Friday, February 3, 2017

When They Cry/Higurashi the ideal Horror Anime

Strictly speaking I'm not a Horror fan.  I've never been truly scared by any fiction I've consumed, nor have I ever sought that reaction.  So the presumed main appeal of Horror stories does not apply to me.

But I have enjoyed many stories in the Horror genre for other reasons.  I'm interested in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy elements they sometimes use, which overlaps with my interest in mythology and folklore, both real and fictional.  I enjoy mysteries and thrillers and Hitchcock style suspense.  And I can enjoy psychological horror because I like character pieces, I like exploring and developing interesting characters, and something like telling a story from the POV of someone slowly going insane from Paranoia can be an interesting way to do that.

But my lack of interest in most modern Horror tends to come from a deteriorating appreciation for the idea that "less is more".  I get tired of endless Jump Scares and gratuitous blood and gore.

I'm also someone who has spent the last few years increasingly turning almost exclusively to Anime for my entertainment media.  I haven't watched much Horror anime yet, a few that have horror elements but are still not chiefly about being horror, like Future Diary.  And yes even the Zombie anime I talked about last year was not really a horror story.

But this last week I decided to check out Higurashi no Naku Korro ni (sometimes just shortened to Higurashi) rendered in English as both When They Cry and The Moment the Cicades Cry.  This Anime has much of why I'm interested in Horror stories, and none of what commonly bugs me about them.  And It's also had positive reviews from people who are Horror fans much more so then I am.

This show has some of the most notoriously gory scenes in all of Anime.  But it uses those moments sparingly, building up to them and earning them.  And it has exactly 1 scene that could qualify as a Jump scare, and even that is perfectly executed.

I'm not the only one who was reminded of The Wicker Man at certain moments (the original, I haven't seen the remake).  And I suspect it has some Twin Peaks influence too.  It is very much the Japanese version of a Gothic Novel.  But it's also very creative and original, and non-linear.  It's a period piece set in June 1983 but not constantly throwing the 80s in your face the way western TV shows set in the 80s do.

And that is my Spoiler Free recommendation.

Spoiler Warning.

I'm someone who often doesn't mind being spoiled, I'll intentionally read a book's afterward before the actual story.  But if there is anything I've watched where I'm glad I wasn't spoiled going in it is this Anime.  Because I was born in 1985 people don't believe me when I say I was surprised by Vader begin Luke's father when I first watched Empire Strikes Back.  But my family didn't have access to the Internet till like 2000, and my parents were not into Star Wars, and I didn't have friends back then.  But I can say being surprised by that scene did not effect my overall enjoyment of that film nearly as much as not knowing what's going on in Higurashi matters.

So I'm going to give a second spoiler warning, if you think you don't mind being spoiled, think really hard about that before reading on.

Spoiler Alert.

If you find the main character bland, don't worry, he's not the real main character.  He's the POV only for the first 13 episodes.

The story is based on a visual novel, as such it begins by depicting three alternate scenarios for how these events could play out, before sometimes going into the past to start explaining some of the context.  The first arc/four episodes are a perfect example of what I said above about Psychological horror.

The first two arcs/eight episodes have the combined effect of giving a very skewed perception of certain characters that will later be corrected.

The arc told from Shion's POV is probably the highlight of Season 1, but you can't fully appreciate it without seeing what we were shown before.  It's basically an alternate POV for the second arc.  The first few episodes however are a prequel that should apply to the continuity of all the arcs, and is arguably particularity relevant to the third arc.

That Shion gets labeled a Yandere is misleading.  Her madness is partly driven by her love for Satoshi.  But she's not eliminating romantic rivals, or acting out of possessiveness or a perceived rejection.  When she starts her killing spree you are kind of rooting for her because it starts off as a simple Revenge fantasy, like something Paul Feval or Alexandre Dumas could have written.  But she crosses the line when she kills Satoko, and remembers exactly when it's too late what she'd promised Satoshi.  And then in the end she learned she was wrong (but refuses to accept it).  It is a true tragedy.

The last arc was the perfect way to end Season 1, as it puts certain key puzzle pieces into place.

The second season is Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai. Another thing different about Anime is how it can span genres.  Kai is not really a Horror story anymore, now that we know the gist of what is going on.  For that reason some fans of the first seasons might be disappointed, but I liked it because it was a great thriller.

And if you want the answers to what Season 1 left unanswered it won't disappoint.  It's not like some mystery shows where the "Season of Answers" was mostly.

Till the season finale.

It answers lots of questions.  There was a scene that as it began I figured was gonna be a casual exposition scene laying out what I already knew, but it wasn't, it provided answers I hadn't deduced yet, maybe I should have but I hadn't.

In the end a few things are arguably not directly answered but should be simple enough to figure out with everything we now know.

There are more installments of the franchise that I haven't watched yet.  But the first season alone was enough to recommend it, and the second more then worthy of mentioning.

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