DVD Review: HIGURASHI NO NAKU KORONI KAI (WHEN THEY CRY season 2 part 1)
When They Cry is set in a small rural town that goes by the name of Hinamizawa. In it lives a group of students that laugh together, play together and brutally murder each other multiple times. An infamous curse and a bizarre history steeps the town in bloody mystery and intrigue as each year during the cotton drifting festival there is a murder and a disappearance. When They Cry works through this lore in multiple realities as the story appears to be resetting; what is really happening and why?
...the only problem now is the agonizing wait and quest for answers regarding the release of season two.
The last words of my review for season one of this fantastic series, but fortunately now that wait is over! The fine folks at Siren Visual have released Higurashi No Naku Koroni Kai, otherwise known as When They Cry Season two Part one: Solutions. A bit of a mouthful, but the title itself matches the complex nature of this very rewarding series.
Warning, the following review contains spoilers from season one, it would also be very unwise to watch this without having seen season one!
Solutions is the key word for this season, but the important question is does it deliver any? As with any entertainment that is shrouded in bizarre and bloody mystery it is easy to imagine the series dancing around the major unresolved points and simply adding more disturbing and emerging strangeness. Thankfully the show does not rest on its laurels and solutions are what we get, and in spades.
It already has the Japanese psyche and Twin Peaks small-town mania going for it, but what the series proceeds to do is recede from the insanity for brief reprieves to organically explain what has come and even why. It is a completely satisfying turn of events that keeps key plot points going in an entertaining manner while simultaneously trying to expose the twisted core.
What we do know by this point is a few things. Rika is re-living a cycle of weeks leading up to the infamous Cotton Drifting festival, which in itself is renowned for the curse of Oyashiro-sama - the go-to attempt to explain the inexplicable disappearance and murder of people on days following. We also know that the different mental states of all of the protagonists have been explored, leading to sudden outbursts of extreme violence and murder.
The series is broken up into four story arcs, each has an overall main plot point that does not affect the story or the events as a whole, but is instead used as a base to uncover further ideas and allow the growth of the protagonists. The scope expands greatly when the true motivations and reasons for the bizarre going-on in everyone's lives in the village are explained. It is a very refreshing moment that sums up almost everything, particularly half-way through in a very Meta moment where Rika seems to be conversing with us, the viewer. The new elements are so interesting that even with this near-complete knowledge the series is still very striking and engaging.
More so than anything, reality sets in for the protagonists of Hinamizawa village and the final arc changes everything once again.
Without spoiling anything else, it is just worth reiterating that When They Cry offered plenty of horrific twists in season one. The abject nature of cute immediately turning to menacing is used just as effectively in season two, but the shocking nature is replaced by a compelling one as the series slightly matures. Needless to say, the series is just getting better, and there is the final part two of this season left. For an anime that is already cutting-edge to reinvent itself is something to get very excited about indeed.
Regarding the DVD itself...
Siren Visual are continuing to release the two seasons of When They Cry as two parts, each housed in a gorgeous slipcase and each containing two discs.
The quality falters on occasion, delivering a few less contrasted and slightly grainy episodes but overall it is an improvement on series one, it is sharper, crisper and colorful.
In terms of audio there is only the Japanese soundtrack and as a purist I would not have it any other way, this also allows for a quicker release as there is no lag time for a dubbed track.
Extras are once again just the clean opening and closing, I doubt there are extras available for this series, Siren Visual certainly deliver when they can in this regard (see The Tatami Galaxy for a wealth of awesome extras)
All in all another fine release by Siren Visual. Do note that these discs are PAL-encoded and locked for use in region 4 only (Australia and New Zealand), so make sure your hardware can cope with that.
Watch this space for my review for part two that concluded this series in July!