Anime Review: Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni GOU (2020)

Warning: Spoilers for Higurashi Gou are included in this review

Warning: Some images or gifs in this article contain violence

Like many viewers, I initially thought Higurashi Gou was a remake of the 2006 Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. I didn’t find out until the start of episode two that Gou is actually a continuation of the story. That’s why all the voice actors and most of the instrumental music are the same as before. The only large difference is the art style. In today’s review of Higurashi Gou, we’ll discuss said art style, as well as story, audio, characters, and my personal enjoyment. Let’s do this.

Visuals: 7/10

Compared to how things were in 2006, Higurashi Gou looks quite modern and appealing. The style is slightly more proportionally correct than the old version, but still very “kawaii”/cutesy. The colors are lighter and brighter than in 2006 and the animation is smoother and more detailed. That being said, for a 2020 anime, Higurashi Gou doesn’t exactly have stunning visuals. The art and animation are quite simple-looking. Realism is not stressed at all. Still, I like the overall look, and the way it’s stylized more than most standard modern anime series. Examples of this particular stylization include the tiny noses, wiggly-lined mouths, large eyes and heads, and glossy hair highlights.

I’m keeping this brief, but I have a few other points to touch on with regards to visuals. Higurashi 2006 was famous for having somewhat absurd but captivating face expressions of horror, insanity, and rage. Higurashi Gou toned it down just a bit, but continued the tradition of colorful and exaggerated expressions of madness. I enjoyed it, personally. There were also a number of cute, happy or funny face expressions that were well done. I love it when Shion is embarrassed in her maid outfit and blushes. It’s so cute.

The action scenes and violence were, in terms of story tone, sometimes a little forced. But visually, they look good. Who can forget the scene were Keiichi bashes everyone’s skulls in with a metal bat? The exception to the mostly well done violence is in Rena’s arc. For some reason, Keiichi’s stab wound is censored in one scene with a weird black circle. That was distracting and unnecessary, taking away from the horror of the scene. It’s possible that this instance of censoring was only on some video streaming services and not in the original, but I am not sure.

The backgrounds and art for the settings were beautiful. But I actually kind of like the aesthetic of Hinamizawa better in the older Higurashi series, even though the differences were small. The character designs for everyone haven’t really changed except with a few details like altered shades of color or more mature-looking bodies. They all look fine. It was interesting to see the teenager versions of Satoko and Rika. The last thing I want to mention is the red glowing eye effect used for Rika and sometimes Satoko. It appears in them because they are immortals who live in repeating time loops. To be honest, I didn’t like this effect very much. It just seems unnecessary.

Plot, Narrative and Thematic Elements: 8/10

I have mixed feelings about the story and related elements in Higurashi Gou. But despite some significant hesitation, I would still ultimately give it 8/10. Let’s talk about why it’s excellent, as well as some of my misgivings.

The truth about Satoko and the explanation for events across all the arcs is nearly impossible to guess. That’s how I felt, anyway. There were not enough clues, nor interesting foreshadowing. That’s one thing that bugged me. Another thing is that, at first, I disliked the new rules/lore about people who live in loops. For example, there’s the fact that their loved ones also start to be affected. Satoko was exposed to supernatural happenings because of her closeness with Rika. But if you think about it, that’s always been kind of true in Higurashi. That’s why Keiichi and company started to have memories of other timelines in Higurashi Kai. So I reluctantly accept it.

I don’t like that we don’t know who the goddess/witch is who talks to Satoko. She keeps saying it doesn’t matter, and I’m sure it doesn’t really matter to the characters in Higurashi. But I’m interested in the entire franchise and I’ve read most of Umineko, so I want to know what this mysterious being is in terms of the universe’s lore. An entire origin story wuld be over the top, but a passing reference to her identity or any connection to other gods or witches would have been ideal.

The structure is of events in Higurashi Gou seems slightly “off.” By the halfway point of the series, I think we should have pretty much been able to guess what was happening. But I still couldn’t. Maybe I’m just slow. either way, this is a minor complaint. Related to plot structure, let me also note that despite so many arcs, we only got minimal new insights into the characters and the Higurashi world. This is at least true in the first half of the series. (We learned nothing new about Rena in her insane arc.) But in the second half, there was plenty of new information. For example, there were the worlds where reform and redemption was possible for Takano and Satoko’s uncle Teppei.

Now, this next issue might belong more to the character category, but I’m leaving it here. It seems thematically weak that Satoko went mad over things like school troubles and arguments with Rika. Those things still suck, but in the Higurashi world, that kind of suffering is insignificant. I think there should have been more powerful triggers for Satoko to become the villain. For example, there could have been worse abuse at the academy. However, this argument ultimately fails if we consider that Satoko was so fragile and unhinged to start with. Even if she doesn’t have Hinamizawa syndrome, she’s still predisposed to mental illness and emotional issues. It might not take very much to rock her world and drive her over the edge.

Higurashi has always been a little more about horror and shocking twists than about profound themes and insights. Sometimes, however, themes don’t need to be profound or difficult to process in order to make a powerful narrative. Higurashi Kai proved that by presenting a magnificent story with simple themes like friendship, teamwork, and believing in the goodness of others. It’s therefore unsurprising that Higurashi Gou had few complex or original thematic elements. The main one that was pretty heavy was Rika’s depression and existential crisis as she is forced to repeat her suffering so many times. Another theme is the psychological fragility of people. It’s easy to overlook, but people you know could be suffering in ways you really didn’t expect or don’t understand.

Speaking broadly, the plot in Higurashi Gou was good. There were classic Higurashi moments of goofy comedy, sexual jokes, and dark humor. There were unexpected plot twists and truly disturbing depictions of violence, death, and insanity. The pieces add up and there are few plot holes once you understand that Satoko has been infecting random people with Hinamizawa Syndrome. Yes, I had issues with certain story elements, but most of these are either minor, or untrue in the more eventful second half of the series. So all in all, Higurashi Gou deserves an 8/10 for story.

Audio: 9/10

The instrumental music in any version of Higurashi is gorgeous and amazing. So even though a lot of the scores in Higurashi Gou were recycled from past series, they are as wonderful as ever. Plus, most of these old scores were redone in slightly different ways for Gou, including the main Higurashi theme music. There were a few new tracks too, like OST 02, “Elegance,” which is used for St. Lilian Academy. Another example is OST 06, “Dance,” which is used for Rika’s ceremonial dance at the festival.

Then we have the songs. Both ending songs for Higurashi Gou sound excellent. The first one is “God Syndrome” by Ayane and the second one is “Irregular Entropy” by the same singer. The opening song for all 24 episodes is “I Believe What You Said” by Asaka, and it’s my favorite anime song of 2020. It sounds so powerful and emotional, and it’s easy to sing. Even though most of the lyrics are written from the point of view of Satoko, whom I cannot understand, I still love this song so much. The music and songs in Higurashi Gou probably deserve 10/10, but there is also voice-acting to consider in the overall audio score. So let’s look at that next.

I mentioned that the voice actors are all the same in Higurashi Gou as they were in previous related series. Because of that, the voice acting in Gou is still excellent. However, it’s not perfect. Time is starting to show small changes on most of the cast. The seiyuu for Rena no longer sounds like she would be a teenager. The same goes for Keiichi, and Satoko sounds distinctly older. Rika’s voice has actually improved for her role, since her “older self” now sounds natural and not forced, and her child self still sounds youthful. Anyway, all the performances are great. The main kids in Higurashi are all voiced by seiyuu that I dearly love, including Mai Nakahara (Rena), Yukari Tamura (Rika), and Satsuki Yukino (Mion/Shion).

Characters: 9/10

This category is one of the main strengths of Higurashi Gou. The new developments in Rika and Satoko were interestingly and proficiently presented. In the second half of the series, we also saw good character moments for Takano, Teppei, and a few other minor characters like the teacher, Chie. We saw adult versions of Mion, Rena, and Keiichi and got some news on what they are doing. However, in the first half of the series especially, I felt there was not enough character development for the main cast. The chief exception was Mion in the second arc, Watadamashi-hen. In this set of episodes, we see further development of Mion and her feelings for Keiichi.

Just because the characters in Gou didn”t see a lot of new growth doesn’t mean this category fails in any sense. These are still great characters, ones that I’ve loved and studied for so many years. Over the course of two full Higurashi series and several short OVA series, these characters have been polished and refined. They are well-written, funny, and relatable. That’s the main reason why I still give the character category so much credit. Now, let’s talk a bit more about Satoko and Rika.

Satoko is completely and totally evil. She can never be redeemed. If the new season tries to redeem her and reconcile her with Rika, I won’t agree, and will continue hating Satoko forever. It’s been a long time since there was an anime villain I detested so much or felt so viscerally disgusted by. Pissed off by your best friend? What should you do? Well, if you’re Satoko, you become an immortal time/dimension traveler and warp dozens of timelines for the single purpose of torturing your best friend across every possible world. That was the most shocking thing about the characters in Higurashi Gou: Satoko’s rapid decline into deplorable villainy that can never be justified or understood (by me anyway).

The above paragraph was written when I was in a bit more of an emotional state. After my initial outrage, I accepted the fact that I can still love Satoko as a villain. Who doesn’t like a good antagonist? Plus, she is not officially a yandere, and I find those interesting from a psychological perspective. So what I said about hating this character forever obviously isn’t true. However, I am still at a loss to imagine any way in which Satoko could be redeemed or saved.

It was sometimes challenging to watch Rika suffer so much since she is my second favorite character and I empathize with her a lot. When she discovers she’s been put back in time again, she tries to escape “fate” in the same ways she and her friends did in Higurashi Kai. That kept failing. Rika was also troubled by the fact that she has no certain guarantee to ever escape these loops completely. Then to make it even worse, her contact with Hanyuu is cut off. And what was Hanyuu’s parting gift? A piece of an artifact that could be used to kill a time/dimension traveler. In other words, it was a suicide tool.

Rika tried repeating worlds a few more times, and each one ended in disaster. After her fifth try, she planned to kill herself. But then she ended up in the world where Satoko infected herself with Hinamizawa Syndrome. While she tore Rika to shreds, Satoko gave hints about the truth, so that in the next world, Rika decided to never leave Hinamizawa. This produced a peaceful world for her, even though she was still trapped. But Rika wasn’t done yet. She kept thinking and searching, finally realizing that Satoko was the mastermind. This is where higurashi Gou leaves off.

I recapped all that in order to point out that Rika’s emotional journey was extremely powerful. She was in the depths of despair. She had every reason to give up, but kept trying. In a way, we already knew this about Rika. It’s just that I was genuinely afraid she would break for good this time. Instead, she’s as strong as ever. Both Rika and Satoko had interesting stories in Higurashi Gou, and that’s the other main reason the character category wins 9/10 from me.

Enjoyment: 8/10

Some of this is going to be redundant at this point, but I need to mention some things that I enjoyed in Higurashi Gou, as well as elements that took away from my enjoyment. It was great hearing all the seiyuu again. The music was gorgeous and I listen to “I Believe What You Said” nearly every day now. I liked the new art and animation, especially in cute scenes. Rika’s struggle throughout the series was a thrilling watch, as was Satoko’s rebirth as Higurashi’s most atrocious villain. There were little things I found wonderful, such as Rika’s success and popularity at St Lilian. Finally, I enjoyed Mion’s arc and the many small insights into other, more minor characters.

Now there were also a fair share of things that took away from my personal enjoyment levels. Very little time was given to my favorite character, Shion. That was disappointing. It was annoying how we didn’t find out who Eua really is in the context of the larger Higurashi/Umineko universe. Several times while watching Higurashi Gou, I felt frustrated because I could not guess the unpredictable plot twists or the true cause behind them. Last of all, I have minor complaints about things like awkward story structure or violent scenes feeling too forced.

In the big picture, despite some irritations, I really did enjoy Higurashi Gou immensely. I am thrilled to start watching the continued story in Higurashi Sotsu.

Overall Score: 8.2/10.0

My total score for Higurashi Gou is a bit lower than the ones I’ve given to the original Higurashi and its sequel, Kai. That’s reflective of the fact that it isn’t as strong of a story or as well-crafted as the previous ones. Still, I did like Gou and an 8.2/10.0 is a solid score. That wraps it up for today, so thanks a ton for reading! Sayonara until next time!


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