Whenever I think of all the amazing works of anime to have ever graced my laptop screen, horror isn’t normally a genre I honestly associate with some of the best shows in this medium (besides Monster). So when I read on various forums and blogs that repeatedly mentioned Higurashi no Naku Koro ni as an outstanding horror piece within the world of anime, I was filled with immense curiosity since I was sort of looking for a change of pace after repeatedly watching action and comedy oriented shows. Despite entering this series with somewhat low expectations, it definitely delivered in a lot of ways that had me feeling constantly engrossed and on the edge of my seat.
If I had to point out one glaring weakness of Higurashi, despite being an excellent show, it would probably have to be the slightly underwhelming animation quality. While I don’t think the artwork and character designs are terrible necessarily, it’s sort of hard to ignore this deficiency when every other aspect of this anime is done incredibly well. Their were moments where the overall presentation of this show looked rather garish, and I did get the impression that the staff who worked on this anime were working under a pretty shoe-string budget. Another aspect of the animation for Higurashi which is both a strength and a weakness is it’s muted color palette. A lot of scenes have a pretty greyish and monochromatic tint to them, so while the visuals are lacking in vibrancy that you’d normally come to expect from other anime productions, it does an excellent job of accentuating the dark and foreboding atmosphere of the village of Hinamizawa.
As for the overall musical compositions that permeates the world of this anime, I think Higurashi has one of the best soundtracks in the anime genre. It has a wide array of encompassing soundscapes that leave a lasting impression long after you’ve finished watching. You are treated to the typical buoyantly jovial slice-of-life tracks during the more comedic moments, but it also carries immensely unsettling background music that will strike you with genuine fear unlike most anime-horror flicks that try and (mostly) fail. The OP really instilled the feeling of unbridled terror to life and reminds you that you’re about to be encapsulated in a disturbing world of unparalleled atrocities and perturbation beyond your wildest imagination. The ED isn’t quite as compelling or noteworthy, but it also fits the ambience of the show nicely (even with the cringe-worthy engrish).
The overall narrative of Higurashi isn’t quite easy to pin down since it has several separate story arcs, most of which are non-concurrent. While this kind of beguiling setup will most probably have you feeling flummoxed or scratching your head in confusion, the puzzles slowly start to connect more clearly towards the end. The story is about a teenage (?) boy named Keiichi Maebara who moves to a rural village called, Hinamizawa, after a mysterious incident in his past. Within the village, he quickly meets and befriends 5 young girls, Rika, Rena, Satoko, and the green-haired twins Mion and Shion. While the start of each arc tends to start jolly and lighthearted, it slowly begins to be a narrative that descends into madness and is filled with mystery and suspense. In the village of Hinamizawa, some citizens mysteriously disappear without a trace, get brutally murdered in cold blood, and other supernatural events happen that are beyond comprehension.
The characters in Higurashi are characterized differently depending on which arc is currently being watched. Through this kind of unorthodox detailing, different features and idiosyncrasies of each character are presented to the audience. While I did find this to be mentally-taxing at first, I think the unique characterization is one of my favorite aspects about this anime. It drives home the resounding message that underneath the skin, we each have our own personal insecurities and demons. How each character confronts them is one of the primary motifs of this show.
All in all, if you cherish horror, mystery, and eccentric storytelling, Higurashi is a must watch. The only noticeable downside to this show is the slightly crummy animation and designs for the characters. Even though it is the kind of anime that takes quite a bit of dedication to understand what the hell is even going on, it all pays off in the end if you are willing to engage yourself with each separate narrative arc.