Notice: This is a review for the whole franchise as I won’t bother making slight alterations for the same story.
Animated by Studio DEEN. Anyone who has some experience to animation studios will immediately tell you that DEEN is by far the worst of all the famous ones. It is always throwing in retarded fan service, cuts down on the animation budget considerably, and usually messes up the sourse material and ruins the true beauty of the manga or game. But this is a rare exception to the rule. They tried a lot more this time and so the final product came out much better than their average crap. I must say it took me by surprise.
Directed by Kon Chiaki (female). Nothing to see here; aside from her debut work (this one) all the rest are retarded yaoi and reverse harems nobody cares about. She is clearly going for fujoshis, of which I loath. Again, I was surprised to find such a person directing such a show, which is out of her league, and doing an above average job. Too bad she ruined her good start like that.
So, Higurashi, a very famous anime for one reason only.
1) It has killer lolis! Sure, there are more reasons but come on, would 90% of the audience even bother if it wasn’t for that? Most people are attracted to the antithesis of having little innocent girls butchering each other with a satanic laughter. To put it more simple moe+gore=win.
2) Ok, skip the lolis entirely. It is still captivating for having gore amongst innocents. You see, mainstream entertainment has made us too accustomed in seeing some superhero running like the wind and saving normal people in the nick of time before wasting hoards of faceless monsters/robots/demons. It becomes quite a contrast when death is amongst normal everyday people and the protagonist does not have cool superpowers. It makes it more tragic, since it feels unfair for these people to be killed and no clear retribution or justice is served. Furthermore, the killer is not clear, the motives are not clear, good people seem to die for no reason.
3) Ok, skip the gore too. It is still captivating for the mystery behind the murders. Who does it, why, where, how, when, throwing in ghost stories and the occult to make it even more weird. Mainstream entertainment has again made us accustomed in seeing straightforward scenarios, with clear good guys and bad guys, obvious motives and objectives, making everything predictable from the trailer alone. Higurashi is not like that; it has its way of keeping you in the dark despite constantly hinting things.
4) Ok, skip the mystery too. It is still captivating for its presentation. Do you know how many people watch something just because it looks good? Higurashi makes good use of numerous cinematics in coloring and perspective, which bring out all the creepy atmosphere of the show. One moment they are having a slice-of-life fun time with bright colors, the immediate next WHAM shit happens with dark ones. The soundtrack is equally good at building up the mood with its slow yet sad towards creepy feeling while the easy going voice acting really fools you to think this will be a silly moe show before the creepy stuff happen.
5) Ok, skip the production values too. It is still captivating for its metaphysical aspect. You see, the main catch in the story is that time keeps going in loops (not really but that is what you think for most of the show) and only a selective few remember that, each time trying to change the horrid outcome.
So it is not that hard to imagine why this franchise was a success. It is cute, crazy, mysterious, and funny at the same time; very unorthodox with most of everything else.
Yet Higurashi is hardly a show for mass appeal for a different set of reasons.
1) Half of it is retarded moe/harem comedy. If you don’t like the genre, it will be nearly impossible to enjoy the show. I mean, just look how the girls look. Their heads are extremely big and their limbs just small sticks. What some may consider cute, others will see it as monstrous.
2) It constantly loops back and rehashes the plot again and again. Although each loop provides further immersion to the mystery and the characters, it is still rather hard to remain indefinitely interested in a plot that spends half the time in moe/harem before going crazy, killing everyone and looping back for more.
3) The mystery unravels slowly and very late in the second season. Even though the hints were cleverly inserted throughout the dumb moments, it is still very hard to appreciate the effort if you had to force yourself to watch the whole thing for so many episodes. One will wonder of course why would someone watch so many episodes of a show he doesn’t like and thus this part is not something that will matter to anyone who didn’t like the initial episodes.
4) The production values are not high caliber. Although they use cinematics in smart ways, the character figures are still terribly generic, and animation suffers in many occasions. Furthermore, the soundtrack as atmospheric as it may be, has no memorable songs.
5) The ending is convinient and far fetched. You will facepalm at what the lolis will do in order to prevent the constant looping. It’s as if they went for a forced happy ending.
6) Eventually the franchise turned to sleazy milking and offers nothing but aimless fan service. I am referring to the latest Kira entry.
Now to be completely honest none of the elements of the show are needless or wrong.
1) Higurashi wouldn’t work without the moe, or the gore, or the loops because the mystery wouldn’t be so well hidden for so long or so shocking if it wasn’t revolving cute girls.
2) Since the story is based on a visual novel with multiple routes and endings, even the looping seems to be excused in a way, since there is no way to see the whole deal on one go. If the story was linear, only a small part of the complicated whole would be revealed and thus its true power wouldn’t be seen. Higurashi is also not like Fate/Stay Night, where each route is partially contradicting the rest. The mystery is the same no matter what you do and thus the looping gimmick works fine in this case. Also, Higurashi is not a date sim where you pick up a girl and all the others become decorations. Every character adds something to the story and again the looping part works fine without giving you the feeling each character is disjoined from the rest.
3) Even if some would prefer the series to have more serious attitude in its calm moments and not feeling like a stupid moe harem, that would still make the show less entertaining for many. Anime are after all entertainment first and good/serious storytelling second. And anyway, this is based on a visual novel and visual novels without moe, or harem, or fan service, or sex SIMPLY DON’T SELL. As bad as that sounds, it is the cruel reality. If we weren’t watching anime for the dark, sexual, crazy aspects in them, then we wouldn’t consider them any different than western cartoons. So chances are, if Higurashi was without this element, it would be a low-sales game for the snobs that would never be adapted to anime. And even if it did, most would find it boring exactly because it doesn’t have retarded humor. Don’t look at me; I am part of those snobs; I just state the facts.
Let’s now leave the facts aside and stick to what I personally thought of it.
1) I didn’t like how the show looked or sounded much for similar reasons I am not a moe fan and the production values were never great to begin with. And I am going to be clear about this; lolis with insane looks are not for me.
2) In fact, nothing with shock effect is. You can say I am not into mysteries, thrillers and horrors but at the same time the whole time loop gimmick can only work a few times before it grows stale. This is an almost cheap trick at scare tactics to keep you interested. I would prefer if it was the same story told from the POV of different people each time.
3) Also the ending, as much as it managed to explain everything still feels ridiculous to me. I mean, what kind of a happy ending was that? It almost went against the nature of the show and inserted superpowers and ending like a fairy tale or something.
4) Also, how exactly is it creepy if they are constantly killed and resurrected in each loop like nothing happened, only to end after all these times happily? Isn’t it obvious that any show that concerns time travel can only end happily? Isn’t the actual plot of the show just a few minutes in each loop? And seriously, did the length of the entire franchise excuse the dozens of hours full or retarded moe I had to endure? And if the story is over and the mystery is out, why are they endlessly making more specials and ovas and spin-offs? I can go on bitching forever.
Like in most anime, what matters more is the idea behind the show and less its actual plot. The whole mystery story was surely great and one could say the archetypical lolis were given depth with the whole looping thingy. But do I admit that was enough to deem the show a masterpiece? Hell no; most like it for the gore and the moe, the very same reasons Elfen Lied and Madoka Magica are so famous. Fan catering shock value is so cheap. Great anime for me don’t resort to that; they tell their story without resorting to loops or lolis as a convenient attraction and way out.
Is it different that most? Yes. Is it a masterpiece? No. It could have been if it wasn’t so full of moe and convenient loops. I recommend it to casual viewers who like mystery and gore but not to the demanding audience who lack patience and fondness for moe and lolis. Took me four attempts and five years to manage to finish the damn thing and I still didn’t like it much. Tatami Galaxy is by far the best anime with time loops and when it comes to thriller and gore, nothing beats Battle Royale or Dragon Head.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-done)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (creepy)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (silly but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 3/3 (creepy)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (loops too much)
Complexity 1/2 (seems complicating but it’s just a simple notion hiding well)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (silly)
CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10
Presence 2/2 (cute/creepy)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (nicely presented throughout the loops)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 8/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low since most of it is aimless moe)
Memorability 4/4 (creepy to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 6/10
Too bent on shock factor and ends up too convenient but does great on the emotional level.