Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni was a force to be reckoned with in its first season-given its unique horror thematics and progression, it went from being a series I felt didn't quite make sense in the sum of its parts to one that I loved and didn‘t have qualms about watching multiple times, and with each rewatch finding something unique to take from it. So when I heard a sequel followed, I jumped at the chance to watch it in full. Part murder mystery, part psychological thriller, part school-based comedy- Higurashi drew me in with its likable characters and situational humor just as much as the intrigue of the realm of Hinamizawa and the Watanagashi festival, with all the complications and events that came alongside them.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai fills in most of the holes that the first season left off. The central focus of this installment of the series is establishing the connections between the worlds/realms and roles the characters played in the first season, as well as presenting new stories with different perspectives in its overall mix. I actually felt this series was stronger than the last, in some aspects, because it does offer explanations as to why these worlds connected, and how the characters came into the situations they did., coupled with the problems Hinamizawa citizens encounter Rika comes front and center as the focus of the series, a "queen bee" if you will, traveling back in time with a new character Hanyuu, a spirit/god of the shrine. With revelations encountered within each of the worlds, Rika finds that, with the help of Keiichi, Shion, Mion, and Satoko, that they can fight their impending deaths with fortitude, as well as save those whom are destined to perish. Sometimes in success, but just as potent in futility.
The blend of humor and murder mystery is just as on point as it was in the previous season-I think Higurashi fans will love the chance to reconnect with the characters again, and also be taken into its whirlwind of events surrounding the Watanagashi festival and the impending dooms the characters face, yet this series sheds some hope for the characters as they figure out, brick by brick, where the ultimate driving force in the deaths of the village lie. However, there's a flaw in this series that didn't quite come across in the first season -what the first season lacks in explanation, it makes up for in this season at the cost of becoming sluggish in overall progression, particularly in a few of the longer arcs. I did find myself trudging through in points because the themes of "fighting fate" and "changing the course" were quite overemphasized. Yet, it made me connect with the characters a bit more in their efforts, particularly when those efforts were in vain or coupled with a sizable twist in the plot.
I also liked the note that this series ended a lot better than the last, because there was a definitive sense of closure, but with an element of mystery. Matter in point, the first episode of this series is the true end to the arc of the last season, something that might throw a few viewers off to start, but if you watch the series in succession, it shouldn't be so much of a shock.
The animation in Higurashi Kai is much better than the previous season, character designs, actions/reactions, and proportions are much more consistent for a 2007 standard, and its well noted. The backdrops and coloring are also of good standards. Fluid action sequences aren't as much noted in this or the previous season, but it works particularly in the scenes where the characters give or are in the heat of the chase.
I loved the soundtrack of this season just as much as the former. "Naraku no Hana" by Eiko Shimamiya may not be as dark and ominous as the title track of the first season, but then again, it's more appropriate considering this series' focal point. If Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni is etched in darkness, then Higurashi Kai is its contrasting, dim but present, light. The ending theme to this season is also just as beautiful, complacent and lovely. BGM isn't as much noted in this season, very minimalist but when it is, it works accordingly with the settings, both eerie and beautiful.
Voice acting work for this season was on point, I really liked the contrast in Rika's VA, transitioning from her usual child-like adaptation to a more mature "wise beyond her years" figure. The collective cast of Higurashi Kai did an excellent job coming into their characters, never reaching beyond a certain saturation of emotions, yet making it enough to come into connection with the situation present.
Higurashi Kai is essentially more character than event focused than the first season; unlike the first, Rika has a sizably larger role, and you follow her through the series almost through all of the arcs. Hanyuu is the only new character that comes into focus, and she's quite cute, having some of the same quirks as Rika herself (a good point of humor). The main five (or should I say, six) are well worth watching in their humorous interactions as well as their serious ones.
Side characters that weren't as much in focus in the past season come much more to the forefront in this one. Dr. Irie; Takano Miyo, Tomitake, Detective Akasaka and Detective Ooishi are given much more considerable focus-and it's relevant because they have much more significant parts to play in this season than the last. I found this an element of strength in this season because it gave their characters, while likable in construction, much more dimension.
I'd definitely recommend Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai to those who enjoyed the first season, as well as to those who want a unique murder/mystery/thriller with elements of school based comedy.