Reviewby Theron Martin,
When They Cry
DVD 2 - Higurashi
As the “Cotton Drifting” arc continues, Mion's behavior has grown odd ever since her younger identical twin Shion started showing up and taking an interest in Keiichi, but that is far from his only concern. Shion convinces Keiichi to sneak off during the Cotton Drifting festival and join Tamitake and Takano in investigating the contents of a forbidden warehouse, and what Keiichi learns from there about the disturbing history of Hinamizawa and the Cotton Drifting festival, and later about Mion's family, sets in motion a series of events which bring death, disappearances, and mayhem to those around him. But is a person behind these dastardly events, or could it truly be the curse of Oyashiro, Hinamizawa's patron deity and vengeful protector?
As the “Curse Killing” arc begins, Keiichi gradually learns the full story of Satoko's troubled life, including her abusive uncle, the death of her parents, and her missing brother Satoshi, who disappeared (many say ran away) a year earlier during the Cotton Drifting festival. Though she proves of great assistance to Keiichi when he is left without someone to cook for him and normally maintains a cheery attitude, Satoko is still deeply troubled by the disappearance of her “nii-nii” (i.e. older brother) and starts to look to Keiichi as a replacement. She is not the only one affected; Shion and Rena also both act strangely whenever his name gets brought up.
Given the current moe craze in anime fandom in Japan, basing a mind-bending horror story around exceedingly blatant moe elements seems like a natural progression. Studio DEEN, which is probably best-known to American fans for producing titles like You're Under Arrest, Fruits Basket, and Full Moon, thankfully decided not to be content with just that gimmick. With the addition of these five episodes into the picture, the stunning and bizarre turn of events in episode 5 that doubtless flummoxed many newcomers to the series now makes sense: the series operates in four-episode Chapters, with each chapter resetting the story and retelling it from a different angle and with an emphasis on different characters, albeit with Keiichi always at the center of things.
By the end of the volume the pattern has been clearly-established: start with a very disturbing and gory scene, switch to Nice and Sweet mode for most of the first episode, switch the tone suddenly with the revelation of past murders and disappearances, and then gradually slip into darker and more disturbing territory as secrets get revealed, ultimately leading to a bloody and lethal climax. However, instead of taking the Rashomon-like approach you might expect, where you watch the same events from different perspectives and interpretations, the details and exact circumstances vary decidedly each time; one cast member even takes on a substantially different personality in the third chapter than what he had in the previous two. Each new chapter builds slightly upon details revealed in previous ones, with some truths not known at the beginning of previous chapters now known to Keiichi at the start; he begins the third Chapter knowing about the existence of Shion, for instance. Each time a few new juicy details get thrown into the mix (such as what appears to be on Mion's back during the opener), and each time a new nasty secret about someone in Hinamizawa surfaces. It's enough to make one wonder what the final full picture will look like, but that, of course, will keep viewers coming back.
The other main draw, of course, is watching exceedingly cute girls (and occasionally Keiichi, too) turn completely psychotic and engage in all manner of twisted expressions, bizarre ramblings, stabbing or hacking people up, and/or earnestly engaging in brutal torture. At the end of the second chapter the storytelling does fall into the common slasher movie trap of going over the top, and one scene involving Mion flipping out while holding a ladder simply fails to work, but most of the time the effectiveness of these scenes at evoking a disturbing and unsettling mood more than outweighs their gimmicky feel. So far this is some of the best horror anime content to come out in quite some time.
How much you appreciate the character designs depends a lot on your tolerance for a typical moe look, but Mion and Shion in particular distinguish themselves as appealing designs and adult male characters, for a change, do not all have generic looks. The artistic highlight, of course, is the maniacal expressions certain characters (especially Mion) assume from time to time, although the background art also provides some nice detail. The series' digital designs and coloring offers a wide array of colors, albeit with a more muted color palette than the norm for recent series; you will not find much for truly bright or glossy coloring here. Nor will you find much for fan service beyond the opener, but the “fan service” here is really more the bloody violence anyway. The animation is merely serviceable beyond the way it handles facial expressions.
For all its effort in its writing and artistry, the content would not achieve its full impact without the backing of the evocative musical score. Little heard through these five episodes could be called loud or bold, but the material doesn't require grandiose numbers, either. It only needs the music to be suitably creepy during the darker scenes and light-hearted and fun during the lighter ones, and that it does very well. The ethereal opening song, with its heavy electronica beat, blends with its matching visuals to create an opener well worthy of repeat viewings, while the Engrish adult contemporary-styled closer smoothly segues into the Next Episode previews.
Performances in the English dub are smooth and expressive enough to avoid any major complaints; if you normally at least tolerate dubs, you should find no fault with this one. The speaking style of Detective Oshii varies the most of any character between the English and Japanese dub, but both performances convey the same general attitude and approach. The English voice actresses generally put a little more effort into making their characters sound girly than their corresponding seiyuu, but whether you find that to be an improvement or misinterpretation will depend on your personal tastes. And as noted before, both dubs badly fail to hit the right note on Mion's psychosis in the ladder scene. The English script greatly reorganizes the wording at time but otherwise does not vary much.
Although Geneon did put five episodes on this volume, too, the only Extras they included beyond company previews are another reversible cover (which provides the regular version of the negative artwork on the actual cover) and a Satoko insert picture. Unfortunately Geneon made a massive blunder on the episode blurbs on the back cover, which are just repeats of the ones used for episodes 1-5 on the first volume and thus not at all reflective of what happens in any of the episodes. [EDIT: Geneon has informed this reviewer that they are aware of the problem and reprinting the DVD wrap with the correct blurbs. See the Discussion thread in Forums for details and correct blurbs.]
If the first volume was enough to get you interested, this second volume will hook you. The intriguingly nasty look it offers into the seamier side of life in otherwise-idyllic Hinamizawa combines with its rotating storytelling and effective horror elements to overcome the gimmicky feel one might normally expect from a set-up like this. Enough minor flaws hold it back from being brilliant, but neither will it get lost in the morass of moe titles streaming across the Pacific.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Good horror elements, great storytelling gimmick, effective musical score.
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