This review will contain spoilers for When They Cry Series 1
Time has reset itself once again in Hinamizawa, and only Rika knows this and remembers elements that have happened in previous timelines. But in each reset, tragedy is always certain; on the night of the Cotton Drifting Festival, one person will die and another will disappear, and in some timelines more people die or go insane with no happy ending for everyone. But there’s change afoot, as her friends begin to remember their actions in other timelines, and become more accepting that something isn’t quite right with the town. Will there finally be a timeline where they can be saved from Oyashiro’s curse?
To all intents and purposes, this is Part 2 and the conclusion of the When They Cry story; not only does it pick up right where we left off with the last series, but it also answers pretty much all the questions that were left hanging previously. So, if you have yet to dive into the first series and immerse yourself in the horror mystery, I’d recommend you stop here and come back as this is certainly no jumping-in point. From a technical standpoint, it’s also very much a continuation from before with the animation quality and style being exactly the same (this series being made just one year later), the composer even recycling tracks and voice actors continuing their roles. But despite all that, there’s certainly a different ‘feel’ to this series than the last one.
The first thing you’ll likely notice is the tone. It’s still a mystery throughout, with the pacing continuing to be sublime; the slow delivery of answers via the plot is executed brilliantly which makes watching it all until the end so satisfying. But as the episodes progress, and we uncover the mystery piece by piece, the horror elements start to fade away. That’s not to say that it’s trying to take a step back from the shocking depths that it went to previously as the series does make references to them, however the plot now has less opportunities for it and the characters actively try to avoid the horror situations at all costs, and to explain how would sadly be spoilers. So, if you were hoping for more bloody carnage and random deaths to occur, you’ll likely be disappointed. That’s not to say that the stakes are not high however, they are just executed in a different way. Instead of the death toll and the executioner being different each time being the main driving force of tension, it’s now a race against the clock to truly figure out who or what is behind the curse and if the fate of everyone dying can be avoided at all. As a result, there’s a lot more exposition and talk-heavy scenes in this batch of episodes; all are very interesting but it can get a bit heavy-handed at times.
But this is something that will only be noticeable as the series goes on, a natural occurrence of our heroes fighting against the curse, figuring out the answers and working towards stopping it once and for all. However, what really affects the tone of this series is the increase in ‘cute’ factor, being noticeable from the opening ‘anime exclusive’ arc. We have a new character, Hanyu, who’s supposed to be an all-knowing entity but is portrayed as a ‘kawaii’ little girl, so she speaks in cutesy language and hardly comes across as knowledgeable or frightful as she’s meant to be. The effect also goes to the sense of humour, which has increased in silliness, and the foreboding Next Episode previews of the past have now been replaced with Hanyu and Rika doing mini-cute speeches over clips of the next episode. It’s a disappointing turn of events; you can forgive the Next Episode previews ditching the horror factor, because at the end of the day they don’t matter and are easily skippable, but the new character, despite their importance, isn’t unique or interesting. The cute designs of the characters worked with the first series because the clash of bloody horror and moe-looking students were opposite but complimentary. But Higurashi was already walking a fine line, and Kai completely goes over it, and the times when the series tries to up the ante with violent segments is lost because of the addition of the extra cuteness of the main cast. It doesn’t help that Keiichi isn’t the main voice any longer, instead Rika becomes the main character, which means we spend more time with Hanyu and lose a lot of the punch the original series had.
I noted this in my review for the first series but I’ll stress it here: there was only an English dub included in the first series, and therefore this and all future When They Cry releases are sub-only. The DVD set only includes trailers as extras, with all 24 episodes across 5 discs.
When They Cry: Kai delivers a compelling story conclusion and satisfying answers to its enjoyable mystery, but is let down by the sudden drop in horror and increase of cuteness that almost ruins the unique atmosphere of the original. If you liked the first series, I highly recommend you pick up this set to conclude the story, as the plot does conclude very nicely, but if you preferred the horror aspect above all else, prepared to be disappointed.