When They Cry (Higurashi no Naku Koroni): Volume 1

It’s June of 1983 and Keiichi Maebara recently moved to the quiet country village Hinamizawa along with his parents. In only a month, he’s befriended a group of girls at school and becomes involved with their silly game-club where cheating is about the only way to win. However, the tiny village and these girls seem to hold a dark secret. Based on the long-running PC visual novel game Higurashi no Naku Koroni comes the newest expansion to the murder-mystery-scenario series, When They Cry (Higurashi no Naku Koroni): Volume 1 from Geneon Entertainment.

DVD: When They Cry (Higurashi no Naku Koroni): Volume 1
Release Date: 6/5/2007
Release Studio: Geneon Entertainment
ADR Production: Bang Zoom! Entertainment

MSRP: $29.98, DVD with Box $39.98
Audio: English 2.0 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English, Signs-Only
Episodes: 5
Runtime: 125mins
Extras: English Credits, Reversable Cover

Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.

Higurashi no Naku Koroni has been actively adding details to the murder mystery storylines within the series since 2002, thanks to eight PC games, a PS2-port, several drama CD’s, a manga series, and several novels. The anime series presents the first four Question arcs to introduce the mystery of Higurashi and the first two Answer arcs to solve the mysteries brought up in the Question arcs. Because of this, the show will bounce around a lot in time as you enter a new story arc. Volume 1′s first four episodes cover the Question arc “Spirited Away by the Demon” followed by the first episode for the Question arc “Cotton Drifting.”

Episode one opens with a brief introduction to Keiichi Maebara and the group of girls he hangs out with. Since the village is so small, there is only one class with mixed ages for the one teacher to educate. Keiichi also volunteers to teach when the sensei is overwhelmed. Keiichi’s best friend is Rena Ryugu, and the pair walk to school together every day. And as they walk to school, they are also joined by tomboy Mion Sonozaki, who is the pair’s upperclassman. But his doesn’t seem to matter, as Keiichi often gets stuck teaching Rena and Mion lessons in class. The girls offer to take Keiichi around the village to finally see everything there is in town. After a long day of sight-seeing, the trio sit down to eat when two more girls, Satoko Hojo and Rika Furude, make themselves at home to enjoy a delicious meal Rena prepared. It’s a quiet, simple life for the village kids.

As everyone gets ready to go home, Rena drags Keiichi to one final place to check on something. Along the shore in a quiet area is a never-ending pile of discarded trash. But to Rena, this place is a treasure trove. Keiichi waits as Rena loses herself in the moment searching for something good when a man appears above him. Jiro Tomitake is a freelance photographer who comes to the village a few times a year to shoot pictures of the wildlife and landscape. Keiichi makes a joke about Rena wandering around looking for a body when Tomitake comments on how tragic it was to find the hacked-up body here at this dump while the village fought the government over a dam project. Keiichi is puzzled by this response, but Rena denies knowing anything about an accident happening in Hinamizawa. The next day, the girls induct Keiichi into their silly game-club led by Mion. Of course, these girls are humongous cheats and often play the punishment game where the first-place winner can order the last-place loser around. Keiichi is in trouble, but he proves that he’s up to their sneaky ways.

The second episode introduces the Cotton Drifting Festival and the club’s involvement. During the ceremony, Rika will be on stage sowing the cotton, but before then the club will take their usual fun and games to the stalls in the form of mini-contests. Tomitake has decided to stick around this year to shoot pictures of the festival. Keiichi loses his group of friends but spots Tomitake and a woman along the riverbank. Joining the couple, Keiichi begins to ask questions about the murder four years ago only to learn that there has been a murder every year during the Cotton Drifting Festival since the original mystery began. The village elders attribute the deaths to the curse of Oyashiro and his way of protecting the village of Hinamizawa. In fact, each person who died mysteriously was connected to a dam proponent somehow.

The next day, Keiichi is called to the front desk of the school. A man with an unmarked car is waiting to talk to him. Tomitake has been murdered and the woman with him has disappeared. Oishi of the Okinomiya police explains that Tomitake died shortly after speaking with Keiichi by clawing at his own throat until he clipped an artery with his nails. Even worse, the list of suspects includes the villagers, even his friends. The next day, Mion has to cancel the club activities, so Keiichi and Rena walk home together. Nervous, Keiichi asks if they’ve been hiding secrets from him. Rena turns the question back on him, her eyes transforming from human to snake-like, pressing about who the person in the car talking to him was.

Episodes three and four wrap up the “Spirited Away by the Demon” arc by pitting Keiichi against the growing odd-behavior of Mion and Rena. Oishi meets with Keiichi and often talks to him on the phone, trading information back and forth, but there is no place truly safe from the curse of Oyashiro. Keiichi is fighting for his life against the two girls and begins to keep a small record of the danger surrounding him in case something worse happens. A needle in his food, a van trying to run him over, and a group of unknown adults chasing after him, Keiichi’s only hope is taking up a baseball bat to try saving himself.

Episode five introduces the first episode to the “Cotton Drifting” arc of the series. Today’s club meeting is in a toy shop in town, so the gang gathers up to take on lots of younger kids. The game is simple enough, but Keiichi is on a bad losing-streak as the girls keep cheating to snatch up cards before the younger kids. Keiichi pulls two of them into the bathroom and makes a deal: if they help him win, he’ll make the girls they have crushes on do what he says for the day. Bingo! Keiichi catches back up to Mion’s lead before she notices that she’s going to be late for work. With the game called off for now, Keiichi goes to the Angel Mort restaurant to eat. The cafe waitresses are really cute in their uniforms, and this is even truer for the green-haired beauty who is waiting on him today. Only… she looks like Mion! The girl introduces herself as Shion, Mion’s younger sister, but Keiichi believes Mion just doesn’t want to confess that she works at a cafe in a revealing outfit. The next day, Keiichi, Rena, and Mion walk home together and Keiichi starts to drop hints about Mion’s job. Mion stresses that it’s her sister, Shion, but Keiichi still isn’t ready to believe it.

When They Cry (Higurashi no Naku Koroni) is far from your average series and is a nice surprise once you get past the DVD cover art. The cute character designs, the well-written murder-mystery storylines, and the movement between arcs to reveal details to tell the full story will capture from the first episode. The Japanese cast fits very well with the multiple personalities that seem to be hidden within each of the girls of the show. Mai Nakahara (Rena) and Satsuki Yukino (Mion and Shion) are equally impressive as they swap between the sweet-natured small-town personalities and the deadly killer instincts hidden within them. Souichiro Hoshi (Keiichi) also presents a very well-performed character who is slowly going mad as he tries to survive his never-ending encounters with strange events. The English production by Bang Zoom! Entertainment, on the other hand, can fall a bit flat in many places. The script and direction by Kristi Reed aren’t terrible, but the show doesn’t excel beyond being decent during the best scenes. Often there is one good performance surrounded by several so-so deliveries that simply drag down the entire scene overall. Another problem is that the lip flaps seem to fall out-of-pace with the dialogue at times, leaving a character starting or finishing before the character’s mouth does. Grant George has a good grasp of Keiichi’s frantic state and the anger it would bring, but otherwise the voice just doesn’t match the feel of the character very well. Mela Lee does O.K. for some of Rena’s personality quirks, but moods like crazy or in pain just didn’t sound believable. However, there is one fairly good performance overall in the show: Kelli Kassidi as tomboy Mion Sonozaki. Kelli doesn’t work out as well with the more girlish Shion Sonozaki personality, but there is a possibility of it fitting given a little more time. Unfortunately, I would consider the English production to be fairly below-average and needing a lot of work to straighten out the problems mentioned and other issues.

When They Cry (Higurashi no Naku Koroni): Volume 1 is a great start to the series for fans to jump in and enjoy the murder mystery surrounding Hinamizawa. While the packaging’s cover art fits the scarier side of the show (the Artbox remains cute, though), I don’t believe it does that well of a job full encompassing what the series is really about and would have been better to use its reverse cover that matches the R2 first volume release. The anamorphic video is a very clean transfer with the opening and ending credits left untranslated. There is a credits section in the main menu of the DVD with several pages of translated credits, but they are not broken down by episode. The subtitle tracks are error-free, as one should always hope to achieve. When They Cry (Higurashi no Naku Koroni): Volume 1 brings a solid mystery title to America for a new group of fans to try to solve the complete puzzle of what is happening in the village of Hinamizawa. The show is aimed at horror fans who enjoy the mystery aspect of games like Fatal Frame and Silent Hill, but I believe there is a larger audience to be found that just likes mystery titles in general. Despite the lack of DVD extras and the below par English production, When They Cry is still a good title to try out; just stick with the Japanese track for now.