Review: Higurashi When They Cry (Season 1)

Also known as “Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni”, this show has had a bit of a licensing issue here in the United States. Geneon originally picked up this show, dubbed it, and titled it “When They Cry” (not a title I’m the happiest about). But, well, Geneon ended up closing its doors. Luckily, Geneon made a deal with Funimation to have them package and sell the DVD, up until Funimation let the license expire in 2011 (and thus, the DVDs went out of print). After that, the only way to get the series was to pony up over $100 to get your hands on one of the few Geneon/Funimation releases still rolling around. As well, there is the second season that never got touched.

However, each story has its happy ending (well… not always, especially with this anime’s content). Sentai Filmworks ended up picking up this series, and the second season, in July 2015. As of writing, we don’t yet know when they’ll be releasing it, but the fact that the show will once again become available (along with the never-before-released second season) is very exciting. (EDIT: The series has since come out on DVD.)

Higurashi was always one of those shows that I heard a lot about on the Internet and talking to friends, with people talking about how gory the series is, with all the kids murdering each other and what-not. One of my friends, luckily for me, had spent his money on a Geneon/Funimation release a few years ago, and, of course, I wanted to sit down and check it out.

An Introduction

Higurashi follows an isolated village in the countryside named Hinamizawa. Every year, the village puts on a festival called the Cotton Drifting Festival. There’s cotton, it drifts, you have a party, fun times all around to be sure. Except for one thing: Oyashiro-sama’s curse, which was cast upon this small town. This curse dictates that every year, on the day of the festival, one person will be murdered, and another will disappear.

Caught up in the middle of the curse this year are five school friends: Rena, Mion, Rika, Satoko, and the only boy, Keiichi. As well, there is Mion’s twin sister, Shion, whom you’ll meet on occasion. These six, while they tend to have a fun time together playing games and what-not, all have a bit of a dark past, some related to past instances of the curse, and some related to other incidents. Once the Cotton Drifting Festival of this year rolls around though, one or more of these characters start to go off the deep end, leading to killing, torture, and sadness.

I mean “one or more” like this: this anime is divided into 6 different arcs (or “chapters”), with each arc starting over fresh, with everyone happy and no blood spilled. This means, as time goes on with each arc, insanity happens, along with all the above-mentioned killing, torture, and sadness. Then the arc ends, a new one begins, and we restart with everyone all nice and dandy again!

The Plot and Characters

One of the most difficult things that you’ll have to get through with each of these arcs are the cheerful parts at the beginning of each of them before the Cotton Drifting festival starts to get underway. I like slice of life shows, but only if they have something that keep them from being too generic, and in this case, it’s not. However, we do have to get through the fluff to get to the exciting horror parts, and as we get into the further arcs, the “generic slice of life” stuff doesn’t stay around as long.

Besides, the slice of life parts help to add a bit more depth to the characters. To be frank, the first arc may not have gone as well as it did, with one of the characters inching closer and closer to insanity and paranoia with each episode, without having all the happy friendship scenes in the beginning to start it all off. Even so, spending the first episode and a half on that stuff seems like a tad too much when the show’s draw is its horror.

Other than that though, the show’s story is pretty great, if not a tad confusing at times. A lot of information is thrown at you in the course of these 26 episodes, and it’s not easy to remember all the details, especially if you don’t watch it all in one sitting. The show will remind you of some of the bigger things in each arc, but you’re left to keep the finer details in mind. These finer details are good to know, too, as they’ll help fill in some of the gaps the show leaves open later on. There is a lot to learn about this village and everything that happens in it, so for those of you who get a kick out of unraveling the mystery, this show will provide that for you.

It’s really hard to place where I find my enjoyment in Higurashi. It’s not that easy to get me deeply invested in a show, but this one managed to hook me in pretty well. While I enjoy the character interactions, and the various ways that the torturing and killing can be a source of entertainment all their own, I’d say for me, it’s the most fun getting to delve into the mind of whatever characters get the most focus in an arc, and see how their surroundings and reactions lead to that inevitable bloody end.

Throughout the six arcs, we get to know the six main characters (Rena, Mion, Rika, Satoko, Keiichi, and Shion), as one or more of them became the focus of that arc. However, it wasn’t until the final arc that we even got to learn a decent amount about Rena, and by that point, she had become more of a nuisance to me than a character I cared about. The time for me to care about her character had already come and passed by the time she got the main focus, disappointingly so for her. My favorite characters were both Mion and Shion. They’re fascinating to watch, although they probably received the most attention in the series out of the six of them (a Shion-centric arc in the latter half of the series cemented my love for this series). I also like Rika and Keiichi, although not quite on the same level.

The pacing is not always consistent, with the slice of life parts staying pretty slow, and the pacing picking up once more of the horror stuff starts to happen. Even so, there will be faster and slower moments; so, yeah, not always consistent is more or less the only way to describe it. However, excepting some of the slice of life parts, it’s nothing that painful or bad.

The Atmosphere

Another inconsistent thing about this show is how its characters are drawn. It not only changes from episode to episode, but doesn’t even stay consistent within an episode. Sometimes, the body proportions are just right, and the faces drawn really well, but then there’s times where the arms are extremely skinny (like noodles), or times where the eyes are just spaced too far apart (or something else is up with the facial structure), or times where other proportions of the characters just look off somehow, but I can’t put my finger on it. The inconsistent drawing isn’t necessarily a showstopper as much as it is a constant bother throughout the anime.

Overall, the character designs look simple, and I think that works well for the series. The simple designs are certainly well suited for the light-hearted slice of life moments, but they also work pretty well once the horror parts start to happen (a bit to my surprise). During the horror parts as well, hatching is applied to certain parts of the face, and the pupils are drawn almost like cat pupils, making these characters look the part.

Other than that, appearances wise, this show’s art is of a fair quality for 2006. It’s pretty alright. Certainly not bad. But there undeniably is room to improve. The show’s animation does falter at moments, but it’s not common; otherwise, it’s also pretty okay.

The background music of the show is relatively subtle, generally not getting that intense or dramatic, but it sounds good and fitting for this series, and I do like it. I’d probably be able to recognize this show’s music on its own, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to it. The opening song is also really awesome (it’s been stuck in my head for days), although the opening animation is maybe a bit lacking in… flair or something. The ending song is also pretty cool, sung in some not-that-great English, and I really enjoyed the ending animation that accompanied it.

I watched the show in Japanese, and I really enjoyed what I heard. I’ve heard a couple people say the English dub was bad; I sat down and listened to a few scenes of episode 19 in English to compare it to the Japanese, and I found it alright, able to sit through, but I can see where people had their issues with it. I would recommend people watch it in Japanese if they get the chance. (Of course, though, if Sentai decides to re-dub the series, which I’d appreciate, we may get notably better results; however, I doubt they will.) (EDIT: They didn’t re-dub it.)

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, otherwise known as When They Cry, is a horror series that managed to get me hooked. Even after I finished it, I want to go back and watch it again. The slice of life sections are parts you have to get through to get to the parts filled with the torture and death, but the show’s great plot and memorable characters really makes the entire experience fun. The characters being inconsistently drawn was a constant source of annoyance to me though.

Unless you really can’t handle the horror type of stuff, which I know some people can’t, I would really recommend people sit down to watch this. I’ve heard people recommend that the second season be watched with this too so that we can fully understand everything going on, but even standing alone, I think this series is a blast. There’s a lot to uncover and think about in this show, and we get to see people losing their minds and their blood along the way.

Rating: Near-Perfect
Recommendation: Put It On Immediately
+++ great story with a lot to think about, really get to see into the characters’ minds, Shion is fascinating to watch
— slice of life sections can be boring, inconsistent art is a bother, you only learn about Rena after you stop caring about her

Review: Himouto! Umaru-chan

We’ve all been there. There’s this one show that all of your friends like, they talk about it all the time, and you… you just don’t really get it, for one reason or another. It didn’t “click” with you. You just don’t enjoy it that much. Unfortunately, it leaves you a little bit out of the group, as everyone wants to talk about it, and you just don’t see its appeal.

But sometimes, you watch the show anyway, just so you can watch it with your friends and talk with them about it. And sometimes, in those cases, you actually end up growing to enjoy the show yourself.

An Introduction

Umaru is your standard super pretty, extremely nice girl by day, but at night, she turns into Umaru-chan (also known as UMR or Komaru), an anime-loving, video game-playing slob that lazes around. Umaru’s dual identities formed as the result of a snowball effect: one small story was told at the school that wasn’t entirely true, which lead to another not-entirely-true story or piece of gossip, which lead to another… soon enough, the discrepancy got large enough that Umaru had to take on that super nice personality to keep up with what gets said about her at school.

Umaru lives in a small apartment with her older brother Taihei, who usually spends most of the day working. Taihei is one of a select few that get to see Umaru’s slobby otaku side, and, indeed, is the one to deal with it most of the time. He acts as a foil to Umaru, trying to keep her grounded, and acting as the professional, responsible older brother when Umaru is being messy and a nuisance.

Alongside Taihei, some of the other people we get to meet is Ebina, Umaru’s best friend from school. Although Ebina lives in the same apartment complex as Umaru, she’s never seen Umaru’s otaku side. Tachibana Sylphynford (whom I’ll refer to as TSF-san) is Umaru’s self-proclaimed rival, despite how she usually fails to outwit Umaru is nearly anything, but at least she has enthusiasm. Finally, Kirie is an extremely shy girl in Umaru’s class that wants to befriend Umaru, but doesn’t quite know how to. She stumbles across otaku-Umaru, and takes otaku-Umaru to be her master.

Each episode has at least two stories, which detail random events in Umaru’s life (and sometimes the lives of others, such as Taihei), usually done for comedy.

The Plot and Characters

This is my personal taste, but I have a hard time enjoying a show where it features a lot of one character being a brat (in substitution of more crass language) towards another one. And that’s the case here, with Umaru being whiny, childish, and simply ungrateful towards Taihei. It was uncomfortable for me to watch, which is why I had a hard time getting into this anime when it started. I almost nearly dropped the series partway in because of that. Luckily, after the first few episodes, they toned it down. It was still present, but it wasn’t uncomfortably too much. Sometimes, especially in the latter half of the series, Umaru actually started to show some sympathy towards Taihei, which I really appreciated and enjoyed.

Many of the show’s stories basically were just what Umaru did on a particular afternoon. About 60 to 70% of the show takes place in Umaru and Taihei’s apartment, so we see a lot of interaction between the two of them. There was quite a bit of Umaru lazing around, being irresponsible, and Taihei scolding her. Or a lot of Umaru explaining her take on being an otaku (simply put, Umaru’s “life hacks”; here’s one: cola is amazing and goes great with everything). There’s also a notable amount of Umaru visiting arcades and basically robbing them with how unbelievably successful she is at winning almost every single game.

While some repetitive themes and other things do show up throughout the show, it didn’t come off as too repetitive. The show did pretty good to keep things fresh throughout the series, despite Umaru simply being an otaku that tends to get her way.

Indeed, Umaru could basically be summed up as just that: an irresponsible, whiny, sloppy otaku that tends to get her way. There’s not really much more to her than that, and I wouldn’t think she needs anything more to her character, with worries that anything extra would bog down the simple enjoyment of the show. Ebina, TSF-san (heck if I remember her full name), Kirie, and most other recurring characters can be similarly summed up in a single sentence; they stick as one-trick ponies, archetypes and all, throughout the entire show, for better or for worse. Taihei, though, I found quite rounded; we get to see both his home life, and his work life, and we even get glimpses of his time as a high schooler. Overall, I feel like Taihei was quite developed, and it made me more even more sympathetic of his plight.

Overall, I did find myself quite entertained, especially after the first few episodes, where they introduced more situations, settings, and characters that would reappear later on. I can’t really say the show got me to laugh (excepting some of the products they created that was totally just a substitution for a real-life copyrighted product), and it probably wouldn’t do all that much to really brighten up my mood after a tough day, but it still was simple fun. There’s something just relaxing to it; you feel so relaxed while watching an episode. It has this charm to it that just gets you to like the show, no matter how hard you try to hate it. It did take those first few episodes to get actually invested in the show though.

The Atmosphere

The art for Umaru-chan wasn’t anything that stellar, but it certainly wasn’t bad. It was most definitively “good”. They tended to not be too detailed with the backgrounds or anything, and the character designs were also relatively simple. Overall, the show had this simple look to it that worked in this case. The animation was fluid at some points, and not so much during others.

Umaru switched between this “standard” design while under her super-pretty, super-nice girl persona, and this “chibi” design while under her otaku persona. It was a bit odd at first, but it’s a quick enough thing to get, and it most visibly shows what mindset Umaru has at that time. What I found odd is that while Umaru was in her chibi form, pretty much all the other characters acted as if she was that short.

The opening theme song was another thing that really annoyed me at first when I began the show, but as time went on, it grew on me, and I found it alright. The opening animation was also pretty cool, and was pretty much the one thing that got me to not skip it all. The ending is skippable though; it’s a fine enough song and a fair enough slide-show type animation, but it feels relatively generic.

The show’s soundtrack is actually pretty nice. You wouldn’t expect something of this genre to really have anything that noteworthy, BGM-wise, but in this case, it does. I wouldn’t say it’s the most memorable of soundtracks, with an unusual instrumentation or genre, but it just works so well for this series. There’s one theme that plays a lot while at the apartment, and it’s quite simple, relying on strings and woodwinds, but it’s unique. The soundtrack gives this relaxing feeling to the entire show, even when things get a bit hectic sometimes, and it helps to keep the mood calm and not get the viewer all anxious. I’d listen to the soundtrack on its own if I could.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

To sum this show up in one word, it’s simple. Its art is simple, its characters are simple, the stories are pretty simple and straightforward, the premise is relatively simple. Simply put, it’s simple to understand, it’s simple to get into, and it’s simple to enjoy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; if this was their goal, they succeeded. However, it’s not going to make you laugh or cry or get you super invested.

At its core, it’s a slice-of-life show, featuring the lifestyle and adventures of our main character, Umaru. The crowd of anime watchers that watch primarily slice-of-life will know what they want to get out of this show. This show could maybe attract more people than an average slice-of-life with Umaru being who and what she is, but I don’t know. This show will not cause you to fall in love with it right away; it’s more something you’ll become, bit by bit, more appreciative of as time goes on, so expect yourself to need a bit of time with this show.

Rating: Average
Recommendation: Give It A Shot

+++ nice simple story and visuals, decently good soundtrack, Taihei is a surprisingly developed character
— Umaru is sometimes bratty, supporting cast are one-trick ponies, first few episodes not the best