Reviewby Mark Sombillo, May 22nd 2011
When They Cry
Part 1 - Episodes 1-13
In the small town of Hinamizawa lives Keiichi. It is a town small enough to only have one school, indeed just one class room in which all the grades are taught by the same teacher. Here he befriends Rena, Mion, Rika, and Satoko and joins their club and life in all its simplicity continues on with new things to discover both in this quaint locality and with his newfound buddies. All bodes well until the night of the festival from which mysterious circumstances befall people and the curse of the local deity is said to be in effect. Soon he notices odd behaviours in his friends and the people of the town and slowly he is drawn into a world of mistrust and murder and if he doesn't make sense of it soon, the curse of Oyashiro-sama may very well find its way to him.
Horror is a genre in animation that I haven't ever really considered to work all that effectively. Titles like High School of the Dead or Hellsing, entertaining as they are, have never really gotten me scared. Neither do I profess however that I'm immune to being frightened; certainly The Ring movie has forever made me wary of dark stairs and long haired girls in white kimonos. It has to do with the nature of the medium itself; drawn evil creatures just don't resonate with my basic instinct of fear as much as a chainsaw-wielding lifelike 3D figure which I can feasibly imagine to exist in the gloomy alleyway around the corner.
There are however exceptions and When They Cry is resoundingly one of them. From the art style to the solid story telling, this is a series which can reverberate at the very core of its viewers to generate a genuine sense of dread and leave just about anybody feeling disturbed afterwards. On top of this, the presentation of each story arc is quite unique although this aspect could have a bit more of a polarising effect amongst the audience; you'll either hate it or love it and it's really not until you've experienced it can you figure out the answer to that.
In this first DVD collection release, we are exposed to the first 13 episodes which span 3 arcs. In the game and original written versions, these are classified as either question arcs or answer arcs, but to be quite honest, the anime has not explained this exhaustive segregation and its best to just take it in as it comes. This is an even more relevant recommendation as you begin to realise that though the arcs revolve around the same concept of a town curse and murder afoot, each one of them is actually a stand alone story where plot elements and even character personalities can be quite different from arc to arc. With only about four or five episodes dedicated per arc, this inevitably can lead to climaxes that though are intense and chilling, sometimes leave a lot to be desired in terms of an actual conclusion. If you're used to this fashion of horror story where no one really knows whether the evil is conquered or not (typical of Japanese and Asian horror stories), then you'd happily move on, but otherwise be prepared to shake the TV box demanding for more answers.
In the first episode, straight away you are treated to a compendium of violent images; wide angry eyes, blood splattered on the walls, bodies lying motionless on the floor – Fist of the North Star level of gore. However a few minutes later after the opening credits, the scene is changed to the normal everyday sunlit world where the story formally begins. What's more, the character designs can only be described as being chibi styled and for at least the most of that first episode, the show almost falls into the dangerous grounds of a harem style comedy. That however is how it builds its impact. The character designs and mannerisms are so innocent that when they turn nasty, it's scary. When blood is spilled or evil laughter is shrieked, it becomes bone chilling. When disembowelment and neck gouges occur, you almost want to shield your eyes. No wonder its offshoot series was cancelled in its airing in Japan (which at the time coincided with distressing local news widely reported by the media).
Voice work was predominantly okay in Japanese and in English however, both seem to fail whenever it came to the overly exaggerated maniacally twisted screams of the characters as their angers ruptured. With that said, both Souichiro Hoshi and Grant George have to be highly commended for what must have been a particularly challenging character to portray as Keiichi moves from relative ease and even comical traits to outright demented terror as the stories compound. Though I've listened to her songs prior to seeing Higurashi, I was delightedly surprised that Eiko Shimamiya's normally crystal bright songs fitted impeccably with the atmosphere without having to resort to creepy or gothic undertones that frequently complement similar titles.
So now as I conclude this review, I must shed my cloak of objectivity and insert my personal bias to say that I'm not looking forward to seeing the second DVD collection. It's probably just my personality where I'd rather have seen a show making light of scary scenes and laughing incessantly at Scooby-Doo style antics, but I just have to say that When They Cry left me exhausted after having watched it. Normally I'd say that's a good thing because it meant that the stories were emotionally engaging but because each arc represented another story from which you'd have to once again figure out who's a good guy and who's likely to lop Keiichi's head off, it becomes really hard work to continually sift through which details belong to which arc the more episodes you watch. Compound that with the violence and the disturbing insinuations and I hope you'll forgive me when I pray that my editors won't send me the other half of this uncomfortably unsettling story. Hopefully you'll stomach this better than I did.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : D-
Art : D
Music : B
+ Has the ability to draw your attention with the intense themes.
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