When They Cry Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, May 18, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, June 05, 2007
What They Say
It's tough being the new guy in town, having just moved into the small rural village of Hinamizawa, but when Keiichi joins an after-school club and befriends four cute girls, life doesn't seem too bad. That is, until he learns about demonic cults and a failed dam construction project, plus the grisly murders and disappearances that have occurred every year on the day of the town festival.
As shocking past events are unveiled through different viewpoints, Keiichi learns that things and even people aren't what they appear to be. How many of his club "friends" are involved and what are their plans for him?!
Contains episodes 1-5.
Recent transfer student Keiichi finds himself in a very small town where secrets run deep and deadly.
When they Cry features two basic language tracks for its release that work well for the material but aren't all the impressive in general. The two stereo mixes are encoded at 224 kbps and provide basic dialogue placement and mild directionality during a few key scenes but are otherwise fairly simple. The opening and closing sequences handle the music well enough and everything comes across clean and clear but it's fairly unmemorable in total. In listening to both language tracks, we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The visuals for the series are essentially in a sleepy country town with lots of soft looking exteriors during sunset or sharper looking interiors at night with lots of black shadows. The look of the show is one that is carried off very well here and looks solid throughout. The soft areas during sunsets with the orange shading looks great and there's hardly any banding going on. During some of the other scenes such as the opening one of the first episode you can see some color gradients there but with the way it's animated it's fairly clear it's a source issue. Throughout the five episodes here the series looks solid outside of a few minor panning motions that look slightly off and maybe a zoom or two. While it isn't an in your face kind of transfer with striking visuals, it's one where the look is solidly maintained and represented here.
The cover art for the series is one that's going to be a hard sell since it's so indistinct and almost unappealing. With a background of dark reds and grays, the foreground character artwork of Mion and Rena is done in negative form with just black and grey lines. The artwork is nicely detailed and the deigns are certainly appealing but with it being so overly dark and uninformative it's hoping that the way it looks will get you to read the back cover to see what it's really all about. That side is a bit awkward as well. While the opening quote about the premise works well enough, there isn't a general summary of the premise but rather an episode by episode breakdown of the plot. This to me gives away just a bit too much and has the back looking far too text heavy. The discs features are clearly listed and there's a couple of shots from the show that are too dark. While there was a trend with several releases to provide solid technical grids, there isn't one here this time as things are basically kept to a minimum.
The reverse side cover art for this release is completely different and far more appealing. The front side uses the same artwork as the front cover but with a normal color background and completely colored characters. The back cover has numerous brightly colored shots from the show and the few technical basics. While it may not give away too much about the darkness contained within it's a cover that is far easier to sell to someone on the retail racks.
The menu design uses the cover artwork in a static image with the series logo along the top and the navigation strip along the bottom. With no music attached to it the menu is obviously quiet but unusual for a Geneon release. The navigation is quick and easy and provides the translated credits at the top level instead of in the extras. Geneon appears to be moving away from translating the credits at the end of each episode and leaving the opening credits in original form as well. As long as they provide easy access to the credits like this I can't complain as it leaves the video untouched which is a plus in my book. The disc did not read our players' language presets however and defaulted to English language with sign/song subtitles.
None. In fact, I'm boggled that they had an extras submenu just for the previews when it would have fit at the top level very easily and saved a few bucks in authoring.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the doujin game Higurashi no Naku Koroni, When They Cry is a twenty-six episode series that plays up the cute and adorable factor of its characters in order to brutalize them even more. With such wispy and light looking designs that are quite appealing even if they look terribly young, the brutality that is visited upon them makes it all the more startling as the attempts to shock the viewer manage to work fairly well.
The problem that the show encounters is that right from the start they give away just how far they intend to go. A brief scene of utter brutality then gives way to a slightly trippy opening and sets the stage for what is a very slow moving storyline. The build-up of the atmosphere surrounding the events is quite engaging as it teases out what's to come, but the what's to come aspect has already been spoiled. The first volume covers five episodes, the first four of which are a complete story arc. The fifth episode follows a similar manner and exposes the non-linear storytelling that appears to be how the series will operate.
Taking place in 1983, the series revolves around a recently arrived transfer student named Keiichi in the small town of Hinamizawa. The town is so small that the school he attends is essentially one room with one teacher who handles things for all fifteen of the kids who attend. Be they younger kids or the older ones like Keiichi, it all manage to work well enough and illustrates the isolated nature of the town even as there is a larger one nearby. In the month since Keiichi has arrived he's managed to fit in well enough. He's made good friends with a girl named Rena who is the same age as he is as well as Mion who is a year older. Rena is fairly shy and interested in Keiichi while Mion is brash and outgoing and is only interested in giving Keiichi some playful grief.
There's also a pair of younger kids, Satoko and Rika, who figure into things over the course of the larger storyline but at first feel like younger versions of Rena and Mion with even simpler personalities. The main focus in the first four episode arc entitled "Spirited Away by the Demon" revolves around the older set of characters. Keiichi's become pleasantly close to Rena and hangs out with her a fair bit. This leads him to finding out about one of her odder hobbies which is rummaging through the dump where a dam was once planned. Her interest in items that can be found there is amusing, such as finding an entire Kenta doll in good shape in there, and it illustrates how quirky she is.
His introduction to the dump also brings him to meeting an older man there who visits from Tokyo a few times a year. An offhand comment by him opens up the floodgates however in that there was a really big problem in Hinamzawa several years ago where a man was dismembered. Related to the failed damn project, the person who committed the atrocity has been unaccounted for. And ever year since then on the day of the Cotton Drifting Festival someone else related to the project has died. The premise is interesting enough but as soon as Keiichi starts asking about it with his friends things begin to change between them. With subtle changes in their eyes, Keiichi realizes that something far more disturbing is going on and he may be in danger. With added intensity and warnings from a police officer near retirement, Keiichi discovers various clues that point to his friends as being involved.
The setup for When They Cry is fairly straightforward and it excels at slowly teasing out the clues as the layers are peeled back. Mixing in cute moments and decidedly adorable character designs works to heighten the intensity as you wonder what they're capable of. The four episodes are fairly laid back for the most part as it works to build up the atmosphere but as the intensity of it all starts to hit the show picks up a strong pace. Keiichi's understanding of the situation only heightens his fear and suspicion which is continually enhanced by the way everyone acts around him. In Hinamizawa it seems like everyone has a deep dark secret and there is far more than what's visible at the surface level.
When They Cry is a hard show to really talk about as it's designed around intense atmospheric moments that are then given to moments of brutality. Though things are fairly well spoiled for certain scenes at first it manages to keep the intensity when the full circumstances around it are revealed. Setting the series in 1983 gives it a different feel as well as it takes us away from most of the commonplace pieces of technology that would alter how the story could be told in present day. Combining the setting with the style of character designs provides for an interesting balance that for the most part is carried off. When you have characters like Rena and Mion who are all smiles and giggly suddenly have their eyes shift in intensity they take on a very different feel. They give real meaning to "and they were such quiet good girls that I would never have suspected..." phrases that you hear.
With twenty-one episodes still to go it's going to be very interesting to see if When They Cry can pull off what they've started. With a non-linear approach to the story in terms of the arcs it presents there is a certain fascination there. Being able to tease out the same storyline from different angles and reveal more about each of the characters in turn is a great technique but one that is hard to pull off, especially over a series of this length. These opening episodes have great promise to them and the style in which its told make sit all the more appealing. Whether it can actually succeed is up in the air but it's certainly hooked me right now.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: When They Cry - Higurashi