a.k.a. The Moment the Cicadas Cry
Something’s rotten in the town of Hinamizawa. Each year during the Watanagashi, a religious festival, one person dies and another disappears. Keiichi, a newcomer in town, is confronted with this mystery when a local police officer warns him that one of his friends may have something to do with the events. But who could it be? Rena with her history of violent behavior? Mion, the heir to a Yakuza syndicate? Satoko, whose entire family has been killed? Or maybe Rika, the shrine maiden who seems to know everything in advance?
summary by Taleweaver
Highs: Genuinely frightening thriller; makes perfect use of comedy/horror contrast; brilliant seiyuu
Lows: Slow middle section; ends without resolution
Visual novels are still a mostly unknown phenomenon outside Japan, but in the home country they are starting to make quite a media buzz. Anime based on successful titles such as Kanon, Tsukihime or Air often sell well because of their already strong fan base and often earn critical acclaim due to their powerful storytelling and often fresh, innovative themes.
Quite the same can be said of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. What starts off with the looks and quirks of your average harem anime quickly turns into a disturbing, genuinely frightening thriller with strong supernatural elements. This series manages to protect its mysteries well; false explanations for the shocking events are offered quickly, only to be proven wrong an episode or two later. Viewers will keep guessing about the true background of the Hinamizawa tragedy until the last minute, literally. The true power of this series, however, derives from its sharp contrast between comedy and horror. Often, light-hearted and innocent scenes will offer only a hint at something darker lurking in the back, and when disaster finally strikes, its impact is intensified by the apparent calm before. Bringing these changes in mood to life would be a daunting task without the appropriate seiyuu, but fortunately, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni gathers a brilliant cast of voice actors for the job. Not a single failure in the entire production, congratulations!
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni starts with two absolutely stunning story arcs and ends with two absolutely stunning story arcs. The two arcs in between, however, are a little lacking in pacing and impact. The first one gives too little explanation for what’s happening (even within the mystery setting of the series), and the second lacks the dark drama that’s usually permeates everything. Things pick up again after that and end in a really exciting way, but the ending is still far from what you could call a resolution. This hardly comes as a surprise as the anime had caught up with the series of visual novels it’s based on. You can still guess the truth about the mystery after the final scene gives a great hint, but it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth if you thought you’d get answers to all your questions.
However, the lack of conclusion is about the only thing that prevents Higurashi no Naku Koro ni from making that final step from great to awesome. It’s still the best thriller out there, even surpassing Perfect Blue in my book. A last warning to the squeamish, though: if you can’t stand the sight of blood, gore and torture, stay away. You won’t be able to avoid it.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.