Screen & Page: Unlock the Secrets Of ‘Higurashi: When They Cry’
Most anime is adapted from manga, often produced by the manga publisher to raise awareness and sell it overseas. But what about the anime shows or films that go the other way, adapted from the screen to the page? How do those works hold up, and what changes or stays the same? That’s what Screen & Page aims to explore.
Today, we're looking at a video game adaptation that stands effectively as a horror tale in its own right, while retaining its originators' sense of mystery and unease: Higurashi: When They Cry!
Based on a video game series going all the way back to 2002, Higurashi: When They Cry is a murder mystery/supernatural horror that might sound more than a bit like Silent Hill, revolving as it does around a newcomer to a small town with a dark, gruesome past.
Directed by Chiaki Kon, written by Toshifumi Kawase and Rika Nakase, and animated by Studio Deen, Higurashi takes place in the small, rural town of Hinamizawa in 1983. Newcomer Keiichi Maebara has been here a month and fits right into his one-room schoolhouse, where he has a steady group of friends --- all girls who easily beat him at card games.
But things start unravelling fast when Keiichi learns that for the last four years, someone has died and someone else has disappeared on the night of the annual Cotton Drifting Festival. Despite all the evidence for this, his friends insist that nothing like that has ever happened. So what's really going on?
While Blood-C doubled down on the peacefulness of its setting, to its detriment, Higurashi gets to the point a whole lot faster. Even with the longer episode count, such brevity is refreshing. As the plot gradually spirals out to involve closed time loops, establishing an ominous atmosphere right at the outset goes a long way towards holding the viewer's interest.
Unfortunately, it's that "viewing" bit that's the show's major derailment. Despite its long, prestigious history on shows like Rurouni Kenshin and Fruits Basket, Studio Deen has a reputation for sub-par to outright horrible work, full of stiff figures, unattractive designs and animation errors.
When They Cry is not immune to this. While Keiichi looks relatively normal, Rena and the other girls look distractingly like they stepped out of a Sonic the Hedgehog game. I've got no problem with the moe (cute) style of anime design, but it can look downright creepy in the wrong hands.
Still though, the characters are likable and entertaining enough to overcome it, and the story is told in an innovative way. The anime borrows the game's style of story arcs, with the first four being "question arcs," and the last two being "answer arcs," explaining what was really going on. Along the way, of course, there's an extreme amount of violence that is always rattling, never boring.
That's a neat way of pacing out your mystery, and it serves the anime well. The ultimate reveals are unexpected and pretty clever in a way that will appeal to fans of recent shows like Erased.
Like the anime, the When They Cry manga is split into "question" and "answer" arcs. Adding extra novelty, though, is that each arc is written and drawn by a different artist from developer Ryukishi07's story, thus allowing for nice changes of pace.
Story-wise, it's pretty much the same, though the various talents on display can either increase or decrease your enjoyment of the retelling. For myself, I enjoyed the way Yutori Hojo drew the "Cotton Drifting Arc" and the "Eye Opening Arc."
The chronology of this whole franchise can be a bit confusing, so you might want to have WIkipedia handy. Otherwise, settle in for a nice, creepy murder mystery whose lousy animation can't mask the intriguing, horrifying story underneath.
Higurashi When They Cry is available streaming on Hulu (as When They Cry) and is available on Blu-Ray & DVD from Sentai Filmworks. The various mangas are available digitally and in print from Yen Press, a variety of retailers and your local library.