clues from the strange, often self-contradictory events of the different episodes is an exciting one.
Overall Score: 8.0