After watching Bill Murray's classic Groundhog Day, did you ever think to yourself, "Gee, that was cool and all, but I just wish they had more psychotic children running around, killing the shit out of each other..." If so, then this is your lucky day! Because When They Cry - Higurashi was made especially for you.
Last October, after I bitched and moaned on the Daily about how godawful Blood+ was (oh, and it was/is... it's right up there with Princess Nine and Saikano in its ability to suck the mung out of week-old corpses' assholes), I had a reader send in the recommendation for something called Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (or "When the Cicadas Cry") that he promised would be the perfect, creepy alternative to the sub-shitty, magical girl vampire show that I had abandoned. I read some general information about the show on a few sites, saw that it got quite a few good to great reviews, but then I got caught up in other stuff like Eureka Seven and Ergo Proxy and had to place Higurashi on the back burner. But after a while I ran out of surefire spectacular stuff to watch and decided it was time to put it to the test... Meh, it was alright, but nothing Rod Serling hadn't done before (and spookier).
What's Higurashi about, you ask? Basically it's all about some small town in some rural valley in the middle of Japan, and a series of strange events and murders that haunted the community in June of 1983. "Sounds like a Murder, She Wrote episode," you pshaw. "Is there any hook to this show?" Jesus! You fucking watch Murder, She Wrote, and you're worried about hooks in an edgy anime show? That's like some Jewish kid wondering how Santa makes it around the world in one night... It just shouldn't concern you. But yes, there are plenty of "hooks," as you say, in Higurashi.
Hook #1: All the main characters are children. All the creepy (and sometimes BRUTALLY VIOLENT) shit happens to a bunch of really cute kids. I'm guessing that the original writers (this thing was a "visual novel," aka a storybook videogame, first -- think "hentai dating sim," just without the hentai elements) were trying to do what the hacks in charge of Elfen Lied did: offset the viewers with cute-as-a-button characters, and then smack them upside the head with grotesque, disturbing as all fuck acts of brutality. Only Higurashi is MUCH better at pulling this off since they use the shocking elements much more sparingly.
Hook #2: Originally being a "choose your own adventure" type visual novel, the anime people had many possibilities in which to tell the televised tale of Higurashi. Though instead of just choosing ONE path, they chose several (I lost count, and some overlap, so no solid number here). Every few episodes there's an ending of sorts, and then the story resets, and the characters relive the horrible, shitty days surrounding the local Watanagashi Festival all over again... But each time something different happens -- a choice made by one of the main characters either is made differently, or an outside force interferes and causes the timeline to veer off into another horrendous direction. Pretty much all the paths have haunted outcomes though. Bad things, George. Bad things.
Hook #C: This isn't like Clue: the Movie, in which there are two "possible" outcomes and one "real" ending -- all of the endings in Higurashi are equally real. This may sound like a lame way to handle this, but it's actually better this way. It's kind of explained how this can be (although this, like most everything else in this series, is never fully spelled out or deciphered for us), and it's satisfying enough an explanation so as to not make you want to bash in a few teenage girls' heads in with a baseball bat or slice their skulls open like a watermelon with a machete. Which leads me to....
The plot: Teenaged Keiichi just moved with his family to the small little country town of Hinamizawa. There he meets and goes to school with Mion, the gun-toting, green-haired girl (this is the biggest mystery of the whole show to me... why does Mion get to carry a fucking gun around all the time?! She never even used it once!), Rena, the orange-haired, motherly type girl, Rika, the little blue-haired shrine maiden, and Satoko, the bitchy, younger blonde girl. The five of them form a goofy club and spend their days in ignorant bliss, until the Watanagashi Festival, and the linked curse of Oyashiro-sama (the local god) takes over their lives, turning their every waking moment into a living, psychotic hell. Hmmm, if only I had a nickel...
So, the curse of Oyashiro-sama has affected the town for the past 5 or so years, ever since the government wanted to build a dam in the Hinamizawa valley and flood the whole village. The town elders were obviously against this idea, but a few townspeople thought they could profit from the project and thusly stood by the government and the g-men scouting the place out... That is they were behind them up until some of those who tried to push the building of the dam started disappearing or getting hacked up into little, itty bitty pieces. The project was then cancelled, and peace was restored (despite the murderer never being found)... Until a year later when two more ex-dam-supporters ended up missing or dead (the curse goes "Oyashiro-sama kills one, then requires a sacrificial life that he then spirits away from the Earthly realm"... Buncha primitives that believe this crap... Maybe that's why Mion never uses her "boom stick" -- she doesn't like the loud, thunder noise it makes when it goes off). Then some more the next year, and the following, all the way up until when our story begins. Of course the kids unwittingly get involved and thus their tales of woe begin. And end. Violently.
The first episode starts off with one of the most fucked-up, baseball bat murders you've ever seen next to when De Niro used his bat on a flunky in The Untouchables, and then we flash back to a few days before and meet the cast as they act all goofy, gay and cheerful (nauseatingly so) before the shit actually hit the fan. It's no real spoiler to tell you that episode 4 brings us right up to that opening shot, and then episode 5 starts off with an even MORE cringe-inducing, face-covering act of extreme savagery. Then back to the goofy, gay past to try a different narrative path, etc. etc...
Honestly, by the third time this happened I was getting fairly weary. We weren't learning anything new, and it seemed that each branching storyline was just meant for us to see a new way for the cute girls to die. But then the 4th reset (at least I think it was the 4th) took us waaaaaay back in time and put a new protagonist in front of the camera (instead of Keiichi). This perked my interest back up, and then the following chapter showed us an alternative view of one of the previous tales we had seen earlier, through another character who's made the lead in the retelling. The final stage in this play then merged the idea of the alternative view and the total reset into one grand finale... It was acceptable. Once again though, it didn't really WOW the shit out of me like I hoped it would. Well, the goddamn absolute VICIOUSNESS got me to say "JESUS CHRIIIIIIIIIST!" at least ten times throughout this 26 episode series, but I'd hardly call that a "wow factor."
From what I've seen, Higurashi has a rabid following though, and I'm sure I'll hear about my less than stellar review of it over and over again (just like the show itself), but there's truly not all that much here. And what gets my goat the most is that not even half of my questions about the town, the curse, and the characters were answered in the end. Yeah, there's an Higurashi 2 series coming out soon, but JEEZUS.... If that simply continues with this story (again and again) then I'm simply going to skip it. I don't care if the answers to everything are as big a set of revelations as "Bruce Willis is DEAD the whole fucking movie," I won't watch it. There's only so many times I can take "Where did Satoko's older brother disappear to?!" or "Wait, what's this about Oyashiro-sama's curse?" Ugh! No thank you.
What a trip down mah own memory lane. This show was kind'a like holdin' up a mirror to mah own childhood. The government came to town, tried to build a damn in our lil' ol' valley; the valley folk rebelled, sodomized everybody who supported the damn thing; Ah killed about 3 of mah good childhood friends; blamed it on some Indian burial ground... Good times... Good times.
Yeah, this show was kind'a creepy and stuff, but the only really titillating stuff goin' on that really shocked you weren't no storyline or nothin', just the way that they killed all them young'uns off: baseball bat, torture rack, off a cliff, machete., baseball bat again, disembowelment, etc. etc. After a while ya just kept watchin' not to see the story unfold, but just to see how the next child'd get deader than dirt.
The Rossman didn't even initially invite me over to watch this Higuragishimi japanimation with him and the others -- I just happened to barge in looking for some bleach to get the blood and bits of brain out of my Sunday best. But I walked in on that opening shot of some twerpish kid smashing the ever-living-SHIT out of two cute middle school girls, and I was hooked!
It got a little bit dicey there for a while, what with the flashing back in time to when the two middle school girls were still alive and the boy who bashed their skulls in was still a complete pussy, but then he eventually grew some balls and began the "smashy, smashy" time all over again! Then there was that time that that little girl jammed that giant knife into her OWN head! And the ripping of finger nails off! Ow!!! Oh boy, I'm all for unrelenting violence and punching and slapping and shit, but this became too much for even me in the end. Poundings and beatings and explosions are one thing, but torture is another. And if you try to make fun of me for not liking to watch little kids get nails driven through their fingers, then I will seriously have to smack that faggy grin off your face with your own hand. Trust me, I fucking INVENTED the "stop hitting yourself!" thing. That's mine.