It’s going to be a bit difficult to write a quick review for a franchise as huge as Higurashi, but I’ll give it a shot. Why? Because I want you to give it a shot! Higurashi is the best.
This series is titled Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, which means “When the Cicadas Cry.” For various English releases, the series is given the odd title Higurashi When They Cry, as a sort of half-translation that includes the word that all the English fans refer to the series by. The series first took form as eight doujin (i.e. indie) murder mystery visual novels released by a fellow who went by the name Ryukishi07. This man was… not the best artist. But he was one hell of a writer, and the stories became popular enough to lead to full-blown anime and manga adaptations.
Most people are familiar with Higurashi through the anime, but I experienced the full story through the manga as released by Yen Press–all 25 volumes (many of which are *really* thick, which is understandable as a lot of the later releases are actually omnibuses). I have since watched some of the anime, which I think is good but a bit too fast-paced to do the story full justice. I have also read the first four visual novels, which were fantastic but also quite poorly-translated by MangaReader. (Note: Said company is currently re-releasing the series one story at a time [thankfully with a new translation]. But so far just the first one has been released on Steam.) With all that in mind, I highly recommend the manga for now! It covers all the arcs, the pacing always felt just right to me, and the artwork was always good.
Higurashi is about a series of mysterious deaths that have been happening each year at a small, remote village. Many characters are involved, and different story arcs focus on different ones, sometimes changing the protagonist in order to offer a new point of view. A very complex mystery is presented, and the story does well to encourage an effort of piecing everything together. Are the deaths being carefully orchestrated by certain individuals in the village? Or is the village indeed under the influence of a supernatural curse? Half of the fun of Higurashi is in trying to work out precisely what is going on. Why are these people dying–and if it was murder each time, who killed them, and why? The truth only becomes clear when examining all the overlapping stories together.
The thing that people tend to remember most about Higurashi is the horror, and indeed, the horror is spectacular. Various characters go through with some really surprising, gruesome, and unsettling things, and it’s fascinating to see the different paths they take as they gradually “lose it.” This is a series that does not go easy on anyone, and the suffering they have to go through leads to some incredibly memorable scenes.
But here’s the thing–Higurashi is actually really good at not only horror, but drama, tragedy, slice-of-life, and comedy as well. The writing is just that solid, that the series is able to juggle so many subplots and develop so many characters, and throughout it all manage to cover an entire spectrum of emotions. The humor is top-notch, some of the funniest stuff I’ve read. And on the flip side, considering the way things play out, some of the most heart-wrenching developments are to be had here too. I think it all comes down to the characters.
This is what I’ll always remember the most for the Higurashi franchise: all of the great characters, the ways they each developed over the course of the story, and all their interactions with one another. The lead cast consists of a boy named Keiichi who transfers from the city and joins a club of girls who play card games, board games, and the like. They get into ridiculous antics together, and the fun and lighthearted dialogue does well to really get you attached to all of them. They’re such a great group of friends… So it really is too bad that they have to be in a horror story! The plot for Higurashi is so good though, and for me at least there never seemed to be point where it felt tired, padded out, monotonous, or unfocused. Having a large cast also helps in this case, as even many of the secondary characters are really fleshed-out and intriguing in their own right.
Definitely consider giving the manga a shot if you’re ready to take the plunge! It’s a large and somewhat complicated franchise to get into, but it’s well-worth reading through. If you can’t afford the manga, perhaps consider the anime. And, of course, be sure to watch for the visual novels being released on Steam, if you’re interested in getting the longest, most thoroughly detailed, and most atmospheric experience.