Have you heard the footsteps of someone following right behind you? You turn around, but nothing’s there. Have you heard a small voice saying over and over again, “I’m sorry”? Does something stand over your bed at night, watching you, haunting you? You sit up and switch on the light, but nothing is there. You doubt everyone. Even your dearest friends become suspicious. You’re going insane.
Does your skin feel like it’s on fire? Like there are things just under the surface, wriggling around? All you can do is scratch that itch— scratch, and scratch, and scratch— until your nails and fingertips are soaked in your own blood. This is the curse of Oyashiro-sama. You will soon be spirited away by the demon.
Welcome to a review of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry), one of my top 30 favorite anime ever, and one of my top 10 favorite mysteries ever. As usual for my reviews, the story, art, sound, characters, and personal enjoyment will be analyzed. The numbers for each category run on a scale of 1 (so bad it shouldn’t exist) to 10 (absolutely perfect). The overall series score, the average of those five numbers, will be given at the end.
Spoilers will be avoided in this review. No graphic descriptions or images will be included, either. However, if you want to watch Higurashi, be aware that it contains extreme violence and dark thematic elements; consider it R-17+ or TV-MA, unless censored.
Story Elements: 8/10 Excellent
The series is divided into 6 arcs of 2 to 6 episodes each. They all have tragic endings and the story resets itself at the start of every new arc. There is a rhyme and reason to this; it’s part of the underlying mystery in Higurashi. I’ll try not to spoil it here. Back to the point, I love the way the series is structured. The first three arcs take place in episodes 1-13, making a good first cour. Episodes 14-26 cover the the other three arcs. Each one is placed exactly where it’s optimal— not in terms of everything making sense, but in terms of making viewers think, and revealing the hints in a commendable order.
Season 2, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai, is needed to fully understand the mysteries of the first series, which I suppose should be considered a structural weakness. That’s the main reason I couldn’t give the story a 10/10 or 9/10. Nevertheless, the first Higurashi anime does a great job presenting a temporary ending that is farily satisfying, climactic, and highly entertaining. Because some mysteries are left unexplained in season one, there may at first appear to be many plot-holes. Most of them are explained in the second season. Any leftover plot-holes after that are easily explained by the insanity affecting the perceptions of the characters.
The beginning concept of Higurashi isn’t that original — a boy moves to isolated, rural town and slowly discovers things are not what they seem. But it’s a “classic” story setting for a mystery anime, as opposed to one that’s “overused.” Higurashi is also impressive when you consider how it blends perfectly a bunch of genres that don’t usually go together. It’s a harem/ horror/ mystery/ drama/ comedy/ psychological anime that even has some slice-of-life. The detail and originality of the Higurashi story is splendid, with puzzling mysteries, exploration of the “curse,” and the way the world resets with each arc. I’d say more, but I’m avoiding spoilers.
Now let’s take a look at the content and how it’s presented in Higurashi. I don’t know of any other anime that does such a good job of combining stories of lighthearted fun and comedy with stories of disturbing violence and suspense. When things are peaceful, I feel like I’m right there with the characters having fun with them. The cute, funny, and weird quirks, reactions, and interactions are highly entertaining. The humor will at least bring a smile to your face. Higurashi‘s presentation of suspense and creepiness is right on-point. The violence is just as horrifying as it should be (and believe me, it’s not over-the-top compared to some of the graphically violent anime out there.) Also, the show knows how to deliver good, interesting drama.
In Higurashi‘s first season, thought-provoking themes and motifs are not immediately obvious because of all the gore and insanity. Some are there, though, and they’re fairly powerful. (Still, the second season does better with incorporating meaningful messages and themes.) These include friendship and faith in friends, betrayal, atonement, misunderstandings, cause and effect, young love, obsession, character psychology, and determination.
Art/Animation Elements: 6/10 Fine
I’m not a real anime critic and I’m definitely not an artist. Yet I go on trying to judge the visual elements of anime with each review. The main things I look at are colors used, specific art-style, character designs, face expressions, detail in the way things are drawn, animation of movement, backgrounds and scenery, and whether it looked polished overall. Higurashi came out in 2006, so maybe it’s not fair to judge it the same way as I would for a modern anime. Well, I’m not. By todays’ standards, I’d probably rate the art at 4 or 5. But I’m judging it compared to other works of the same year, like Black Lagoon and Haruhi Suzumiya. I think 6/10 is fair enough.
The assortment of bright and muted colors used in Higurashi are pleasant to look at, in my opinion. The specific art-style is unusual, and to be honest, it’s hard to tell how much is on purpose and how much is just poorly drawn. I do personally like the style, but I can also see how it could be detrimental to the show if it’s not appreciated. It’s the same case with face expressions; you can grow to like the over-the-top, cute-or-crazy faces over time, but usually, you know right away if you really like it or if it gets on your nerves.
Now, character designs are hands-down amazing and if anyone says otherwise they must be half-blind. The look of the characters is awesome in every way. Backgrounds and scenery in Higurashi are quite good considering the year it was made and the lower budget. The detail in the way the characters are drawn and animated, though, is pretty low. The animation of movement looks stiff and awkward, and probably has a low frame rate. There are many comedic scenes where the characters are sort of chibi-fied, and quality is reduced even more to save money and time. Overall, the visual elements do not look very polished or high-quality.
Audio Elements: 10/10 Masterpiece
It would be a great understatement to say the seiyuu cast is great; they are basically perfect in this show. I’ll mention some here. Soichiro Hoshi voices male lead Keiichi, and I’m surprised he doesn’t have more roles since his acting was all-around on-point. He played the MC of Gundam Seed, and I know him best as Gino from Code Geass. Satsuki Yunkino plays Mion and Shion Sonozaki; she is probably best known for voicing Kagome in InuYasha and Otae in Gintama. The range of Yukino’s voice from sweet to scary is impressive, as is the volume and power she can put into shouts and laughs. She’s a veteran voice-actress who really gets into her characters.
Rena Ryuuguu’s seiyuu is Mai Nakahara, another bright talent, and exceptionally great with playing characters that have a menacing side. She’s been in many anime I haven’t seen, but I know her Luvia in Fairy Tale, Nagisa in Clannad, Watashi in Humanity Has Declined, Mai in Mai-Hime, Yukinoshita’s older sis from Oregairu, and Nanami Yasuri in Katanagatari. The seiyuu of Rika Furude is Yukari Tamura, whose voice is usually adorable and high, but has a great range of pitch/ tone etc. She’s most famous for voicing Suzuha in Steins;Gate and Nanoha in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Other fantastic VAs include Yuu Kobayashi (as Satoshi), Miki Itou (as Miyo Takano), and Hirotaka Shimazawa (as Detective Ooishi).
(Note: There was a Funimation English Dub of Higurashi (first season only), and it wasn’t all bad, but it failed to deliver any sense of suspense or horror. If anything, it was humorous. Compared to the masterful original Japanese audio, the Dub was a dumpster fire. However, since it somehow manages to make everything funny, you may enjoy watching it to laugh at it, especially when intoxicated. xD )
The instrumental music is amazing. The sounds and instruments are simple— mostly keyboard, and sometimes violin/cello— but the melodies are moving and memorable. They’re tunes that I’ll never forget. (Here is the OST uploaded on YouTube.) Some of my favorite tracks from the OST are “Main Theme” (all versions), “Suspicion,” “Danger,” “Trick,” “Festival,” “Story,” “Incident,” “Omoi Idaite,” “Modestly,” “Yuusuzumi,” “Bad Turn,” “Setsunakute,” “Monstrosity,” “Yuttari,” “Change,” “Close In,” “Glimpse,” “Michishirube,” “Truth.” I don’t know what else to say other than I absolutely fucking love all the entire OST.
It would be literally impossible for me to ever forget the opening and ending songs for Higurashi. The ED is called “Why, or Why Not?” by Hiroyuki Oshima, featuring Rekka Katakiri. The words are difficult to understand, since they’re in English and sung by someone with a heavy Japanese accent. Presumably because of language challenges, the lyrcis, at times, don’t make complete sense. However, the beauty of the melody, the sound of the singer’s voice, and the background vocals make this song a masterpiece. It’s essentially a song about Rika and her secret feelings.
The opening song is titled after the anime/manga itself: “Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni.” It’s by Eiko Shimamiya. I could try to describe it, but no, I could never nearly do it justice, no matter how I try. You just need to listen to it. It’s in my top ten favorite anime openings, which is saying a lot, since I know like 600 OPs. If you like the song, you might even want to learn the lyrics. You can read them at Anime Lyrics.
Character Elements: 9/10 Maginificent
In my opinion, the characters in Higurashi deserve another full 10/10, but many other people consider them difficult to relate to because of the insanity most of them suffer at one point or another. As well, it’s difficult to gather a detailed picture of the characters’ personalities from just one watch of the series; to understand them and love them as much as I do requires re-watching many times and analyzing many behaviors and lines spoken. Because of these potential difficulties, I gave the characters category a 9/10 rather than 10/10.
Other than anything mentioned above, the characters in Higurashi are presented and expanded on perfectly. The development and growth of characters is well-paced, spread throughout the episodes. It’s great how you learn a little more about each of the characters in each arc. There is adequate character growth/ maturation within the arcs, but of course, it doesn’t really carry over to the next world. Even if you can’t relate to them too well, I believe you’ll find that Mion, Shion, Satoko, Rika, Keiichi, and all the others are engaging and entertaining characters.
It’s getting very difficult to resist writing tons of text about the characters I love, why I love them, and their stories. Anything like that would include spoilers. So I must stop myself now.
Personal Enjoyment: 10/10 Masterpiece
Oh, this isn’t fair. I want to give you examples of so many things I love. Things like favorite character, favorite arc, a quote I like, an enjoyable funny moment or joke, a sad moment that spoke to me, or my favorite scenes of characters going crazy. But almost all of that involves spoilers. Well, maybe not. Let’s see. My favorite character is Shion Sonozaki, and second-favorite is Rika Furude. My favorite arc in season one is “Meakashi-hen,” or “Eye-Opening Chapter.” It runs from episode 16 to 21. Something funny I love is Satoko’s villainous ojou-sama laugh. It’s perfect.
The sad, powerful, and crazy moments I want to talk about all give spoilers, though. I did have a quote in mind, but it won’t make any sense to you unless I explain the situation (would mean giving spoilers) or unless you’ve already seen the show/scene. Well, I’ll leave it here anyway. I like this quote because reveals a lot abut Shion’s personality and motivations.
“Shut up! To start with, what the hell do you know about Satoshi?
You barely know him, but you treat him like a pestilence!
Is it really that displeasing for a Sonozaki and a Houjou to be together?! That’s moronic!
What the hell era do you think we’re in? It’s ridiculous! Ridiculous!”
~Shion Sonozaki, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni ep 17
Now, you’ve seen the numbers given (from 1 to 10) for each of the five categories (Story, art, sound, etc.) The average of those numbers is what I consider the overall series score. 8 + 6 + 10 + 9 + 10 = 43. Divide that by 5 and you have your score.
Overall Series Score: 8.6/10.0 Excellent
Higurashi (When They Cry) MBTI
Keiichi Maebara: ENFP
Rena Ryuugu: INFP
Mion Sonozaki: ESTJ (Possible ESFJ)
Rika Furude: INFJ
Satoko Houjou: ENTP
Shion Sonozaki: ENFJ (Possible INFJ)
Satoshi Houjou: INFP
Thank You so much for reading this review! 🙂 See you next time at Anime Rants!
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(Some images in this post were found by searching the web, and I don’t own any of them.)
Image Credit: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Dir. C Kon. Studio Deen. 2019.