Oh Higurashi... how you open with a thunderbolt and then clear skies soon after, making one wonder if it was all but a dream. And then it's back in moderation, steadily growing until it reaches the climax of the storm and just as before, clears up but not without the last laugh, the final hurrah only to return later. That's essentially Higurashi, or the progression of it. It starts off with a scene and then transforms into comedy. The comedy lasts for a while but turns into something monstrous, wrought with suspense and horror. It's brilliant, simply so. How it mixes two genres and the switch between them is one of my favorite aspects of this anime.
Granted that the comedy isn't for all, it can be enjoyable to some extent at least. But the transformation between the two is what matters. It's usually the before and after the Festival that it occurs. Why? Or more importantly, why does it go from comedy to something on the other side of the spectrum? Depending on the arc, it's simple. Kinda. It's a blessing and a curse, as it goes from one arc, wraps it up, starts up another one, wraps that one up, again and then another arc that's like one that already occured, but with pieces filling in the gaps of said arc.
That's another factor in Higurashi, and this one will affect how you enjoy it. When you see an arc, it's incomplete. Incomplete as in you aren't seeing the whole picture; the whole story of the arc. What you see in it may be out of context or not what it appears to be and another arc might or will change your perception of it. There are some answers to be had with some arcs but others are left incomplete. This would be a problem but fortunately there's another season, which I'm sure provides all the answers. With that said, it's kinda hard to grade story as I can't judge the series as a whole but can only judge what I've watched, and that is a full arc and half of most of them.
Aye... despite not knowing all of it (Or much of it), it does a great job of reeling in the viewer in. It leaves them intrigued and with questions that need answers to, more questions than they wish. Another love/hate thing, as some may want to know the answers quickly but Higurashi takes it's time and even then it isn't always clear. The Who, What, Why and How remain the big four and only leave the viewer wanting more if they reach the conclusion.
As questionably brilliant as it is, the visuals range from beautiful (In it's disturbing glory. A messed up beautiful) to ugly and it lingers in the latter for some time. You know there's blood, and it does those scenes well enough, some outright disturbing but it censors some others, which is... conflicting. To not be able to see some of the horror and yet being spared of it is a questionable feeling. As monstrous as it may be to want to see it all and as sensible to not want to see it, it shows enough and gladly doesn't stray from it completely. Far too many times though, mainly the characters, aren't too good looking. But sometimes they become ugly, twisted mockeries of themselves, which is oddly enjoyable. Or at least oddly.... odd in a good way. Sort of.
The OP; haunting and gorgeous. It really grew on me and I enjoyed it as it progressed. Can't really say the same about the EP, as it was hard to hear. But the lyrics are something else. While I may have neglected what was said in the OP, I did notice a few ironic bits in the EP which was nice (On it's part). "Maybe I overlooked something fatal for me." or something along the lines is hauntingly prophetic and most certainly true. The VO's are mixed bag. At times it can be quite good when mixed with some psychotic eyes but sometimes it's glaringly underplayed, or simply too calm for the facial expressions. When it shows it's flaws, it's a gapping flaw.
I... enjoyed the characters. I'm sure I don't know all that there is to know about them but what I do know I like. They each have their own darkness within them and are their own; not relying on other characters to bring them up to pace with the cast as a whole. In some arcs, they may act differently and it helps make them more special, in a sense. What's seen at first might not be what they really are, and it can be questionable as to who they really are. It adds to the questions but we're given enough concrete information to not disregard them as truly separate persona between arcs.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is a bit hard to grade, as it's half a story, or an incomplete one. I know there's a second season and I know the answers are there, but it leaves so many questions open and doesn't even finish half the arcs. But as unfinished as it felt, it still felt good. It's a mystery and it makes you question instead of handing you the answers right after or with little trouble. Your enjoyment will vary, but if you reach the end, you'll find out you would want to watch the second season to know everything. Ain't it best not to leave a mystery unfinished?