October 9, 2008
When They Cry
Reviewer: Tara Black
Ratings (out of 5): ***½
When They Cry
The set-up: Maebara Keiichi has just moved to a rural town in Hinamizawa (modeled on the real town of Shirakawa-go) in 1983. The school is for all grades since there are very few kids. Keichi very quickly finds himself accepted and befriended by other students, especially Rena, Mion, Rika and Satoko. But there's something off with the town and with his new friends' past.
The skinny: The very first episode of When They Cry treats you to a violent, disturbing scene that, at first, is reminiscent of Paranoia Agent: A boy with a baseball bat goes a little crazy, kills some cute girls. Only in Japan, right? (The show was at one point suspended in Japan after a teenaged girl killed her father with an axe.) Immediately after that shocking scene, you're treated to the half-creepy, half-cute theme that pretty much sets the tone for the series perfectly. Then it rewinds to several days before the incident, full of a kind of "slice of life" feel. Makes you think you just imagined crazed baseball bat boy.
The format this series follows is a little odd. You have five total arcs, though the last two tie in with the first two. The fourth arc completely explains what happened in the first, and is probably the most coherent, yet craziest, of them all. The fifth arc half-explans why there are multiple arcs to begin with. It can be a little confusing and annoying, but they all have a few basic facts in common. A mystery, if you will. And you know what happens in Japanese mysteries. A father sleeps with his daughter by mistake then cuts off...Wait, different story. At the beginning of the three main arcs, you're treated to a creepy, insane scene before you learn how it got to that point.
And poor Keiichi-kun goes down the rabbit hole each and every time, he just can't seem to help himself. It seems as if the creators of When They Cry just didn't like the character. But once you get used to the format, When They Cry is more than a little addictive. You end up needing to know why everything happened, regardless of what changes in each arc. Mysteries set within mysteries, with each arc revealing a little more of the history of the not-quite-idyllic town it's set in. You name it, and When They Cry will probably throw it out there, either as actual plot or just something to distract you from what is really going on.
And remember those cute little girls? You won't like them when they get angry.
When They Cry feasts on paranoia and smears the plot liberally with nonsensical behavior. I'd say it's uniquely Japanese and works very well once you immerse yourself in it. It can drag a little in the middle when you realize that you're not getting the full story immediately and are instead being treated to several incomplete ones, or when you just get tired of the slice-of-life moments. But watching the characters break down from perfectly normal, happy kids into crazed freaks is, if you're sadistic like me, rather awesome. The series manages to keep you off-balance most of the time, never sure if The Crazy has completely affected certain characters, or if they're just in a really bad mood.
The verdict: Fans of anime like Paranoia Agent and Hell Girl might particularly find the series worth the time to watch, though it never approaches the greatness of the former. On the other hand, if you're wanting real shock and horror value, you'll be sadly disappointed. This isn't Elfen Lied or Gunslinger Girl. When We Cry is an amusing diversion, not deep-thought anime. But it's still worth watching.
And from what I hear, Season Two answers a lot of the questions left hanging from Season One. But it'll be some time before we see it hit shelves here, assuming it ever does.
Posted by cphillips at October 9, 2008 2:16 PM