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"When They Cry: The Complete Series": Absolutely Heart-Stopping Horror

by on October 20, 2009

A lot of anime try to be scary; and a lot try to do multiple short multi-episode arcs; and a lot try to fuse genres. Some of them even try all those at once. When They Cry is one of the few that succeeds.

The story begins in the tiny town of Hinamizawa, deep in the heart of rural Japan, where our protagonist, Keiichi, has been transferred. Everything seems fairly sweet. Keiichi makes a group of friends: four cute girls, in fact, named Mion Sonozaki, Rena Ryuugu, Rika Furude, and Satoko Hojo. They have an after-school club where they play card and board games, with the loser punished in some silly way. But there’s a lot more going on in this town than is apparent. At one point, the government was going to flood the town out to put in a new hydroelectric dam, but it was stopped after the brutal murder of one of the construction workers and the revelation of massive corruption in the project.

However, the people responsible for the murder were never caught, and murders continued to occur, once a year during the Cotton Drifting festival. People also went missing during the festival. Keiichi becomes caught up in this, and it becomes clear that no one—not even his new friends—are who they say they are. People start dying, and other horrid things begin to happen, and all signs point to the increasingly paranoid Keiichi being the next victim.

And will he be. Repeatedly. Or will he?

One of the brilliant things about When They Cry is that it’s a series of alternate stories, with different people taking the villain role every time; and, trickier still, they don’t give you the denouement until a later arc, told via an alternate POV and often via a different time frame. Fans of series like Boogiepop Phantom, Fringe and Lost would be quite satisfied by it. Now, while this means it’s hard to review without being somewhat vague to avoid massive spoilers, it makes for a very intense and complex viewing experience—a lot of people may need to watch it twice to catch everything going on. It results in being anything but episodic, but it’s one of the rare examples of a twenty-plus-episode series that can actually do multi-part episodes without feeling slow or draggy. It’s a testament to the direction, especially since the animation is seriously low-budget at points. (Yes, there is a time for super-deformed takes, but then there are moments of skewed proportions and animation on 3s that almost ruin the suspension of disbelief for seasoned animation viewers.)

That said, direction and writing is not just good, it’s positively terrifying at points. I mean, When They Cry is not just scary, it’s one of the most heart-pounding psycho-suspense stories since Perfect Blue. I mean, this is the story that resulted in the term “yandere” (which roughly translates as sweet on the outside, psycho on the outside). It’s almost hard to watch it’s so screwed up, so intense. That ability to grab the viewer is also quite impressive because the voice acting in both languages is a bit grating at points. (Why does cute always mean sharply squeaky?) It’s also definitely a product of the visual novel storytelling style: one guy, lots of girls who fit very specific character types, but the series uses that familiarity of setting to magnify the shock of almost every plot-twist. The music may also be key in off setting any issues, as it really adds to the atmosphere in both the happy and horrifying moments, and the opening and ending themes definitely set the stage for the show too. Shortcomings aside, it’s really, really creepy. Keep the lights on.

DVD-wise, this is a nice set. It’s basically all the Geneon singles, just reprinted and put all together. The video quality is sharp, and the audio is crisp as well, though I question some of the mix choices at points: maybe it’s just my gear, but I’ve not heard the sound distort during the yelling in anime in quite a while. Since these are the Geneon discs, you’re completely out of luck on getting many extras, just creditless opening and ending. Additionally, it’s double thin-packed, with all the broken disc-holder bits rattling around that practice often results in, though maybe that was just my luck. The packaging is fine otherwise, though; quite nice looking really.

If you ever read The Lottery, then When They Cry is going to seem a little hauntingly similar, down to the practice of maintaining the status-quo via systemic, ritualized violence. (And I do mean ritualized. Some of the gore in this show is disgustingly, absolutely, stomach-churningly grotesque.) However, by capitalizing on that same small town setting—that innocent and idyllic place—it just really seems that much more terrifying. Plenty of anime pile on the gore and violence, but rarely is it actually scary.

(By the way, seriously, this is not for younger audiences unless they were raised on the Saw and Final Destination movies.)

When They Cry is even more impressive as it balances that horror, or perhaps rather accentuates it via anime tropes. I mean, considering how many shows from that era didn’t really stick the combination of multi-part stories and somewhat stereotypical character types, When They Cry really stands out from its peers.

All Funimation has to do now is bring over the sequel series.

Not sold on it? Check our previous review of the series.

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