It has been over a decade since the three original anime series of Higurashi When They Cry were produced by Studio Deen, and in 2020 a new version from Passione premiered, a studio that hadn’t even been founded when the original series aired. When it was announced, I was keen to find out whether this was going to be a remake or a continuation, but nobody in my anime fans social circle seemed to know. For a while it seemed like the people making it didn’t know either, because it was originally marketed as a remake, until the second episode aired, at which point the subtitle changed from New to Gou (“karma”) and it was revealed not to be a remake after all. Creating confusion seems like a very odd marketing strategy, and the change of closing music from the first to the second episode makes me wonder if there was some confusion behind the scenes as well.
For the first half of this season (bearing in mind this is a 24 episode run, so that was quite a while) I was trying to figure out what the point of all this was. Despite what had been announced (eventually) it did indeed seem to be a remake, with the occasional clue that things weren’t quite the same. I found myself questioning what actually qualifies as a remake, which this series was not supposed to be. From Rika’s point of view, she had escaped the cycle of reliving the same few days and had enjoyed a normal life for five years, before being returned once more to June 1983. So, strictly speaking, these events are additional to the original series, but so many of the original storylines are inevitably revisited that it did feel more like a remake than something new. As I felt that the original had outstayed its welcome in terms of doing the same things over and over again, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this development. What is the point of remaking so many of the same scenes, but with inferior animation, in my opinion? This new version lacks the distinctive style of the original, particularly in the character designs, which I found far more generic, although the backgrounds are often impressive.
After seeing the Satoko abuse story play out all over again I was past the mid-point of the series and wishing I had never started this apparent remake by stealth, but then everything changes for the second half. Hanyu is lost to Rika forever (which is a heart-wrenching moment) but before she disappears she reveals a way for Rika to end her existence forever. She allows herself five more loops to find a solution. These are some of the most violent episodes of the entire run, with the animators seeming to revel in showing us Rika dying in all sorts of horrible ways, free from the need to generally explore the build-up to those moments. If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of watching somebody’s intestines ripped out, bit by bit, for the majority of an episode, you will want to steer well clear of this series. It somehow manages to increase the blood and gore quota from the previous seasons, and that’s saying something. This is a remarkably violent series.
It’s pretty obvious that Rika is going to find a way out, or else what would be the point of this show? Once we’ve got past all that, the series really kicks into gear with a completely new storyline, which more than justifies the existence of this iteration of the Higurashi saga. Major spoilers follow, by necessity…
Rika continues with her life, and wants to fulfil her ambition to attend a posh academy, with Satoko by her side. The problem is that Satoko is not academically gifted, and doesn’t fit in there at all, whilst Rika soon finds some new friends and Satoko is left in a horrible, lonely situation. The big twist of the series happens when Satoko finds herself in the Sea of Fragments with a demon woman who is not Hanyu, and then Satoko becomes the one who is looping through the same period of time over and over again.
The difference here is far more than just having a different character going through the loops. For a start, the time period is different, but more importantly Satoko is the one who is driving these loops. She knows that she can start again if she dies, and she is desperate to find a path that is happy for both her and Rika, fulfilling Rika’s dream without torturing herself, but it just doesn’t seem to be possible. If you are a fan of the other characters in this series you will probably find this part of the season frustrating, because they drop out of the narrative almost entirely. Actually, if you are a fan of Satoko or Rika you will perhaps be uneasy about all this as well, because the one problem I had was the extent to which they seem to be acting out of character. With Satoko it does make some kind of sense, because she is treated very badly by Rika and it’s not difficult to see how the repeated loops could cause a personality shift. She eventually becomes obsessive, violent and illogical. I had much more of a problem with Rika, who is frankly horrible to Satoko in every loop, selfish in her insistence that Satoko must experience this new journey with her, and then cruelly abandoning her. She sometimes talks the good talk about how it is Satoko’s fault, but in every iteration Satoko ends up lonely and frustrated, whatever she does. We even see Rika making a promise to Satoko and then breaking it, which seems completely out of character, bearing in mind that we have experienced this world through her eyes for the majority of the series so we know her very well. Having said that, the shift of perspective character is a clever move, which strengthens this season enormously and is just about the only thing that justifies its entire existence. At the end of the series we seem to be heading right back to 1983, this time due to the actions and choices of Satoko. I’m guessing we are going to be reliving some of those events all over again for the next series. That’s not exactly a thrilling prospect, but with some reluctance I have to admit that I’ll probably be watching. This show reels you in and doesn’t let go. RP