Genre(s): Mystery, Horror, Supernatural, Thriller, Dementia
Age-Appropriateness: 17+ (Graphic Violence, Gore, Profanity, Scenes of Torture, Child Abuse)
TheAwersome Rating: 7.2 / 10 (Janky, but with some effective horror)
Premise: Keiichi Maebara has just moved to the quiet little village of Hinamizawa in the summer of 1983, and quickly becomes inseparable friends with schoolmates Rena Ryuugu, Mion Sonozaki, Satoko Hojo, and Rika Furude. However, darkness lurks underneath the seemingly idyllic life they lead. As the village prepares for its annual festival, Keiichi learns about the local legends surrounding it. To his horror, he discovers that there have been several murders and disappearances in the village in the recent years, and that they all seem to be connected to the festival and the village’s patron god, Oyashiro. Keiichi tries to ask his new friends about these incidents, but they are suspiciously silent and refuse to give him the answers he needs. As more and more bizarre events occur, he wonders just what else his friends might be keeping from him, and if he can even trust them at all. When madness and paranoia begin taking root in Keiichi’s heart, he will stumble straight into the mysteries at work, a story that is told across multiple arcs.
TheAwersome’s Thoughts: This was definitely a unique experience, and one I’m not done with yet. Both because there are like, four more entries in the series and because like all good horror, I’m still thinking about it. First off, animation is really bad. Studio Deen is at the helm (Fate/Stay Night) and this was made in like, 2006 or something. Character design can also be off-putting with head shape/eye size and all that. The other stand-out flaw is that often the voice acting will not match the intensity of the animation and facial expressions. That being said, this is a unique and powerful horror ride.
TLDR: Animation is bad, but vibe is strong
The second installment is Higurashi: When They Cry – Kai, followed by Rei. In 2020 there was a reboot with Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou, followed by Sotsu.
There are few more potent settings for horror in my mind than the small, isolated, rural village. Especially if the story takes place in the 1980s when communication is difficult (no cell phones, only two payphones in the whole town, etc.). When the town has such fierce loyalty to tradition, familial legacy, and few people to disagree or offer alternate explanations, it’s a prime breeding ground for paranoia, madness, cult-like zealotry, and twisted morals that make the horror stick with you.
Something that caught my attention right off the bat with this was how it told multiple 2-5 episode arcs. It was originally a Visual Novel, so we get to see a lot of the various ways the story can go. Each arc has similarities to others, and some directly tie in and are just from a different perspective. What I felt could be a somewhat similar comparison is multiple runs of a D&D Campaign. The world, characters, and general plot points are all pre-established, but the way it plays out is different each time around.
The other element that made this series stand out was good use of dynamic, and next to zero jump scares. The beginning episode or two of most arcs would feel like a completely benign slice of life anime that could pass as an appropriate comedy show for the time. It’s not my preferred flavor of “anime comedy” (loud, frequently over-the-top) but it at least had far better writing than other horror show/games that tend to just shoe-leather their way to the “good stuff.” The irony of course, is that the horror’s efficacy is directly proportional to how much I care about the characters.
Now here’s a warning to y’all: I stomached Castlevania and its gore just fine and dandy. There’s a difference with this flavor of horror that for me, made it much harder to get through. It isn’t necessarily the viscera and what-not (though it doesn’t shy away from that at all), but the contrast with the happy-fun-anime times. That, and the involvement of children. And abusive parents/guardians, etc. There’s a lot of dark, heavy, uncomfortable, so just a heads up, there’s more than one scene of torture so buckle yourself in.
You’ll likely enjoy this if you enjoyed