When They Cry: Rei at first glance seems like a name for a third full series of the horror/mystery anime, but it’s actually the name of a collection of OVA episodes that were originally released back in 2009. OVAs often get left out when it comes to Western home media releases, but When They Cry turned out to be popular enough to not only have all the OVAs licensed but given a separate DVD release in the UK (if you bought the Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, it’ll come with Rei automatically included). However, if its release is based upon popularity or fan demand, I fail to see why.
Rei is a mixed bag of material adapted; two of the OVAs are purely for fan service and comedy purposes with the first episode being based upon an extra arc included in the release of the original soundtrack and the other from the game Higurashi Daybreak from 2006. The rest of the OVAs, that happens to be sandwiched between the odd-ball comedy episodes, are a three-episode arc called ‘Dice Killing Chapter’, adapted from a 2006 fan disc. There’s very little to connect the one-off comedy episodes to the tonally different arc in the middle, so the whole package is a bit of a mess, despite its effort to deliver it with the same opening and ending themes.
So, let’s tackle them separately. The opening episode has Keiichi, desperate to get to the swimming pool on time, borrow a pair of ‘special’ swimming trunks that apparently will make him a chick magnet if he can wear them for three hours without taking them off. However, the girls hear differently; if Keiichi wears the trunks for three hours then he’ll become a self-loving narcissist for the rest of his days – so they must take them off him at all costs! If you couldn’t tell by the description, this episode has the silliest plot and most comedy antics of all of the series combined. All of the cast take part in the ridiculous pranks with one side trying to help Keiichi and the other out to rip the trunks off him. It gets ridiculous when police riot teams and the in-series mafia become involved, but that’s also where the humour comes in. The last episode of the batch is also comedy-driven; this time there’s two magical beads that have fallen to the town and will bring chaos if left unchecked. The problem is, one has been swallowed by Rena and as a result she’ll automatically fall in love with the person holding the other bead…which just happens to find itself with multiple owners. Plot-wise, this one is the closest to somewhat plausible since spirits and curses are what When They Cry is all about. In terms of humour however this one will really depend on the viewer because the running joke is that Rena keeps falling in love with different members of the village, including much older men and one of the same sex. So, there’s either the gay jokes to contend with or the fact that a grown man finds a 15-year-old coming onto him sexy; yes, she’s under a spell but it doesn’t make the latter any less creepy or excuse the people she latches onto as they are not under a spell. Pacing-wise however, this episode flows well with the comedic timing and even ends on a sweet enough note between Rena and Keiichi; not enough to consider it a well-written wrap-up of all the OVAs but sufficient to give the characters a positive farewell.
Then we come to the meat of the release. The ‘Dice Killing’ arc is an interesting name that calls back to the original arcs of the first series. It starts as a sequel to the original series, where Rika and her friends are now finally able to rest and enjoy their care-free days now that Oyashiro’s curse has been lifted. However, after a tragic accident, Rika wakes up once again in June 1983 inside a new timeline of Hinamizawa, but this time everything is different. Not only are Rika’s friends no longer her friends, but everyone’s family circumstances are completely different and the town has also drastically changed. But to get back to her original timeline and to her friends, Hanyu warns her that a great sacrifice must be made. In the first two episodes, the OVAs really hit it out of the park with the building of mystery and intrigue as Rika slowly uncovers what’s changed in this particular timeline. It’s a completely different ‘what if?’ scenario from what has come before, but with lots of little hints of something not quite right underneath it all. These range from Rena’s sudden change in demeanour when murder is mentioned to Rika’s increasing stress and violent outbursts that seems to hint at her being the next one to suffer from the curse. Also, the conflict in this batch of episodes is different; before it was an external issue to solve – who will murder whom? – but this time Rika must internally decide if she should stay in a very dissimilar but carefree version of her home, or make the gory choice required to get back to what she loves and knows. Then the third episode comes along and completely deflates the mood built with an anti-climactic ending and burdening the episode with dialogue-heavy scene after dialogue-heavy scene that is just boring to watch. They build up hints of something darker around the corner, but then completely bypass it in the end; instead we have another talk-heavy scene that wants to teach the audience about fate and choices. It’s very unsatisfying and feels like we just wasted time when something potentially fascinating could have happened.
Rei was originally released in Japan back in 2009, two years after the original series concluded, and interestingly, Studio Deen decided to increase the animation quality for these batch of episodes. Granted; animation techniques would have changed in those two years but considering this was just a few OVAs, they could have taken the easy, money-saving route, but chose not to. The lines are much smoother, the characters models more consistent between shots and the little use of 3D blends in much better than previous series. It’s a shame that outside of the outlandish comedy there’s very little opportunity to make use of it as there’s a lot more dialogue and talk-heavy scenes. There are brief moments where we get Rena’s creepy face, made famous from the first series, but it’s all played for jokes, not horror.
As mentioned in my Kai review; there’s no English dub for this release, only Japanese with English subtitles, with clean opening and ending, plus Sentai trailers being the on-disc extras.
When They Cry: Rei is only recommended as a separate purchase if you really took a keen interest in the characters, enough to see more scenes of them being silly and content together. But if you were hoping for a call-back to the original mystery and horror that the series did so well at the beginning, you won’t find it here. Overall, I found it hard to justify getting this separately due to how pointless the journey ultimately ended up being. It doesn’t take away from the original series enough to write off When They Cry as a whole, as it was clearly made for the fans, but unless you’re getting this as part of the Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, it’s not worth it.