Higurashi When They Cry, or When Canaries Cry, is a story that shines a light on the virtues of visual novel stories… If you can stomach it, that is.
In general, there are hundreds of different kinds of anime. Anime (and its comic book counterpart, manga) are like an all-you-can-eat buffet. There’s something for everyone, and you can always find more of what you like, whether that’s the childish and family-friendly or graphic and adult.
Anime also tends to blur boundaries in certain ways. For example, there are series that mix expectations. They might have a very charming art style, but the characters get into some rather brutal situations. The story’s then more mature than the cutesy art might lead you to believe.
Higurashi When They Cry is one of these. The anime started out as an adaptation of a visual novel and has grown into an international sensation.
What is Higurashi When They Cry?
It’s the summer of 1983 in a small village called Hinamizawa. Keiichi and his family move there to go to school, and Keiichi soon makes friends with several girls in his class. In fact, their bond became almost inseparable. However, the village holds a dark secret.
When Keiichi discovers mysterious murders that happened years ago, he soon realizes that not everyone is who they claim to be.
As we mentioned earlier, the series started out as a visual novel. 07th Expansion developed the When They Cry series. Higurashi was their first attempt, with the game adding sound to their visual novels. This not only enhanced the experience but also warns the player when something was about to happen. You can’t miss the music suddenly taking a spooky turn!
Higurashi When They Cry received its first anime series in 2006. Told through multiple story arcs, each arc could easily be its own book or anime. Why? Well, the story chose an unconventional structure that paid homage to its choose-your-own-adventure visual novel roots. While the main cast and the general plot remained the same, character roles, suspects, and victims changed each arc.
The Characters Make The Show
The first Higurashi When They Cry‘s biggest strength is the characters that are a part of it. Keiichi is your typical big-city boy who suddenly ends up living in a small town. He and his friend, Rena Ryugu, are incredibly close. During Keiichi’s time in school, he hangs out with a few other girls in what is essentially a gaming club.
These characters argue and have silly and cute moments. Their interactions and dialogue feel realistic. While the main-boy-many-girls scenario in anime often indicates a harem, that’s not the case here.
Just as about it seems like it wasn’t going to be a horror anime, however, some start to show strange behavior. Some of the characters start to snap or act possessed. For example, Rena and Mion will often have moments where their eyes suddenly change iris color. They speak in a very chilling voice. Creepy!
Higurashi When They Cry Surprises With Consistency
Higurashi When They Cry sticks to its origins in the anime adaptation in more than just plot. Characters get new roles and even different reactions. Despite having the same personality, they end up shocking and surprising the viewer, while still seeming like the core of the character is in tact in each plot.
When Higurashi When They Cry introduces new characters, like a cop, a nurse, or a photographer, you can never quite tell when they’ll be a harmless side character or the lynchpin of the story. Sometimes they are very honorable, and sometimes they’re very shady.
In other words, this series is great at keeping you second-guessing.
The Curse of the Higurashi When They Cry’s Village
Without going too deep into spoilers, Higurashi When They Cry’s main location is the village of Hinamizawa. This small village has a tradition called the Cotton Drifting Festival. At first glance, it seems innocent enough. People play games at booths, eat various foods, and even watch a small ritual performed by the shrine maidens and priests.
After the first arc, however, the story starts to delve into how all of this is patronage to the village’s god. Keiichi, as our main character, always seems to try and find a way to investigate how this all works.
Regardless of how things turn out, the result is almost always the same: people die, and people kill. Even Keiichi isn’t safe: he also kills in a blind rage. No protagonist halo here!
Let The Bodies Hit The Floor
Higurashi When They Cry is extremely violent. The reason this is noted is that Keiichi and his friends are still just kids. This doesn’t exempt them; viewers see them die a lot.
Clearly, this could upset some people. However, if you can stomach some violent scenes all while someone is laughing maniacally, then you might enjoy this as much as any slasher horror film.
Even young characters like Rika Furude and Sakoto Hojo are not safe this world’s thirst for violence. Any character can be a victim, a killer, and in some cases both. Not only is everyone a suspect, but everyone is a target.
So Good That Higurashi When They Cry Got a Remake
Higurashi When They Cry has been highly well-received by critics and audience. At least, with the original (Japanese) voice characters. The English dub of the anime was notorious for having the worst voice acting at the time. Even by early 2000s standards, it makes the English dubs of Speed Racer seem like an Oscar-worthy performance.
However, in October 2020, Higurashi When They Cry got a remake by Passione. The 2020 series gave an updated look to the series and its characters, and kept the original story intact. Whether it’s better than the original, though, is still up to the viewer.
Except for the English dub. That’s undoubtedly better.
Should You Watch Higurashi When They Cry?
Higurashi When They Cry is one of those horror mysteries that has an addicting and almost Lovecraftian vibe that makes it hard to ignore. The visual novel format makes the anime stand out from its peers. It’s scary and violent, and there are moments when viewers are stunned by what is happening. You might even catch yourself literally saying, “it can’t be!”
That said, it’s not for everyone. Higurashi When They Cry is very brutal in terms of violence. It also has some other disturbing moments that will make viewers uncomfortable. It also doesn’t help that it mostly centers around school kids either. You will need a strong stomach to get through it.
However, it’s still an easy recommendation for anyone who wants something unusual or for those who are fans of horror. Whether you choose to watch the anime, play the game, or read the manga, there are many options to check out.