Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (2020) – 01

「Episode 01」

I tend to get overbearing with anecdotes when I talk about my experiences with anime, but watching Higurashi in anime club was my main introduction to fansubs. Week-in and week-out, it was freaky, interesting, and unique to revisit Hinamizawa to find out what horrors Keiichi has to face in each episode that he comes closer to finding out the truth behind the town’s secrets. Since Higurashi’s sequel anime finished, the series went through a number of bumps in the road, including a jokey OVA series.

With all of this in mind, I was skeptical about whether a reboot of Higurashi was going to be another depressing attempt to keep the franchise going into the next decade or a loving revitalization of the beloved horror anime with enough thrills and spills to make your hair stand on end as easily as the original adaptation. I’m more than happy to say that, at the moment, it’s living up to capturing a similar atmosphere by disarming the viewer with a light-hearted story up until the facade of normalcy starts to unravel.

At first, it was hard to digest the art style’s shift into a pastel, cutesy aesthetic. My main fear is that it would only be able to do justice to one particular tone by gearing the art style more towards the fluffy slice-of-life moments. If everyone looks like Karen from Monogatari and the colors are bright enough, will it be able to look convincing once it gets scarier?

But then something clicked. It made far more sense for the atmosphere to be imbalanced because of what the first episode aimed to accomplish. By establishing the friendship between Keiichi and the girls, it’s easier to get hurt or upset once the secrets of Hinamizawa start to sow the seeds for discord amongst the friend group.

While the old anime aimed to establish a “fish-out-of-water” feel for Keiichi, it helps that the first episode of this reboot gave us a better glimpse of how tightly-knit Keiichi’s friend circle is. The small-town feel came less from seeing the wear-and-tear of an old-fashioned village in the middle of the sticks during 1983, and more from how naturally everyone was able to have fun with each other and stay in close contact with one another during times of peace. That kind of close friend unit really helps to solidify why the art style heavily emphasized some of the goofier faces that carefree characters like Rena and Satoko had.

The first episode captured the slice-of-life scenes well enough, but it really stepped up to the plate whenever the mood shifted towards a darker tone. It brought back a ton of nostalgia to see how well the reboot captured that orange sunset hue that looms over the village as Keiichi starts to peel back some of the layers that keep the town from acknowledging the seedier aspects of Hinamizawa. You don’t get as much in the first episode with most of the signifiers being with how you only see the girls’ mouths whenever they are trying to conceal the town’s true nature.

However, the final moment of the episode has to be one of the more effective first episode outros I’ve seen from a horror anime in a while. Whoever did the editing for the sound/music direction needs a round of applause for getting the original ominous OP music by Shimamiya Eiko to play as Keiichi discovered the old magazine headlines found at the dump. Hearing that music creep in slowly as Keiichi got answers as to what happened to metropolitan government officials who tried to linger about Hinamizawa was very effective in creating that foreboding, dreadful vibe by the end, especially as the camera pans over to Rena with her signature hatchet. Rika showing up at the end was interesting as well, but that’s a secret that won’t need to be unearthed for a while.

Only time will tell if it will live up to the strong expectations of replicating the eerie feel of the original Higurashi anime, but so far, the first episode shows a ton of promise. They do a good job at establishing the light-hearted nature of the first parts of the visual novel and anime before they get into the meat and potatoes of the series. It might have a fresh coat of paint on it, but every “ni-pah” and “omochikaeri” sounds as refreshing and new as it did many years ago. There’s a lot of foreshadowing of events that will happen later on, but I’m enthused to see how they end up pulling off later parts of the series that are more grim and edgy.

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