August 27, 2010

Higurashi: When They Cry

Time to wrap up this month of scary series with Higurashi: When They Cry, an anime that I am still trying to work up the courage to watch the final episodes of.

Higurashi is a suspenseful murder mystery with a heavy psychological angle, mainly exploring paranoia and the consequences when it disrupts friendships and turns family memebers against each other. The "they" in this series' title refers to cicadas ("higurashi," or ひぐらし, is Japanese for 'evening cicada'). Because the sound of cicadas is synonymous with summer in Japan, the name is apt since the series takes place in June, 1983, and often a lot of action occurs at sunset and dusk.

The story is set in a rural village called Hinamizawa. A teenage boy named Keiichi moves there and makes friends with the handful of other kids around his age; and at first everything seems to be peaceful. But when the village holds its yearly festival honoring the local god, Keiichi learns that there are a lot of dark secrets under the town's plesant exterior: for the last four years, after the festival, one person from the village has disappered and another has been murdered. When the same thing happens again this year, to two people Keiichi knows, he finds himself entangled in mystery, distrusting his friends, and usually not coming to a good end.

I say "usually" because Higurashi is split up into multiple story arcs--nine in the anime, thirteen in the manga--and the story tends to reset after each arc. This can obviously be confusing at first because when the next arc begins, you're sitting there thinking "Wait, didn't you die? Didn't you disapper? Who is this new person? Why is that guy acting so differently?" But despite the story arcs seeming so unrelated, they slowly begin to reveal secrets about the characters, and the village, that tie them all together.

There's a reason for all of this: Higurashi originally began as a video game, so often when the arcs are different, its because Keiichi--and to an extent the other characters--did something differently from the previous arcs.

After the game came out, the story was translated into a manga, then a series of light novels and regular novels, then a set of drama CDs (those are kind've like audiobooks, except the voice actors for the characters act their dialogue out instead of having just one person read a script of the story), then it was made into two animes and an OVA (an original video animation, the term for an anime that is not long enough to be a series; they usually cover only a single storyline from a manga or novel), and finally it was turned into a live-action film. When you consider that all of these different takes on the story show a new secret about the village or the characters, it starts to look like Higurashi surpasses even Fullmetal Alchemist in terms of complicated plot.

The first anime has been licensed and dubbed in English by a combination of Geneon and Funimation; the manga has been translated by Yen Press. Even the game, separated into individual arcs, has been translated by MangaGamer! However, the second anime, OVA, and drama CDs have not been made available in English. The movie has an international title, Shrill Cries of Summer, but I haven't heard of a copy in English or with subtitles.

I hope all these series have given you enough chills to combat this record heatwave!


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