For an anime series where all of its female leads are slaughtered left and right, you wouldn’t think When They Cry, or Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni, is a show that treats women fairly, nor that it features overtly feminist story threads. That's where you'd be wrong. Not only are the female characters held in high regard, but they bring this bizarre story all the way around full circle, pulling the strings both behind the scenes and in the foreground.
If you’ve been sleeping on this series despite its status in the otakusphere as one of the greats, know that it’s time for all that to change. In light of the recent announcement that the original video game that spawned the anime series is getting a re-release on Nintendo Switch, we’re here to extol the virtues of the always creepy, absolutely brilliant murder mystery that also features some of the best female characters in the genre. Read on, but beware of spoilers.
Higurashi is all about asking questions and then finding the answers you crave so badly by the end of the series. It's a narrative that you’ll thrill to watch unfold as you visit the town of Hinamizawa and get to know the students who comprise its main cast. The anime, game, and manga series follows the tale of a cursed village that seemingly drives its inhabitants to paranoid, murderous rampages. It's cruel, sick, sad, and oddly beautiful at times, which may not make a whole lot of sense at first blush, but just stay with me here.
You’ll be drawn in slowly at first with what looks like the promise of an idyllic school-based harem tale where male protagonist Keiichi seems to be fawned on by several of his female classmates, but you’ll end up staying for the madness that nearly every scene is positively drenched in. As it turns out, Keiichi is hardly the main character. This is not a story about Keiichi figuring out which girl he should end up with by the end of the series. Neither is it one where everyone is fawning over him. In fact, he's but a pawn when it comes to the heart of the series.
Higurashi's story finds its heroes placed in timelines that span many deaths, some more frustrating and callous than others, as its main cast continues to be eliminated again and again—either as the result of one character's psychosis, an accident, or a malevolent act. It's seemingly never-ending, echoing through many different realities.The common thread throughout all these realities is a young girl named Rika, who ultimately holds all the clues to Hinamizawa and the curse that seems to have befallen it. She must piece together the mystery and motives behind a crooked cast of characters; some of them want to do her harm and ultimately destroy the village's way of life, and others play more innocent roles. Rika, along with her "guardian" deity Hanyu, must unlock the secrets behind the malevolence in play in the town. It's a thankless, lonely job, but it makes her one of the strongest characters you'll ever have the pleasure of meeting, even though she's still technically just a child.
Beyond Rika and Hanyu, it's always women who propel the story. Twin sisters Mion and Shion Sonozaki are part of one of the largest families who reside in Hinamizawa, and they often swap places, which leads to some unexpected circumstances. The quiet yet unhinged Rena Ryuuguu takes matters into her own hands when she discovers a predator (another woman) is trying to prey on her divorced father and take him for all his cash. Where one story ends, one of Higurashi's women picks it up and begins again, with most men in the story being relegated to bit parts or supporting roles. Even the villainous and somewhat misunderstood antagonist once endured quite a bit of abuse at the hands of a psychopath as an orphan and clawed her way up to get where she is, no matter what it took.
Point being, the glue holding the entire narrative together is a network of strong, resilient women who simply do what they know they have to do, whether it's murdering someone who gets in the way, sacrificing themselves again and again for their friends and their way of life, or killing for the one she loves because she can never see him again.
Higurashi is a bloody gorefest, but it's also an unsung feminist series with women worth studying, and the men who support them in their endeavors to bring forth a reality in which no one has to suffer. If you get a chance to see it, don't pass up the series or its sequel, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai, and soak in what it means to have strong women who aren't afraid to get a little bloody (or violently depressed) to make things happen.