"Higurashi no Naku Koro ni/When They Cry" Epitomizes "Show Don't Tell"
Directed by: Chiaki Kon Rating: R Studio: Studio Deen Number of Episodes: 50
Horror comes from the strangest places. Originally a series of sound novels by indie developer 07th Expansion, "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni" ("When They Cry" to Western audiences), is horror at its best, finding the right balance between humor and graphic violence while keeping the viewer intrigued until the very end.
Taking place in the cozy village of Hinamizawa, "When They Cry" follows the story of Maebara Keiichi (dub: Grant George, sub: Sōichirō Hoshi) as he and friends Rena (dub: Mela Lee, sub: Mai Nakahara), Mion and Shion (dub: Megan Hollingshead, sub: Satsuki Yukino), Satoko (dub: Jennie Kwan, sub: Mika Kanai), and Rika (dub: Rebecca Forstdat, sub: Yukari Tamara) uncover the secrets behind a series of murders in the town.
Under the guise of Oyashiro's Curse, one person dies and another goes missing every year to appease a savage god. This is by no means a proper explanation for the local police, as a continual investigation is led by Detective Ooishi (dub: John Snyder, sub: Chafurin), a veteran police officer whose close friend was the first victim. He occasionally helps the kids out and is supported by strong performances in both the sub and dub versions.
Of course the children themselves are not entirely innocent. They too partake in murder, but at odd intervals, making their behavior originally unpredictable. Don't worry, all is explained in time, but "When They Cry" is very selective as to how much it shows, allowing the viewer to continually come up with their own explanations until the end.
And that is so crucial to horror: the fear of the unknown. "When They Cry" has complex fantasy elements that would seem silly if explained (universe hopping), but are unnerving when shown. That's not to say the show doesn't have fun, in fact it does a careful job to keep the tone lighthearted up until the Cotton Drifting Festival, when the murders take place and for lack of a better term, shit hits the fan, serving as a calm before the storm to give the viewer a break between the individual time loops.
Which is a perfect point from which to explain the show's gimmick: time "resets" every few episodes, all at appropriate points. Think of it akin to a video game death screen, except every time these characters die, they have to start from the very beginning (like in an NES game). The fact that this remains unexplained until season 2 (titled Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai, and lacking an English dub) not only allows the show to explore Oyashiro's curse from multiple different angles, but allows "When They Cry" to flesh out all its characters in a masterfully controlled way. This is not a show that will hit you over the head with a mountain of story, but will feed it to you in easily digestible, very delectable, chunks.
Though the lack of a second-season dub can be jarring for English viewers, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni's masterful storytelling and use of intrigue are well worth the growing pains, though like most anime, the best way to watch it is in its native language.
A prime example of how to do horror and mystery right, "When They Cry" is a must watch for fans of horror, anime, and the visual medium as a whole.