Studio: Studio Deen
Publisher: 07th Expansion
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Psychological, Supernatural, Thriller
Release: S1 (2006), S2 Kai (2007), OVA Rei (2009), OVA Kira (2012), OVA Kaku (2013)
“Watching Higurashi is like locking a group of happy people in a test chamber, only coming back to find they’ve hacked each other into a bloody mess. It’s horrific, its shocking, and yet a part of you, cannot help but wonder, how did it happen?” –Ceptryn
Graduating high school back in 2006 pretty much coincided dwelling away with all things anime, and I switched to American TV series with the likes of House MD, Supernatural, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, etc. instead. But come college graduation, I had unintentionally come back to my roots. It was when a friend who visited Japan gave me Nendoroid figurines of some of Higurashi’s characters. I got curious on what kind of anime it was, and voila! Before I knew it, I was hooked up again.
Synopsis: The story is set in a fictional rural village of Hinamizawa of 1983. Our protagonist Keiichi Maebara, who recently moves in, befriends his new classmates (Rena, Mion, Satoko and Rika) and participates in after-school activities comprised mostly of card and board games.
The village may seem peaceful and ordinary at first, but that all comes to an end at the village’s annual Watanagashi (Cotton-Drifting) Festival where they pay homage to their local god, Oyashiro-sama, when Keiichi discovers that for the past four years, one is always murdered and one disappears on the day of the festival. Keiichi is then drawn to the strange events happening around him, and the truth is slowly revealed.
The series is in a literal bipolar state- cute, bubbly and fun on their daily lives, then things immediately change to dark, mysterious and sinister when it’s time for the murder cases to creep in. The synopsis may seem typical if compared to today’s anime, but I still find the execution to be simply ingenious.
The anime episodes are divided into question and answer arcs and each arc retells the general story in a character-dependent perspective. To put it simply, question arcs are what stirs the mysteries in a supernatural way, and the answer arcs solves it logically where humans, not Gods and curses, are responsible. Majority of the arcs are just looped timelines where the only differences are who killed who and why. But they’re interconnected- finding out how that works out in the end is the fun part.
Here’s a general enumeration of the main story arcs:
The official Japanese title is ‘Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni’, or ‘When The Cicadas Cry’ in its literal English translation. It refers to the mournful chirps of the cicadas in the late summer, as always heard as a recurring background sound effect in the anime. In retrospect, Keiichi treated the cries as a sort of warning to the tormenting events what were about to happen that time.
Being a 2006 anime, the story and can be slow, but can also be potentially disturbing when you put your focus on when watching. Each story starts with mundane cutesy daily-life comedy but somewhere along the way things will get psychological and murderous. Don’t let the animation aesthetics deceive you. Things may be moe for awhile but that’s just a way for prepping things up for the paranoia and emotional damage to come.
The main theme the anime revolves around on is finding and working for that simple happiness one desires, and trying his best to get it without stepping on anybody. But then in the end nothing works out and everything just crashes and burns in the most horrible of ways. He will be left with nothing despite all his good intentions. Hopelessness will take over, and he will be led to his ultimate demise- and that’s when he looks for the external cause and eliminates it. Well, something like that.
Each character is placed in a situation where they are forced to choose between their own happiness in which they think they’ve worked hard for, or the happiness of others whom they think are not deserving. Deciding between either options is a no-brainer. Hence, the birth of their sin.
In the early parts, one may speculate that the plot is guided by a supernatural force, in which everything is explained by gods, demons, magic and aliens: the ultimate scapegoats of poor explanations. Let me assure you that it is not. Everything will be logically explained with sound reasoning at the later part of the series, specifically on the answer arcs of the series. That’s when your jumpy “Ah!!!” comes in.