Following their triumphant victory over a seemingly permanent fate, Rika and her friends are finally able to enjoy a life beyond the Watanagashi. Everyone is finally able to live a happy and virtually care-free life. This happiness, however, will be short lived yet again. While racing home on their bikes after a day at the pool, Rika is involved in a horrific head-on collision. In the aftermath, the dice of fate are rolled one more time, and Rika re-awakens in a different Hinamizawa…one where Oyashiro-sama’s curse never came to be. In this world without sin, everyone that was once lost is still alive and well, but everything is not entirely as it seems. With such a perfect world within reach, will Rika choose to return to the life she knows, or will she remain in a world where the tragedies of Hinamizawa never happened?
summary by L-Sama
To be honest, I was a little leery about picking up this installment of the Higurashi franchise. The first Higurashi series was a blast, but Kai left a bit of a bitter aftertaste with how it handled its two crucial arcs. Still, I wanted to see where the series could go despite not knowing what to expect and even after all of the questions were already answered. I’m glad I did.
Be advised: The first and last OVA are nothing like the rest of this short series. They serve as comedic buffers to the main storyline in which humor makes virtually no appearances at all. In light of this, some viewers may see these episodes as out of place and understandably so. If you are a fan of the brand of humor Higurashi had at the beginning of its arcs, then you’ll be right at home here. Both episodes are full of pretty good laughs, and that’s saying something for a series that is more known for shocking its viewers. If it’s not your cup of tea, then feel free to skip them. The remaining episodes make little to no reference of either one, so critical information won’t be lost.
With that out of the way, the focal point of this OVA can shine. The Dice Killing Arc, which consists of the middle three episodes, is everything that Kai could have and should have been. The storytelling displayed here is done exceptionally well, as everything moves at a decent clip. There isn’t an opportunity to slow down due to the short length of this arc, so each event cuts to the chase and moves on without having to resort to pointless dialogue or Rei iterated ideas to fill the gap. Despite the increased pacing, Rei never loses track of itself or advances too quickly to the point where information is lost. A note also has to be made for the vastly improved art and animation. Rei takes full advantage of an OVA’s increased budget and sports some very vibrant colors and smooth frame rates throughout its run. It’s nice to finally see a chapter of this franchise rendered with more attention to artistic detailing.
Suspense can be a tricky storytelling element to use; if it is used too much, then the story can drag for unnecessarily long periods of time and become tedious to watch. Thankfully, Rei handles this aspect wonderfully. No time is wasted between each reveal, which keeps things fresh on the plotline. As each pro or con of the new world is revealed, the situation becomes more engrossing, and the viewer is pulled even further into Rika’s shoes. The ultimatum that she faces is one that anyone would have trouble answering. This new Hinamizawa is Rika’s equivalency of the Garden of Eden; it is the world without sin or tragedy that she has desired for her entire existence without the sacrifices that had to be made to get it. Watching her agonize over which world is the correct one to choose left me hanging on the edge of my seat and made me wonder what I would do in her situation. That kind of connection with a character is a strong device to use, and it is used perfectly.
Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni Rei takes the pacing of the first season, the suspense of the second season, and combines them both in a neat, little package that doesn’t fail to deliver a solid story. With or without the first and last episodes, this series still brings some redemption to the franchise and vaults itself high on my list of recent OVA releases at the same time.
Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni Rei can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.