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.

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Posted by cphillips at October 9, 2008 2:16 PM

Well I dislike your review mainly because the anime is very thought provoking and there IS a reason for everything and it is explained in season 2. If you look at it like this season 1 was the what, season 2 was the why it makes complete sense why you wouldn't understand it.

Now massive spoilers time for season 2. Definitely do not read this if you ever plan to watch season 2.

Well first and foremost the town of hinami-zawa is infected by small alien parasites, which are are very specific to that region. When you go outside of the area for prolonged periods of time the Parasites in your body go haywire and cause you to go Berserk and become extremely paranoid and violent which explains MOST of what happens in season 1.

Rika Furude is special, she is the featured character in season 2 as Keichi was in season 1.
She is like the QUEEN BEE of the people infected by the parasites (pretty much the entire town of hinami-zawa who have long term exposure) As long as the residents are around Rika the parasites will be calm and everyone can live normally... There are exceptions to this rule however, when placed under duress the residents will tend to go crazy and experience the feeling of bugs crawling underneath their skin, extreme paranoia among other things. The level of paranoia and parasite activity is measured in stages... if the person is calmed in the early stages they can be cured relatively. If they pass a certain point they will go berserk and there is no going back and will probably go on a massive murder rampage. Although Keichi is able to bring people back once or twice.

Now as to why there are multiple arcs... Rika Furude is special like I said... her other self is called Hanyuu and thats about as accurate as I can describe her, shes kind of a goddess but somewhat lacking in power. That said she is the reason why things keep happening as she is rewinding time repeatedly trying to save Rika from being murdered. When you see Rika speaking to someone who isn't there mysteriously in early episodes thats who she is talking to, however she becomes visible to the other characters in season 2.

Yes Rika being murdered in the end of every arc is the reason why the whole town goes berserk.

There is a scientific experiment by high levels of the government to observe the residents and see if the Parasites can be used as a weapon among other things. The main villian is the Nurse Takano who is purportedly killed on the night of watagnashi or something like that, the real name escapes me, of the festival. But she just faked her own death instead. However the whole hospital is in on the government conspiracy and is a covert group. Essentially Nurse Takano is in charge and she has Rika killed every time in order to prove a theory correct. Nurse Takano is fairly insane and it does go deeply into her backstory in season 2.
Rika being killed by Takano is the reason why Hinamizawa ends in a catastrophe in every arc.

So essentially Keichi becomes a catalyst for change as he gets everyone to work together more bit by bit. In season 2 they start to discover why this is all happening and they work together to stop it this time with Hanyuu's help. If you think of the different arcs as like a groundhog day type event then it starts making more sense, although its not limited to one day.

There are tons of subplots and a lot of different things get revealed about the characters like Shion and Satoko etc and its all inter connected.

That said its an utterly brilliant series when you look at it as a whole, they tie everything in together extremely well and if you are able to understand it (which I can completely understand if some people get lost) it all makes perfect sense.

That said when you said "When We Cry is an amusing diversion, not deep-thought anime" That pretty much invalidated your entire review in my opinion.
I dont think you were qualified to write about something you dont understand sorry, not your fault though... stick to hell girl.

Posted by: Catullus at December 24, 2008 12:31 PM

Sorry for delay in posting your lengthy comment above. Was merely because it went into the blog's junk comment folder for some reason. We're working on improving the way comments are approved via MT so that doesn't happen as easily. Thanks again for the provocative, thoughtful comment.

Posted by: Craig P at January 8, 2009 2:40 PM
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