Horror is a really difficult genre to win with thanks to how quickly the product can sour or dully go by. Stuff a work with lots of characters getting waxed off and the result is something thoughtless and difficult to sit through; keep everyone alive, liter the story with jump-scares to move things along and it is nothing more than a fraud. The most memorable horror films in the past decade or so tackle traditional rules of the genre and play off of other genres. Cult classics like The Strangers traded in ghosts haunting the basement for the realistic fears of home invasions and the recent successful film Get Out used social issues to move an elaborate plot. Both of these examples come to mind for their shocking psychological games they play on the audience, giving much more than the “who gets it next” thought involvement horror unfortunately watered down into. Whatever the choice is, there has to be a kicker on the old ways of horror to break out of the herd and make a name for itself.
When it comes to anime, however, the definition of the horror genre is one of the blurriest there is. Some call Danganronpa a horror series after all, showing that the genre label is given out to nearly everything that has remotely scary elements or characters. I’ll throw people a bone and credit Tokyo Ghoul for the gory intense moments meriting being horror, but the genre still leaves a lot to be desired for something that works purely for the classic horror elements. This very well might just fall into me being newer to anime, but I had yet to find that horror anime that deserves the title of the best of the genre.
Back in February, some of the other writers here talked me into watching the first few episodes of a certain series live. Shotgunning it without looking even into what the title translates into, I was met with a confusing story of a boy who recently moved to a small village and befriended some ominous girls hiding behind smiles and club activities. By the time the sample reached its conclusion, I was practically screaming into my microphone in shock of what was happening inexplicably. As vague as that sounds, chances are you’ve connected the dots that they showed me the first arc in Higurashi (When They Cry).
Even if individuals manage to make it past the oddly structured first five episodes, they’re only greeted with another barrage of unexplained mystery and sudden conclusion. Without spoiling anything, emotions race for a few of the residents of the village of Hinamizawa and a vicious cycle of killing unfolds in bizarre and demented ways over and over again in seemingly separate scenarios. The players all stay the same, however there are vastly different happenings that make the cast reach untimely demises. One situation might give shades of another, however the pieces to the puzzle feel incredibly deceptive (if not outright wrong).
These red herrings alone make for outstanding theater, feverishly turning the world on its side like a chew toy. Every character develops and breaks apart in such a new way that it shakes the world to its core. Viewers pick and choose which details they want to use in each freakish sequence with that subconscious sleuthing instinct anyone with an active mind would reasonably have. The show gets uncomfortably gorey at times, but it only does it as a dreadful end, not a bright red coat of paint that covers the whole canvas that is the story. I found myself torn between a genuinely unsettling show and the curiosity to see the mysteries explained. I wish to say the second season gave much payoff for the build, but it felt off-beat to me. There is a solution to everything going on, sure, but the way the show takes things to explain the one true story sort of robs the entire previous season of all of its fun. Imagine being presented with the most fascinating mystery to solve in a challenge book, only for it to be given a disappointing, underwhelming answer right afterward. The challenge still would exist in the book I read, however the solution to get there pales in comparison to the wonders of the possibilities to solve it. I understand this is a vague analogy, but since Higurashi is dependent on its sheer shock of the events unraveling, I feel especially careful with spoiling things for this series. It is just essential that if you watch the second season of the series, just make sure it is coupled with some patience. Seeing as I’m one of five people who actually made it all the way through March comes in like a lion from week to week until the very end, I like to think I have a lot of patience with anime, and even I grew wary of certain arcs.
Ultimately, Higurashi puts all of its chips on black (although for the sake of making lame puns, this idiom could be red instead of black with the gamble) and flourishes from the unique blending of “bad” endings in a visual novel meshed together into a singular story being told. It speaks volumes to the idea that a horror work can be both psychologically thrilling whilst gut wrenchingly graphic. The two parties are so well executed that I believe that without one, the other would either make for a boring show or just be outright offensive (take it from someone who NOPES out of anime quickly- it get pretty bad here). If nothing else, the first season is a must watch for anyone who calls themselves even a little bit interested in the horror genre and is looking to itch that fix with anime.