Title: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni / When They Cry – New
Length: 13 x 24 minute episodes & Upcoming Second Season
Genre: Horror, slice of life
Year of release: 2020
It sure is a good thing that Higurashi most definitely isn’t a slice of life anime. We know this because in the first scene, Keichi is bludgeoning somebody to death with a baseball bat, covering himself in blood and guts. But the anime still continues to try and play coy, with a slice-of-life sequence following where he hangs out with school mates, gets shown around the town – blah blah blah. It’s fake. We know it’s fake.
Because in this phony slice-of-life sequence, Higurashi is bloody awful.
Perhaps bloody awful is a bit harsh, but the anime just doesn’t have slice-of-life downpat and its attempts butcher the genre. There is little charm between the cast’s actions. The script feels like a presentation more than natural dialogue, and while that means it has a more eloquent way of getting around introductions and exposition than most anime – such as when Mion says ‘long time no see Kei-chan, how many years has it been?’ for him to groan at her ‘joke’ to explain that he’s only been gone for a weekend – it’s still a reminder that we aren’t seeing honest human characters, but caricaturisation and an unnatural rapport.
Rena, the cutesy redhead who squirms at cute interactions, is by-and-large just a sweet childhood friend; Mion is the more energetic childhood friend; Satoko is a playful younger child who tries to play pranks; Rika is a sweet younger child who says nice things but is very adaptable in her relationships. Only Rika has an interesting personality thus far, who has an enigmatic quality in the way she reacts to others, but the rest are bland, boring, wooden personalities that have been already beaten to death.
But Higurashi is most definitely not the crappy slice-of-life anime it tries to be, so the out-of-genre cutesy sequences that encompasses the majority of the episode feel like a necessary evil before we get to the good bits, like the episode’s finale where Rena brandishes a machete. These early bits are stuffed with foreshadowing or future referencing, and some of the holes in dialogue can definitely add to the mysterious quality, such as, simply, why the hell Keichi needs to be shown around despite how many locals he clearly knows. The pranks that Satoko pulls have a maniacal violence to them, and the cast only react as if it is a silly ‘anime thing’ when she puts a hair-raising amount of spikes on door-handles and sets up her trap-pranks to counter four or five different ways around them. Other scenes are fairly subtle, such as when the gang play Scavenger Hunt and Keichi searches through several lockers, with one containing a mysterious box that turns out to be a Chekhov Gun and the only other locker with an item in which is, presumably, the baseball bat from the beginning of the episode. Which, funnily enough, leads me to the episode’s leading mystery: was the opening scene a flashback or a flashforward?
This anime is out-and-out psychological-with-a-dash-of-violence horror, and it really comes into its own skin when it actually does that; technically, particularly, with its sudden Deutsch Angles and sharp sound design. The close-up of Rena’s face for her to say ‘I don’t know anything about that’ to deafening silence is a scene that slices through the (faux) gentle tone like butter. Higurashi is best when it screams ‘everything is not as it seems’. In general, though, the production is a mixed bag, with at least consistent art and some choice cuts of animation such as the fun high-framerate sequences for Rena’s derpy squirming, but also characters occasionally going off-model or animation struggling to match the peculiar frame layouts.
And, thus, I’m rather glad I axed ratings on my blog posts. Higurashi is too erratic in quality to put a single number to it. It’s an anime with my attention, but I can’t put my hand on my heart and say that this episode – bogged down as it was with weak slice-of-life that feels tertiary to the episode’s goals – is a good episode in itself. Perhaps I’ll call it truly good later down the line, but while we’re not there yet, Higurashi, as all over the place as it is, has my trust.