For all intents and purposes, Keiichi, Rena, Mion, Rika and Satoko seem to be nothing more than five good friends attending school together in the quiet town of Hinamizawa. Appearances can be deceiving, however, for beneath the tranquil exterior of their everyday lives, darker and more sinister currents lurk. And when these currents are dragged to surface by the local Watanagashi festival, it seems inevitable that events will spiral onto a course of death and disaster no matter what choices are made…
Based on the game of the same name, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is a tale of murder and mystery that tells its tale not through a linear story, but via a series of interconnected arcs- four setup ‘question’ arcs, and two payoff ‘answer’ arcs (the game has two more answer arcs). Rather than following on consecutively, most of these arcs can be considered to run parallel to each other, showing the different ways that events could play out depending on the choices made by the protagonists.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this arc approach brings its own strengths and weaknesses to the series. From supernatural mystery to outright gore-fest, each arc brings different characters and events to the fore to set its own individual tone- and the quality varies accordingly. For every point where the unfolding story or bloody murders become incredibly compelling, there seem to be an equal number of times where the series loses momentum, meandering along with uninteresting characters and accomplishing little in the way of development. Worse yet, the arc which explains who is behind it all does not even appear in the anime, meaning that the series ends on a rather underwhelming note that leaves several key questions unanswered.
Weaknesses are also apparent in the series’ cast; where the main characters work well as a group, as soon as one of them steps into the spotlight, they soon prove unequal to the task. And with many of the protagonists ending their arcs with psychotic rampages and the bloody murder of at least one other person, it inevitably becomes a case of watching for the ‘splatter factor’ than out of any concern for the situation of the character in question.
Visually, Higurashi adopts a deceptively simplistic style, with bright colours and basic character designs that could just as easily be used in a children’s series. Once characters descend into psychotic mode, however, they have no end of bizarre and distorted facial expressions with which to convey their instabilities. Background music is not particularly memorable, although the opening sequence is a compelling piece with regards to both visuals and music.
Over the course of its run, Higurashi proved to be a highly inconsistent series, oscillating between extreme worth and plain mediocrity from start to finish. It cannot be denied that Higurashi is worthy of investigation, but its failings ensure that it will never make it into the top ranks.