Murder is Better with Friends
I’ve been really excited for this week of the October Review Fest because I get to talk about one of my favorite anime series, Higurashi. This was a series I watched not too far into my anime journey and I loved every minute of it. I’ve since seen the show a couple times over and it is still cemented as one of my favorites. Here’s my look at the first season and why you should watch Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.
Higurashi cold opens with a brutal murder in progress. The fact that the anime has a dated look, originally airing in the Spring season back in 2006, only enhances the horrific scene. Then we jump right into your typical slice-of-life anime. Wait, what’s going on here exactly?
Keiichi and his family have just moved to the sleepy village of Hinamizawa. It’s the summer of 1983 and his new life couldn’t be better! Unfortunately, Hinamizawa is not as sleepy and innocent a place to live as it first appears. Soon Keiichi learns of the village’s dark past as the annual cotton drifting festival approaches. It’s rumored that each time the festival occurs one person goes missing and another winds up murdered. What exactly is going on, and why won’t Keiichi’s friends tell him anything about it? Watch as the paranoia sets in and the darkest depths of the human soul are revealed!
Each arc of Higurashi follows this sort of pattern. Things are seemingly normal and then it becomes a crazy torture-murder fest. If you are going into this show blind, which is what I recommend, then this will be somewhat confusing as it is an unconventional way to tell the story.
However, this isn’t a bad thing. Higurashi is ridiculously entertaining and one of the better shows to come out of Studio Deen. Their inconsistent animation style works surprisingly well here and even created a new troupe called, “Higurashi Face” since the characters often have twisted and contorted facial expressions that are beyond sinister.
Obviously, the show looks dated but don’t let that turn you away. In the case of horror, this almost always adds to its creepiness. I can’t exactly capture the essence of this in words alone, it’s something you have to see in motion. What a convenient segue for bringing up Higurashi’s OP.
Making my top 25 anime openings list, this opening does a great job of establishing tone as well as showing off the visuals in motion. Not everything is super consistent, as is expected of a Studio Deen project, but again, this helps Higurashi more than it hurts. Give the opening a watch, the best part is when Rika takes off her mask, it’s sooooo good.
In general, the music does an excellent job of enhancing the anime. I love the cicadas that are always ominously “crying” in the background too. People knew what they were doing when they put this together.
After the first arc, the reset can be a bit jarring. This isn’t like “Endless Eight” since each arc has a fairly different outcome. Sometimes only some people die, other times everybody dies, and the reason why isn’t always clear. There is a real mystery here that compels you to finish it.
Every arc you get new information and added speculation as to why these crazy murders keep happening. Is it a curse? A demon? Maybe it’s aliens? Higurashi is pretty clever in that it actually gives away most of its secrets in season one but unfortunately you are not going to get everything answered here. That’s why you definitely need to watch season two.
In many ways season one is like a giant question arc. With the follow up season being the answer arc. So why even care about this show if things are so purposefully ambiguous? Well for starters this is a legitimate horror anime and it is definitely going to make you uncomfortable, which is exceedingly rare in anime.
The most famous, or rather infamous, scene that is sure to get your skin crawling is the fingernail removal scene. I absolutely hate watching that part, and the kicker is that you don’t actually see the gross bits. Higurashi understands that your mind makes things scarier if it doesn’t show you everything, a tool it utilizes quite often in this first season.
Higurashi is at its weakest with the slice-of-life comedy bits, but it shouldn’t be a bother because it is nice to cool down between arcs and it establishes some calm before the storm. Personally, I enjoyed these segments but there are folks who just absolutely hate them. They aren’t the focus, though they are relevant. Considering each arc only has one or two episodes max that are like this, it isn’t a big deal even if you don’t enjoy them.
If you were unaware, Higurashi is actually based on a visual novel. I have some of it (and boy is it long) but haven’t completed it. Why this is interesting is because in most visual adaptations the focus is put on romance and good endings. Well not in Higurashi! Instead, you get to see a bunch of bad ends in this first season and romance is a sub-plot at best, and only in some of the arcs.
This is pretty cool though because in the visual novels, to win you need to have experienced the bad endings in order to correctly navigate to the good ones. There are little hints and details in each one. I can really respect the fact that this is captured well in the anime. As you know, little details like this go a long way for me in terms of enjoyment.
Now to the elephant in the room: The dub. Only season one has a dub, and it is even a Funimation dub, but it is considered by many to be one of the worst dubs ever made. Really, you should do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing subbed since you will have to switch for season two any way, but I didn’t think the dub was bad. Personally, prefer dubs so watched it this way.
I can’t deny that there are moments where the dub is awful, most noticeably when Rena talks. However, there is one major plus to the dub that the sub lacks, outside of Rika who is an exception, and that’s tone shifts in the vocals. I can’t tell most of the time in the Japanese dub when a character goes from normal to bonkers. In the dub, this change is clearly marked with vocal inflections in addition to the visual cues in the animation.
For me, this made these moments all the more creepy in Higurashi. Rena is this shrill cutesy sounding girl, but then something happens and she’s got this deeper serial killer voice. It’s one of those things that’s not easily explained in words. My point, the dub isn’t really that bad for this reason but you are better off with the sub for consistency.
No spoilers, but I would be amiss to not at least mention the ending. As I mentioned, it doesn’t wrap up the mystery but is conclusive in regards to that specific arc. If you hate the “power of friendship” thing that a lot of anime do, then you are going to be somewhat disappointed. It makes sense here, but it exists and is an integral part of the franchise. Them the breaks.
As a standalone work, Higurashi‘s first season leaves a lot to be desired in terms of plot. It’s very tense and you’ll want to know what’s going on but most of that won’t get resolved here. Fortunately, there is a season two! It is absolutely mandatory if you are going to get into this show. If season one doesn’t interest you, there is nothing for you in season two, or three.
Sentai has the license for this now and you can purchase all the seasons of Higurashi from Rightstuf. You might be able to stream this on Sentai’s weird streaming service but I really don’t know for sure. It’s well worth the money though as this is one of the best the genre has to offer in anime.
What are your thoughts on Higurashi‘s first season? Did you get caught up in the madness or was it just not for you? Let me know in the comments below. If you like what you read please consider helping me out by becoming a Patron. Just click the picture below for more info. As always, thanks for reading and I hope to see you back here at Jon Spencer Reviews again real soon!