Higurashi: When They Cry Kai Season 2 Collection (Cert 15)
5 Discs DVD (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 611 minutes approx.
Despite reaching its apparent conclusion, the shocking horror tale that is Higurashi no Naku Koro ni aka When They Cry wasn’t complete after all, as a post credits teaser at the end of the final episode suggested. Will we finally get the answers we need about the multiple mass killings in When They Cry Kai?
Before we begin things in earnest, a pseudo recap of the events of the first season opens this second series, taking place in 2007 where some of the secondary characters reunite in fictional rural village of Hinamizawa. A rough outline of what went down is discussed to get everyone up to speed with a hint that not everything has been resolved.
Like before, the series is split up into mini-arcs only this time there are only three spread cross the remaining twenty-three episodes in this set. At the risk of appearing churlish, the first is rather dull and uneventful until the last chapter, but on reflection, this might have been a case of the calm before the storm.
Beginning as a comic affair revolving around the playful dynamic of Keiichi Maebara and Satoko Hojo, the focus switches to shrine maiden Rika Furude, revealed at the end of the first season to be at the centre of the time restarts following each murder. Rika falls into a depression from being aware she is due to be murdered and Satako tries to rally her friends to help lift Rika’s spirits.
As we know, fate always has to follow its path and – spoiler – Rika does in fact die and the story resets once again, only this time, Rika is accompanied by Hanyu, the true identity of the village god Oyashiro. Tired of seeing her friends all suffer the so-called curse of Oyashiro, Rika along with the invisible Hanyu sets out to change the future, revealing the true cause of the macabre events that blight the village.
From here we get a mixture of retellings of prior events with new endings, and a whole new story incorporating many recurring elements from before given a subversive twist to fit the new narrative. This takes everything in a fresh direction, so the grisly horror and deranged violence is less a factor this time around although not abandoned completely.
This is quite a bold move, effectively departing from one of the major facets that made this series such a success in the first place. Both the recap prologue episode and first story arc are a lacklustre way to welcome us back into the swing of things but once things gets going, we find ourselves once again caught in this sinuous web of mystery and intrigue.
What is quickly apparent is the psychological and supernatural horror that were the driving force behind both the stories and the actions of the cast have been supplanted by something human and plausible within the realms of reality. Hanyu’s presence and Rika’s unique status assures us the fantasy ingredients remain to keep the mysterious edge alive otherwise human folly is very much the integral explanation here.
But this doesn’t make the show any less compelling to follow and become engrossed in, and as far as the reduced violence goes, because it comes from humans behaving (very) badly and not under paranormal influence, it remains exceedingly upsetting. One of the arcs revisits the tale of Satako being physically abused by her uncle and in this version, the beatings he dishes out are far worse and more graphic than before.
Rika trying to avoid her own death and her friends from going mad might present the idea there is little at stake if the friends are not fated to follow the same path as before. The script is clearly aware of this thus ensures the journey to salvation is never smooth, piling up as many obstacles as possible from the bureaucratic to the psychosomatic with deception and betrayal serving as a regular detour.
Of the new characters Hanyu is the most perplexing, being the fearsome deity Oyashiro that only Rika can see, yet somehow assumes a tangible human form in later episodes. Oh and she is another cute loli to add to the extensive line-up but with big black horns protruding from her head. At least she gets a backstory, the other newcomers are only afforded a perfunctory introduction.
The overarching theme of this series remains people do bad things but on this occasion it is mostly bad people doing bad things with one notable exception, reinforced by taking away the mythical curse long purported to be at the root of the madness that grips the village to reveal the dormant evil within the hearts of the residents. Some of it is a case of reap what you sow, some it comes from tragedy but nothing is lost from the main direction distancing itself from the spooky shenanigans from before.
Naturally such a drastic change won’t sit well with some fans of the first season who expect or even demand more of the same gruesome violence and psychotic meltdowns, hence the warning from earlier about the first few episodes being so underwhelming. But you can have too much of a good thing and the first season was quite an exhausting onslaught of deranged gore and frankly couldn’t have gone any further than it did.
One area of improvement to win doubters over is the animation if they are perceptible enough to notice the smoother movements and tighter character designs. One niggle is Rika’s hair that changes from blue to turquoise on a whim and the characters do still wander off model a little otherwise this is a much better looking show.
Higurashi: When They Cry Kai has a lot to live up to in following its groundbreaking first season, and comes as close as it can after a shaky start which might lead to disappointment from some, but in terms of closure it is essential viewing for fans of season one.
Japanese Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 1 only:
Rating – ****
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