Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
When They Cry: Kai
Welcome back to Hinamizawa in June of 1983. This time we know that the characters are trapped in an endless cycle until they can find the way to break the curse, and Rika Furude is all too aware of it. She's been reliving the same weeks for hundreds of years and she's ready for the cycle to end. In order to do that, she'll have to mobilize her friends and find out who is really behind all of the deaths attributed to Oyashiro-sama's Curse. Can she pull through this time? Or are she and the others doomed to never live beyond the Cotton Drifting Festival of 1983?
Spoiler Warning! If you don't know who is behind everything and don't want to find out, you may want to skip this review. I've tried to minimize spoilers, but…
It has been a long time coming, but finally the second season of When They Cry, When They Cry: Kai, has gotten an official English-language release. While there is no dub – Sentai's re-release of season one only had a dub because the original Geneon release did – that shouldn't stop fans of the series or franchise in general from picking this collection up, as it provides the final solution to everything that happened in season one. If you've already played the original game or read Yen Press' release of the manga, you know what's coming, and in a few cases the show appears to count on that, as parts of the final arc can be confusing, but either way, this is worth watching.
The second set contains the final three answer arcs of the Higurashi series, Disaster Awakening, Mass Slaughter, and Festival Orchestrating, as well as a prologue intended to reacquaint you with the events of season one while providing a couple of major hints as to what's really going on in Hinamizawa. That's the real value of the prologue, which is easily the weakest segment of the show; if you're familiar with the series it would be relatively safe to skip it and head straight into the actual adaptations. As some franchise fans will notice, the names of the arcs have been rephrased from how they are more typically translated, with “mass slaughter” being the oddest choice. While it may be a more strictly faithful translation of “minagoroshi,” the Japanese title, it also doesn't sound particularly natural; going with “massacre” as the manga translation did might have worked a little better. This is not the only case of slightly awkward translation, unfortunately; another example is using “guidance counselor” when “social worker” would have made more sense. By and large, however, these are the exception rather than the rule, with the only other issue worth noting being that the subtitles drop a few too many f-bombs than are strictly necessary, making the word “fuck” feel overused and without purpose other than shocking the viewer and a few cases of anachronistic language – no one was saying “epic fail” in 1983.
Rika's role in the overall story of When They Cry is immediately more pronounced, with her taking over narrative duties as soon as the Disaster Awakening arc opens. She also has two voices – her typical little-girl voice as well as a darker, adult one. No one really appears to notice that she switches between the two frequently, even when she's talking to her friends, which is a little disconcerting, although it does show the nature of her character well. We are also almost immediately introduced to a new character: Hanyu, a horned girl in a miko uniform whom only Rika can see. While it isn't explicitly stated, it is clear that Hanyu is Oyashiro-sama, the resident god of Hinamizawa, and her existence points us to a very human answer to the so-called curse. Hanyu is apparently helpless to stop the events of June 1983, which firmly points us to a non-supernatural answer to Rika's recurring problem; that answer is revealed at the end of the Mass Slaughter arc, with the Festival Orchestrating arc providing us with how things got to that point in the first place. This is not to say that there are no supernatural elements in the story – the answer to the mystery may follow Knox's Commandments of mystery by eschewing a supernatural explanation, but this is technically horror rather than mystery in terms of genre. Apart from Hanyu's existence, we also learn in episode six that each of the arcs is a different “world fragment,” or parallel universe. Rika's longevity is the result of her skipping from fragment to fragment in the hopes of finding the one where she and the rest of Hinamizawa survive past June 1983.
Episode six is also where we learn who the true villain of the piece is and how all of the random adult cast members we've met over the past season actually fit into the overall story. We also begin to understand what happened to Satoshi, Satoko's older brother who disappeared shortly before Keiichi moved to Hinamizawa, and the issue of mental illness begins to be more pressing than any curse. Paranoid delusions take the place of the supernatural as the story progresses, and the final arc really delves into the idea of how your mental state can play with your perceptions of the world. While the show uses a specific parasite or regional disease rather than real-world terms, the start of the Festival Orchestrating arc explores how within the show's world the two can almost be one and the same. This delves into Miyo Takano's past in the years shortly after World War II and her mistreatment at the hands of those who were meant to take care of her after her parents' deaths. This is a theme that we previously saw in the Mass Slaughter arc in terms of Satoko suffering from physical abuse at the hands of her uncle, and the parallels between Satoko, who is suffering from Hinamizawa Syndrome, and Takano, whom we see hit her head very hard several times in her attempts to escape from the abusive orphanage she is sent to, are very interesting, particularly when we consider recent research into concussions. Could all of Takano's actions have been the result of traumatic brain injury? The implication is there, and given that the only two people we directly see suffering from so-called Hinamizawa Syndrome (not injected with a mysterious substance) are known to have been physically abused, it certainly does make you think.
In terms of fidelity to the manga (I cannot speak to the game), there are a lot of small changes in terms of background details, with some from other arcs used in the Disaster Awakening, presumably because they didn't fit in season one. The horror has been toned down from the manga, particularly in terms of Takano's childhood and the ending scenes of the Mass Slaughter arc, although there's still a scene in episode five that's pretty much nightmare fuel. It is still horror and disturbing, just not quite as disturbing as the manga. The art and animation, however, are vastly improved from season one, as flashbacks within the show prove. It still isn't amazing, as a few lackluster fight scenes at the end of the series show, but it also has lost that cheap bobble-head look that season one had. The Japanese voice cast is good enough that you really don't miss the dub option, particularly Yukari Tamura as Rika's two voices and Miki Itou's Takano – the quaver in her voice in the final scenes is spot-on.
When They Cry: Kai has its issues, but on the whole is a good follow up to season one and provides some much needed closure to the series. It isn't as gut-wrenching as the manga and it doesn't always flow as smoothly as it might (the start of the Festival Orchestrating arc is a prime example), but it does come to a satisfactory conclusion, with a bonus scene of how the whole mess could have been avoided in the first place. If you've been waiting to find out how it all ends, that wait is now over. Come find out the real reason why the cicadas were crying for all those years.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Provides all of the answers in a way that makes sense, good voice acting, especially from Rika and Takano. Interesting parallels leave us with things to figure out on our own. Improved visuals.
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