Curses. Demons. Mysterious disappearances. The tourism dept. for Hinamizawa has their work cut out for them.
What They Say
It's tough to be the new guy in town, but when Keiichi joins an after school club with four cute girls, he thinks he's got it made. Then he learns about demonic cults, the failed dam construction project and the murders that happen every year after the town festival. How many of his "friends" from his club are involved - and what are their plans for him?!
Contains episodes 1-26.
When They Cry comes outfitted with a pair of stereo tracks for your listening pleasure. I watched the show with the English dub. While it would have been nice to have a 5.1 track for more depth, the 2.0 gets the job done admirably. Dialogue sound effects are layered well and crystal clear. Ambient effects (such as the titular wailing of the cicadas) and music (particularly the active, bass-heavy opening theme) are especially nice and surprisingly deep for a stereo mix. A very servicable job that could only get better from the inclusion of additional channels.
When They Cry is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and ironically, the video is very clean making all the grue and gore easy to see. The show features a very distinctive style which enhances the shift in tone. The carefree scenes are intentionally soft with a simple style while colors get very rich and more detail enters the frame during tenser moments. Grain shows up but it's also there for a stylistic choice. Whether it's the yellow and orange hues of dusk or the deep red of... well, you know, the transfer portrays it faithfully and it's hard to imagine that it could get any better. If someone finds fault with the video, it's simply because they don't enjoy the style.
Expressing the duality of the show quite effectively, the outer box is literally dark with character outlines presented in white amongst black clouds and a very unsettling smile on the back. Meanwhile, the three slimline cases inside are much more colorful and vary in tone, most skewing to the lighter end of the spectrum. The designs are attractive and represent the show's content well. Too bad that the box itself is pretty flimsy. It arrived worn already before I opened the plastic, and the wear has only increased since it's been opened.
The bare-bones menus feature no animation, but look good even if they are simple. The disc's episodes are available for selection upon start-up and the highlighted option is immediately evident. The menus aren't ugly and you can get in and out of them fast. You don't really need any more.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Keiichi thinks everything is peaceful in his new country home of Hinamizawa and has really hit it off with his precocious new friends, Mion, Rena, Satoko and Rika. However, both the town and its inhabitants are not what they seem. What sinister secrets lie underneath those sweet smiles?
I'm so late to this party that others are already driving home. When They Cry is already firmly established in video games, manga, in TV and in film and if the series is any indication of the franchise's quality, it's with good reason. The writers construct some genuine characters who are all lovable in some way just to devastate the audience when something horrible happens to them or they commit some atrocity themselves. Then, it happens again.
When They Cry is comprised of several story arcs all on the same ominous backdrop. I'll admit that I may be ruining the fun by telling the reader this but chances are that anyone interested in the show knows this by now. I had no clue that the story arcs weren't continous at first and was surprised by the brutal (and final) conclusion presented only four episodes in. Then, lo and behold, the characters killed in the previous episodes were back again.
Every story arc follows the same shift in tone: impossibly light-hearted to tense to blood-on-the-walls brutal. The characters however change a little bit every time so the audience doesn't know who to trust even if it's the main character in the plot line. (Keiichi isn't always the show's focus.) The writing almost always throws you for a loop too. You're sitting there laughing along with a character or empathizing with her and then she picks up a weapon...
Contrast is the show's greatest strength and it has it in spades. It's even evident in the character design. During normal happy scenes, the show retains a very simple, clean style with soft lighting, but when things go haywire, the colors get very deep and we're treated to up-close shots of characters' faces which are set back with crazed eyes and twitching smiles. It's an effective shift in style that puts a little more oomph in the big moments.
Not that they really need it. The characters are usually so engaging that the shift in style may not even occur to the viewer until after the catastrophe. Most viewers will probably be predisposed to trust and sympathize with certain characters especially given the age of some of them. The writers add in some themes and stories that only intensify this. Lost families, adolescent rage, teenage crushes and family responsibility are only some of the things weighing heavy on the main characters' fragile minds. Rika and Satoko, whose ages haven't even hit double-digits, have both lost their families and are living together by themselves since they have no one else. This added responsibility may have been to make them seem more adult and soften the blow but when violence befalls them, it is still the hardest to take.
It's then that we consider the nature of good horror. I lump horror into two categories: horror that entertains and the kind of horror that digs deep under your skin and won't let go. For the most part, When They Cry is both. However, many scenes especially the deaths of the two youngest characters, aren't really enjoyable. More timid viewers should be warned because the unveiling of psychoses only get bigger and bloodier as the show goes on. I may be a little jaded when it comes to the horror genre, but even I went wide-eyed a few times during my stay in Hinamizawa.
Speaking of which, the town's setting is almost as creepy as the lunatics that inhabit it. Even though the backdrop is constant, the viewers are always learning about its foreboding history which centers around a feudal cotton-drifting festival and the curse of the town's patron god, Oyahshiro. The curse, which promises that one is killed and one goes missing every year during the festival, becomes a staple of each story and keeps that wonderful ominous feeling in the back of the viewers' minds.
This mixing of horror staples only intensifies the dread. Viewers are treated to first-rate psychological horror with increasingly erratic and alarming internal dialogue just as they are learning about dark conspiracies, missing persons and other unsavory situations. The alternate plotlines allow for many different themes and stories, all of which are guaranteed to grip the viewer until the last painful gasp.
The only fault I find with the show is that some storylines begin to layer creating a semi-continuous framework by the end. If the viewer is looking for a more encompassing story, they'll find one but probably won't be satisfied by the vague explanation given in the last episodes or the odd twist which tries to marry the stories in the end. However, it promises more to come and I'm already eager to book a second trip to the oppressive little town.
It should be noted that I started watching When They Cry when Geneon was publishing the single volumes, but when Funimation's first volume came out (Volume 4), the disc stuttered and stalled in all of my DVD players to the point that I found it unwatchable and didn't finish the series until now. It was a rare occurence apparently, but it was a relief to find all of these discs played perfectly in the same players.
Horror has been notoriously hard to perfect in animated form. Most shows supplement the scares with mood-killing humor or put in too much action which removes any feelings of dread. When They Cry gets around these missteps with some very effective use of alternate realities which leave the viewer wondering what will happen next and who they can really trust. It hits all the highlights of a good horror anthology series with every plotline offering a fresh experience while providing a little more information about the setting which can be just as intimidating as its psychopaths. It's become a popular franchise in a relatively short time, and it's easy to see why.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
46" Toshiba REGZA HDTV, Sony Playstation 3 (upconverted to 1080p through HDMI), Yamaha YSP-900 Digital Sound Projector w/ YST-SW216 100 watt subwoofer