This is the third series in the When They Cry franchise and finally sees the characters move on from Rika’s original time looped trap. Sadly it’s only five episodes long, so there is little time to enjoy seeing the characters in a context other than that repetitive scenario, although the episodes are slightly longer than usual, at around 30 minutes each rather than 20-25. Unfortunately only three of the episodes are really worth watching.
The series is made up of a single episode dream sequence of sorts, followed by a three-episode arc, and then another single episode story. The two single episodes are very silly. The first is really only an excuse to get all the characters into swimsuits for the usual fanservice at a swimming pool shenanigans. It’s quite uncomfortable viewing, with Keiichi perving over each of the girls in turn and Rena in particular getting all excited about the chance to catch sight of his “fur seal”, a euphemism which I have to say is a new one on me. The plot, if you can call it that, consists of everyone trying to remove each other’s clothes, for the very contrived reason of a swimming costume that works like a magic attraction spell. The other single episode story is a little better, but then again it could hardly have been worse. It basically does the old love potion storyline, with meteorite crystals used in place of the usual magic potion, and very contrived ways to get the crystals into people’s possession. It seems to be an excuse to get Rena throwing herself at all the men (and one woman), troublingly mainly the adults, with the others trying to cure her of the curse before she “goes all the way”. The targets of her affections seem very pleased with the attention, so this is another uncomfortable one to watch, although at least this time it is not used as an excuse for fanservice, and does have a strong final message of friendship over-riding the curse.
Comparing those two with the three-episode arc is chalk and cheese, and this is where the set becomes well worth the money. It’s another parallel universe story, with Rika getting killed in a road accident and waking up in another version of Hinamizawa, but this time unconnected with the version of events she was trapped in before. Instead, she is cut off from her god friend Hanyu, who cannot enter the new universe, and Keiichi is absent, having never moved to the town. Everyone else is there, from her group of school friends at least, and it seems to be a perfect world, free from the violence and terror she experienced in the original. The temptation of course is to stay in this apparently perfect world where nothing bad ever happens, especially as she now has her mum again, but it soon becomes apparent that the friendships she forged in the original world were strengthened and defined by the hardships they faced together. Staying in this perfect world means accepting different (and sometimes not quite so nice) versions of her friends, and losing Hanyu forever, but on the other hand she has her mother back. It’s a difficult decision to make, especially as the only way to return home means committing a horrendous crime herself.
I’ve seen a few series with this kind of impossible choice set-up, and they often find a third way instead. Not so here. The series follows through on its premise to the end, and I was impressed by how the animators didn’t feel the need to show us a particularly unpleasant moment that takes place unseen during the third episode of the arc. It’s enough to know that it happened, and to think about how it must have felt for Rika. For a franchise that has shown us so much violence, that was a particularly mature decision on the part of the studio.
When They Cry has been a series about the importance of friendship, right from the start, and that theme has followed right through to this third and final series. They may be unusual friendships, with the most important of all being a decades-old bond between a little girl and her demon friend, but friendships come in all shapes and sizes. RP