Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Ten Years Later: Higurashi (When They Cry)

You know how they call marijuana a gateway drug or whatever? Well, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (Which also goes by the title "When They Cry") is considered by many to be a sort of gateway anime. Now, when I was 14 years old, I was one twisted individual. Hell, I still am to some degree. But what basically happened is back when I was first getting into anime, I started looking up different "Effed up" shows. Obviously, I was intrigued by the idea of a whole bunch of teenage schoolgirls being brutally slaughtered by a seemingly unavoidable curse that plagued their city. Oh, and for those of you who haven't watched Higurashi yet, you read that correctly. This show can be absolutely horrifying in terms of sheer brutality. But that's what made/makes it so great.

Based on the dojin-soft game/visual novel of the same title created by 7th Expansion, Higurashi reached critical acclaim early on in its life. Starting with its birth in 2002, the series built a quick name for itself and began pumping out chapter after chapter. These chapters, which were released in an episodic style, built upon mysteries from previous ones while adding their own unique mysteries to the mixture, culminating in a story that grew incredibly convoluted and deep. But in a good way. Personally, I still haven't gotten around to playing the games. In fact, I had a vendetta against them for a very long time due to the..."unique" art style. I'll leave it at that. BUT, apparently an art patch was made for the game, so now I am literally obligated to play it because I have no reason not to anymore.

Higurashi follows a strange formula, being set up into several small arcs with extremely different stories that wind up playing off each other to a certain degree. The first arc opens up on a scene of the show's protagonist, Keiichi Maebara, hideously beating two girls to a bloody pulp before abruptly cutting back to just days beforehand. From that point on, this arc becomes nothing more than the unfolding of events designated to build up to and uncover that very first scene. The two girls, Mion Sonozaki and Rena Ryuugu, actually wind up being friends of Keiichi's simply just trying to get him to feel at home in his new town -- Hinamizawa. However, Keiichi's growing skepticism winds up playing a huge part in how the next events unfold.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and break down each and every arc for you guys. This isn't a review, so I'm not going to treat it as one. But what I will do is state that this series holds up. I mean, the art isn't anything to fawn over. In fact, the artwork wasn't ever that great to begin with. But the story and the characters will always be more than enough to bring you crawling back. I remember when the first arc ended and the next one began, I thought it was a dream of some sort. I went into this series blind -- I had no idea that I'd be seeing all these different arcs with disconnected story lines. SPOILER ALERT: But then they connected. In one of the last episodes of the first season, when Keiichi breaks down and somehow remembers these different timelines in which horrific events occurred, my jaw literally fell off. It hasn't been the same since. This one moment where everything that was unwound recollected itself and everything came together, it was something I had never experienced in terms of storytelling before. The series went straight from murder mystery to intense psychological journey with impactful themes of regret, friendship, and loss. In fact, I'd go as far as saying this scene was one of the most pivotal ones in anime history as far as I'm concerned.

There are a plethora of genres that can be easily tied to this show, with the most common ones being horror, psychological, and drama. But one of the important things to note going into this show would have to be the intense tonal shifts that literally turn it upside down in just moments. Higurashi is impressive in the fact that it can be a lighthearted slice of life series that can spiral into a horrific tale of murder in less than one episode. These quick burns and rapid transitions from dark to light highlight human nature to a certain extent. Things always start out bright, but ideas like doubt and overall uncertainty can turn normal events into traumatic ones almost instantaneously. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely a paranormal force in this series, but a lot of the problems in the arcs are also brought on by human nature itself. It's actually rather interesting trying to determine why things played out the way they did.

One thing that Higurashi receives a lot of heat for is the English dub of the series. Which kind of makes sense considering voices of characters like Rena and Rika were very often...annoying. But, I mean, we're talking about ten years ago when English dubbed anime wasn't even close to the level it's at today. Basically, production quality in the ADR department was pretty darn lackluster when compared to its Japanese source material. That doesn't mean, however, that there isn't a special place in my heart for the English dub. Back when I first watched this series, I watched it in English. (Dude I was like 14, give me a break. I didn't even want to read in school). I've watched it in Japanese countless times since then, but what I'm saying is that I'm not against watching the dub again. Hell, I'd watch this series on mute. It's just THAT good.

Since Higurashi's first airing in 2005, the name has exploded. In fact, there was a remastered release of the series from Sentai Filmworks just last month. Apart from that, the show added on a second season (Higurashi Kai), and another semi-season where Rika had a weird ghost friend that lived in her brain (Higurashi Rei). Hell, there was even a spinoff where, according to Myanimelist, *clears throat* "Rika and Satoko become magical girls to battle evil magic crime syndicates with the help of their trusty squad of cheerleaders, among other things". Dude, what? How did this happen?

Needless to say, Higurashi has gone on to obtain one of the largest cult followings in the anime community. It is a name that will always be accompanied by scattered cheers whenever it is brought up in a crowded room or a panel at a convention. Even after all these years (Ew, saying that makes me feel old), it holds up extremely well. The brutality is still terrifying, the characters are still lovable, and Shion's weird faces are still incredibly unnerving. This series is one of the most rewatchable ones out there, and, if you haven't seen it yet, I highly implore you to do so. Like, really. Right now.

To this day, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni is an essential watch for all anime fans.

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