Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
When They Cry
Blu-Ray - Season 1 Complete Collection
Welcome to Hinamizawa in June of 1983. It's a small, apparently peaceful town with a one-room schoolhouse, a special Cotton Drifting Festival, and a long, bloody history of demons and a god named Oyashiro-sama. Keiichi Maebara has just moved to Hinamizawa and is about to realize that everything is not quite what it seems as he befriends the local girls around his age and discovers that every year for the past four years, one person has died and another disappeared on the night of the Cotton Drifting. Will he be able to resist the insanity of Hinamizawa? Or will he and the others fail to overcome the ongoing curse of Oyashiro-sama and find themselves reliving the same month over and over again? You know what they say – the devil made small towns.
When mid-twentieth century radio host Reverend Vernon McGee said “God made the cities, and the devil made small towns,” he wasn't talking about When They Cry, but he very well could have been. While McGee's statement was more a commentary on how vicious small towns can be in terms of gossip and turning against outsiders (and one another), the 2006 anime series When They Cry, based on Ryukishi07's Higurashi: When They Cry game, gives it a much more literal meaning. Set in the supposedly idyllic and peaceful mountain village of Hinamizawa, When They Cry follows a group of teenage characters (and a few adults) as they try to break free of June 1983, although very few of them realize that in each story arc they're actually reliving the same time. Hinamizawa is plagued by the repercussions of an attempt to flood the village to make a dam five years ago; ever since then each year at their local Cotton Drifting Festival one person has died while another has disappeared. The assumption is that this is linked to the dam project; others call it “Oyashiro-sama's Curse” in reference to the local deity. Into this situation comes Keiichi Maebara, a high school student whose family has just moved to Hinamizawa. Keiichi finds himself working with his new friends to solve the mystery as it continually unfolds, ultimately seeking the solution that will free Hinamizawa from the Curse for good.
When They Cry's television adaptation runs the same way the original game, and indeed the manga version, do: in a series of question and answer arcs. This four-disc set contains four question arcs and two answer arcs, with the answers revealing more of what was really going on than we were privy to in the question storylines. This is perhaps best seen in the “Cotton Drifting Arc” and its answering “Eye Opening Arc,” but all of the storylines build upon each other so that you notice bits and pieces of the whole story (which won't come out until the final answer arc in season two) as you watch. Even if you've read the manga or played the game, or even seen the show before, it is worth rewatching as you can pick up details that point to the true answer once you know what it is. (Keep an eye on Tomitake's necklace.) It is possible to solve the entire mystery from these twenty-six episodes, and Ryukishi07's claim that you can actually solve it from the first arc, “Abducted by Demons,” is true, albeit fairly difficult, especially because it leaves a fair bit out that is included in other versions. You won't know if you're right or not, however, until the next set.
This slowly building mystery largely works for the show, with the odd-arc-out being the two-episode “Time Wasting Arc,” which takes place in 1978 rather than 1983. While it does provide important information, it also is the least engaging in terms of immediate threat and action, and the choice to use the original game character designs backfires, as it really isn't clear that Rika is younger here. The art in general isn't particularly nice looking, and there are a lot of anatomical problems with the character designs, but it doesn't skimp on the visceral horror. While it doesn't show a ton of gory details, those it does show are well-chosen, with “Eye Opening” being the most gruesome of the batch. Imagery in the opening and ending themes is very good, and you can actually learn a fair amount about the characters from the opening, which, apart from being catchy, uses the buzz of cicada wings in the background. (The original title translates to something approximating “When Cicadas Cry.”) Another good touch is that you can trace patterns and themes across the arcs, such as bringing or getting food or playing card games that, while not strictly important, definitely add to the sense of mystery as you try to figure things out.
Sentai's release of the series includes the original Geneon dub along with the subtitled track, and both have their strengths. The English voice actors really shine in the answer arcs, particularly Kelli Kassidi as the Sonozaki girls and Mela Lee as Rena, both of whom really get a lot out of the shift in their characters and, in the case of Kassidi, scream really well. Largely whether you prefer dub or sub will make your decision for you since both casts do a good job; the only strong preference I had was largely cultural – based on Anglophone ideas of what a “hard-boiled detective” ought to sound like, I liked dub Oishi more than his sub counterpart. The picture on this first blu-ray release of the series is nice and clear, although not as sharp as some BD releases. It is preferable to the DVDs, but not to the point where the BD is a must-have if you already own the series. Sentai's only extras are four company trailers and the only major glitch is that no credit is given to Satoshi's voice actor in the credits.
Despite some dated (and unattractive) artwork, When They Cry holds up really well as a horror title. It has mystery, gore, and an interesting conceit that keeps it interesting from arc to arc, and we're given just enough new information each time the story resets to keep us hooked. It isn't as gruesome as other series, which actually is a plus for squeamish viewers, and this season ends with just enough answers to make us want to know what's really going on. Even if you've seen it before, it's worth rewatching When They Cry because knowing what's coming only makes the story more interesting. So come take a trip to Hinamizawa and find out another reason why the devil is in charge of small towns.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : C
Music : B
+ Improves on rewatching, builds on itself very well. Generally good voices for both languages, scary without being too gross.
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