Maebara Keiichi, an ordinary high-school boy, has transferred to a new school in Hinamizawa, a small rural village. At the outset everything seems peaceful and Keiichi becomes friends with a nice group of schoolgirls with whom he spends many idle summer afternoons. Suddenly violence encroaches upon the blissful peace of the village and Keiichi becomes entangled in an endless cycle of fear and death. The inconsistent, but inevitable horrors of Hinamizawa are told and retold becoming an endless and inescapable nightmare of insanity. Will it end even if the mystery of Hinamizawa is solved?
StoryCute girl with a cleaver; that carries a nice little ring to it, does it not? While not fully accurate, it rather clearly depicts Higurashi no Naku Koro ni's brooding mixture of drama and horror. As I generally make a point to avoid anything that possesses senseless slaughter with a ten-foot poll, I was quite surprised when I found myself drawn in to a show that appeared to have such elements. To my elation, however, Higurashi quickly turned out to be anything but senseless, and actually relies on an intellectually involving storyline rather than flying limbs for its appeal. While there is an undeniable plethora of violence and gore, it tends to be a product of the story and not so much a focus, perhaps shifting its appeal to an older, more mature demographic who doesn't usually find gore to be a favorite pastime.That said, it's important to know that the anime follows an unusual pattern of storytelling and doesn't really make such information privy to the viewer at first glance. Higurashi is adapted from a novel/game series in which the presentation starts with four "question" arcs and concludes for four "answer arcs;" the first season here covers the first four "question" arcs and two "answer" arcs. While the individual arcs have related back story, characters, and the like, they are not chronologically sequential, which tends to throw viewers for a loop if they are not previously familiar with the franchise. In fact, this happens to be one of the most interesting aspects of Higurashi, as, while still coherent, it makes the plot very hard to piece together in a logical fashion. While trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle proves a rather daunting task, the series ends rather abruptly to lead into the second season; it was quite clear by that time, though, that the series was fully intended to be continued and concluded in additional season, so it was not much of a surprise.As for story specifics, the fact that not much is really clear by the end of the first season and that the story follows a cumulative rather than a linear plot makes it difficult to really talk about the details of what happens. The basic idea, though, is that a string of serial murders start occurring in a rural Japanese village every year on the night of the Watanagashi festival. A boy by the name of Keiichi moves to the village a few weeks prior but knows nothing about the killings, but once he learns of the history he finds himself involved in the killing cycle as well. From there the stories diverge, with each of the arcs having the characters react slightly differently to certain events which result in drastic differences to the overall plot. Perhaps the most intriguing part of Higurashi, though, is that the story is presented from a supposedly objective, narrative point of view, but never comes across that way. I found it very difficult to trust what I was watching as the truth, which certainly provides for a very intellectually tantalizing experience. In fact, this pans out to be the case for quite a few scenarios, as paranoia and fear run rampant throughout, and sometimes one character's delusions can twist the story to appear one way when it in fact is quite different. This surreal, twisted atmosphere really plays tricks with the mind, and I definitely found it to be Higurashi's greatest appeal.AnimationUnlike most anime that aim for a combination of a scary/dramatic mood, Higurashi doesn't use many special lighting effects. Instead, a coupling of voice acting along with character facial expressions tends to do the trick, and quite well at that. Rena is especially disturbing in that one moment she's cute as a button, friendly, and open, yet the next, based almost exclusively on her face, she becomes a believable, cleaver-wielding sadist with a thirst for blood. It's fairly obvious that the animation budget for Higurashi was rather poor, but this adaptation works quite well in conveying the moods so I can't really complain.Though I haven't (and refuse to, for that matter) watched Elfen Lied, I get the feeling Higurashi carries much of the same graphic intensity. There's an extraordinary amount of violence and gore, ranging from bludgeoning death to torture, so this is most definitely not appropriate for younger children or those who have a weak stomach. A bit of dismemberment is also present, but none is shown physically onscreen, and that's generally where I draw my line when it comes to watching such things.SoundI loved the opening theme, especially since it so dauntingly fits the series. The subtle, demi-human nature of the singer's voice, along with the phantasmal echoes behind it, really capitalize on the essence of the series, and provides for a very fitting introduction for each episode. More importantly, where the series lacks in visual quality the voice actors pick up the slack, as it's certainly no easy feat to able to make your character sound both empathetic and terrifying at the same time. Expectedly, there's an abundance of screaming and yelling, but it's kept to specific scenes and only where it's fitting, which showed a level of professionalism in the scriptwriting that is not often found in anime. For a series that relies so heavily on the duplicitous personalities of its characters, the seiyuu did a fantastic job, and I'm nothing but pleased.The insert music, unfortunately, left a bit to be desired, as it didn't really do much at all. While it wasn't detrimental to any of the dramatic scenes, it was neither helpful, and for such a mood-oriented anime I would have preferred otherwise. With such stupendous voice acting, a stronger emphasis on the musical score would have done wonders for heightening the emotional vibes within the series' many dramatic environments.CharactersRemember the old saying, "Never judge a book by its cover?" It had to be written in preparation for this series. Depending on the circumstances, all of the characters, at one point or another, shift between sanity and insanity, and it provides for a rather chaotic environment that continues to grow in complexity as the series progresses. Take Rena, for instance. She's the typical warm-hearted, compassionate, friendly girl with a love for all things cute; simultaneously, however, she's a cleaver-wielding fanatic with a penchant for violence and bloodshed. All the characters take on similar roles in some respect at one point or another, but it's important to note that it tends not to be random in nature - i.e. Rena just doesn't go around pointlessly hacking people up with an axe. Each of the four "question" arcs takes on a "what if" role where the characters make different decisions at different points in time, and this generally results in one character being pushed beyond his/her mental breaking point in some fashion.As the series progresses, the characters are continually expanded upon, which makes it refreshing from the typical horror flick. Many of the characters, Rika especially, carry very strange and mysterious auras, and carry an uneasy sense about them throughout the different arcs. Characters initially appearing innocent and naïve pan out to be anything but, and I found the series continually playing tricks with my brain when portraying them. Perspective plays a huge role in influencing the viewer's feelings toward any given character, and as such I found myself continually surprised from scene to scene. There's much more to each character than meets the eye, and the constant, consistent layering of their personalities over the progression of the series is nothing to scoff at; I can only imagine how much more warped my perceptions of each will be after I get through the second season.OverallBecause Higurashi is an adaptation from a set of games and novels, it should be noted that the first season does not provide any sort of conclusion to its events. While the first and second seasons must be watched in concurrence, I made a point to write this review before delving too far into the second installment. Because the first season presents four "question" arcs and only two "answer" arcs, it's hard to pass final judgement on the series based on a matter of completeness. Even so, by itself Higurashi certainly stands as an above-average horror anime that is backed by tangible, substantive drama, and should not be characterized as some sort of mindless gore-fest; nobody dies "just because." Keeping in mind that I'm not really a fan of the genre, I might have scored this a bit low, but if you're into a somewhat intellectual mystery piece coupled with a lot of violence, I'd definitely say give it a shot.
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?
I honestly dont understand the hype about this. Most people consider this the best horror series around, but I find it way inferior compared to others(Ghost Hunt, Shiki). Its a pretty tipical case. Black Butler has the same sindrome(at least the first few episodes do). We get 18 minutes of useless, boring stuff, just to get 2-3 minutes of awesomeness. I understand the concept. They show us a friendly, everyday place with everyday people, this creates a comfortable kind of atmosphere. Thus, the few minutes in which we experience genuine terror have a much greater effect then they should. My biggest problem is, that the series doesnt seem to speed up at all. I was expecting the creators to drop the act after a few episodes. For example, we have Shiki. They start out the same way. Mostly friendly with small portions of terror, but after the first few episodes, even if thing dont evolve too fast, they drop the act. This is one of my problems. You get too much filler in every episode and too little "action". 4/10 This wouldnt have been such a big problem if at least the animation was appealing. But it is far from it. The characters dont even look humanoid, the girls look like those ornaments with the big head you put in a car. If the visuals were better, I wouldnt have stopped watching this for sure. I understand that this is a specific style of animation, but some styles are good, others are not stylish, just bad. I have to admint though that the backgrounds look much better, this is what actually looks good about this anime. So overall the animation is not catastrophic, but if you dont like the storytelling methods then the animation is too weak to get you hooked. 5.5/10 The sounds: this is something I actually liked. 9/10 The characters. Another pro. I actually liked most of the characters. They are interesting, complex, and scary(if the should be). Basically they all do their job, but nothing speacial. Of course I didnt watch enough to get to know them too well, so saying nothing special is probaly harsh. 7/10 Overall. They have some really good ideas, they had it all visualized in their head, but the way they did it wasnt good enough for me. Its a shame actually, beacuse with better animation and faster pace(less filler) this would probably be one of my favorite horrors. This way, its watchable, but not realy worth it. If you have the same problems with this as I do, I highly recommend Ghost Hunt, which is way better in the mentioned ascpect(the only problem is that its a bit too child-friendly). I also recommend Shiki. It look much better, at least as scary as this and even though has a few really slow moving parts, it still has a lot more action. 5/10
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