Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 14th 2009
When They Cry
Having learned about the plans of her father's girlfriend to swindle her father, Rena decides to take matters into her own hands, even if that means resorting to lethal force. Her friends' acceptance of her despite her actions temporarily eases her mind, but looking into scrapbooks that Miyo assembled before her disappearance during the Cotton Drifting Festival, scrapbooks which purport to reveal the real truth behind the origin and nature of Oyashiro, his “curse,” and some of the long-standing traditions of Hinamizawa, only sets Rena down a more paranoid path. Feeling threatened and unable to trust most of her friends, she resorts to additional drastic actions, ones which draw everyone she knows into a potentially deadly mess. Can tragedy be averted when one of the game-playing club seems to be suffering from the psychosis of Oyashiro's curse?
Horror movie producers long ago recognized that there is something inherently creepy, yet also oddly fascinating, about children who engage in adult-like acts of anger and/or violence, so the strangely compelling nature of a series about moe girls (and one guy) who suffer from murderous fits of psychosis should come as no surprise, nor should the series being popular enough to warrant a full second season. That drawing power is perfectly embodied in one pivotal moment in the opener when Mion (or is it Shion?), while crouched down, suddenly looks up with an expression of abject rage. That moment alone is almost enough to explain why someone might still be watching after nearly two dozen episodes of essentially recycling through the same story from different angles or with slightly different spins on the exact events which occur. Or it could just be the intensely bloody mayhem which even horror movie fans might, at times, find at least a little unnerving, and the first episode of this concluding volume certainly delivers on that. (Ever wonder what someone who has been fatally beaten in the face with a metal pipe might look like? Studio DEEN leaves nothing to the imagination, although you will have to be quick with the Pause button.)
If that was all When They Cry had going for it, though, then interest in the series would have faded long ago. A story actually underlies all of these descents into violence and madness, and each new arc has been more than just a repetition of events; they have also contributed to gradual constructions of the full truth. While focusing on Rena, this final first-season arc reveals a possible explanation for what is really behind the supposed curse of Oyashiro and many of the strange traditions of Hinamizawa laid out in earlier volumes, as well as the cause of the mysterious cases of individuals clawing their own throats out. It also suggests why some of the arcs seem completely inconsistent with the others, why some exact details shift from arc to arc, and why Rena had problems at other schools when she temporarily moved away from Hinamizawa. Watching later arcs practically begs viewers to go back and look again at the earliest arcs in the series to see what kind of enlightenment they reveal about past story gaps.
This volume hardly explains everything, however, hence the existence of a second season. How Miyu apparently was able to meet people and take actions despite supposedly already being dead is speculated about but never explained by the end of episode 24. Who or what exactly Rin's alternate personality is also remains a mystery, as do her cryptic statements about the Groundhog Day-like effect in the story, although the final two volumes do clarify that the fox mask Rin takes off during the intro is as much symbolic as stylistic. (How a girl as dainty as Rena could so handily swing around such a large butcher's knife is yet another mystery, as is how her friends could be so calm and accepting after discovering that their friend has just literally butchered two people, but the producers probably don't want you thinking about those.)
For all its outward cutesiness, the series has always excelled most in its most graphic moments and in its portrayal of how even the cutest of faces can be twisted into monstrously evil expressions. The animation struggles to handle one key fight scene in the final episode, and some of the girls look entirely too small and delicate, but even to the end the series still offers nicely detailed backgrounds and a suitable overall visual aesthetic. The soundtrack also contributes, hitting plenty enough notes to set the mood. The appropriateness of the opener in music, timing, tone, and visuals, and its full symbolic meaning, has increased as the series progressed, producing here a minute or so of animation that is as much of a work of art as the series itself.
Bang Zoom's English dub production was solid in the early going but has gotten a little more shaky as the series has progressed. The script still does not vary much from the original, but the performances have become more hit-or-miss as some of the higher-pitched, more dainty voices start to sound forced, almost as if the actors were getting tired of the roles. Some roles are still done quite well - most notably Detective Oishi - and the performances do at least generally portray the characters accurately, but this is not a shining example of dub quality.
As with other Geneon recycling, this volume has no true Extras.
While it does resolve some plot elements, the ending gives more the impression of a subtotal than a final bill. There is still more gruesome mayhem yet to come, though hopefully the second season will broaden the story a bit.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ More involved story than initially apparent.
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