Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai is really just another entry into the long line of disappointing sequels. It doesn't hold up to the original series in any meaningful way, and decides to go for a change in pace and tone that is so different from the first that I can't believe it was produced by the same group of people.
There isn't anything particularly awful about this show, but when you're creating a sequel for a series that was really special, "average" is a pretty hefty criticism. And that's what this show was: average. Let's look at the story first. I mean, this should have been a strong spot for the show since it was supposed to answer the questions brought up by the previous season. It does this, but they are so long and so thorough in explaining that you realize the main reason why Higurashi was so great is that you had no idea what was going on at times. You had to fill the holes yourself and wrap your mind around the insanity of it all. Also, the pace of the first season was great. It managed to introduce every scenario by displaying the key differences, and then jumping right into the heart of the story. With Kai it almost seems like they had a lot less source material and tried to spread it as thin as possible. I guess the story was good in that it did it's jump in telling you what happened, but it's never a good sign for a show when you aren't raising any new interesting questions but rather answering old ones.
The animation is slightly improved upon from the first season, which isn't that hard since that had pretty terrible animation. But it's passable and sub-par animation doesn't distract from a compelling story. (This statement is not referring to Higurashi Kai.) The sound is also about as good as it was in the first season, but the opening isn't creepy like the first one. I guess that's appropriate since Kai isn't creepy at all.
The biggest failure of this show was its watering down of the creepy factor from the first season down to a weak story of friendship for the second. It's as if the writers felt they should change their target demographic to 10 year-olds. I'm serious, the last episodes rely solely upon friends working together to overcome near-impossible odds. Great, it's not like we've seen the power of friendship in every shounen ever created.
This brings me to my second biggest beef with Kia: the characters. Who are these people? What have they done with the original cast of Higurashi? I mean, they can't be the same characters, right? None of them are particularly homicidal or paranoid, and wasn't that a staple of the first season? Having otherwise cheerful characters snap and murder all of their friends? What happened is that these characters lost all form of characterization and at one point it felt like every single character had the same traits, goals, and ideals. That's not a good thing. The only person who felt different was the small girl who said NIPPA, and that's only because she had the whole split personality thing going on.
I hated Kai. Not because it was terrible, but because of what it did to Higurashi by changing the characters and removing all of the intrigue and mystery from the first season by replacing it with big bold words telling you what was going on. Familiarity breeds contempt.