|Posted by Madhog thy Master on May 9, 2012 at 7:50 AM|
Attention duelists! Before reading the following review, check the video introduction provided by Paradise and Faries.
Click on the image.
Much like series like “Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-Chan”, the basic concept behind “Higurashi” is the viral and merciless de-construction of the classic “Moe/Harem” scenario (generic main character surrounded by cute girls) and related personality gimmicks. Unlike “Dokuro-Chan”, however, the style of the execution doesn’t take the form of an openly gratuitous, literally self-bashing, over-the-top parody that "slaughters" its own premise with a certain amount of satisfaction, but rather it presents itself as a legitimately scary horror kill-fest that also happens to “slaughter” its own premise with a certain amount of satisfaction.
Something to do with slaughters...
This blatant act of “self-murder” (which is immediately established in the first few seconds of the show) serves as the catalyst that provides not only an immediate sense of detachment from the stereotypical scenario it was based from (thus becoming its own satire), but also the necessary means to create its own tale. In a way, “Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni” could be put in the same boat as legendary “Moe-sterpieces” such as “Kanon” and "Clannad", whereas a stale-old setting is cleverly used as the basis to build a surprisingly endearing story from - only with more brutal murders and less tears of despair, in this specific case.
Tears-o-Meter: Over 9000!
With that said, it is almost ironic to notice that the anime starts to lose its genuine fright-inducing vibe the moment a real plot is actually introduced in this anthology-like context. An undisputed modus operandi that distinguishes the atmosphere-based Japanese horror stories from other, much cheaper, jumpscare-based formulae, is the ability to devise an environment capable of challenging our general perception of reality. The ambience in the “Silent Hill” games, for instance, provides a definitive and hopeless feeling of isolation that reflects the deepest fears of the main character - atavist fears of the dark and the unknown, to name a couple.
"I seeeeeeee yooouuuuu..."
In that sense, “Higurashi” is the greatest horror anime show ever produced: an unsettling journey inside the most disturbing elements of the human mind (practically a stream of consciousness) and a reality-defying scenario filled with paranoia, bloodlust and well-built psychological breakdowns. It doesn’t simply go “peek-a-boo” on our faces, instead it prefers messing with our heads by trapping us in some underground prison, destroying our self-esteem with unnameable tortures and scare the living bowels out of ourselves with a sudden maniacal laughter. Death becomes a relief, not something to fear anymore.
"Laugh with me!"
The key element for this story to work (other than scary giant-headed girls going on a killing spree) was, appropriately enough, its lack of a story. Its solidity was left on the shoulders of its perfect atmosphere and our collective ignorance. When the actual “that explains everything, I’m not scared anymore” plotline begins to inevitably creep its way into this diegesis, “Higurashi” stops being a genuine horror flick and it slowly turns into a completely different genre.
This is where mine and Faries’ opinions differ the most: while it can’t be denied that the show gets progressively more gripping and endearing as the end draws near (especially after a certain twist in the middle of season two), it becomes also quite obvious that this whole happening could have been easily resolved in the span of 26 episodes - as opposed to the grand total of 52 chapters between the first and second series. Once that subtle, senses’ limiting atmosphere that defined the first few story-arcs’ brand of irrational terror is ostracized by knowledge and reason, there is simply no point in dragging this show any further with other non-plot related thrills - it’s just pointless padding for the sake of screen time.
For the reasons I stated before, I personally believe that this franchise would have worked better as a collection of “cautionary” horror tales instead of a “Doctor Who”-esque time/space travelling bonanza with horror elements - especially if we consider what became of it with future instalments.
Yes... it's a total mess
In the end, even with its noticeable flaws, “Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni” is a pretty solid and entertaining show - for the most part. It’s terrifying, creepy, disturbing and surprisingly compelling. With the exception of season two, it’s the best animated horror series of all time.
My score for “Higurashi: When They Cry” is:
Shut Up and Take My Money: Good enough to be worth all your hard-earned savings.
Next time on "Moe-tality", the franchise begins its descent into the deepest bowels of hell with the most unnecessary sequel in the history of anything.
Promising, isn't it?