10 Reasons To Skip: Higurashi Gou

#1 A remake-sequel hybrid

On a list of anime that need a remake, Higurashi ranks #1. The original anime ran from 2006 to 2007 and told an engrossing horror-mystery story. A story that many skipped or dropped partway through, for entirely valid reasons. The God-awful animation was its biggest flaw, but we also can’t forget how Geneon’s bankruptcy left over half the series without a dub or how a slew of cashgrab OVAs gradually eroded the franchise’s credibility.

PHOTO: Rik and Satoko gloat over Keichi who has just fallen for a trap.

For that reason, Higurashi: When They Cry – NEW was an exciting project when it was announced. It was pitched as a remake of the series, with a new artstyle and animation work by Passione. Somewhere along the line, though, it was decided that NEW should be a sequel instead. Something which few Higurashi fans would want. The original 2 seasons concluded on an ending that I’d confidently call near-perfect. Anything you could add would any serve to ruin this original ending; as evidenced by Higurashi Outbreak.

Gou started airing in late-2020 and immediately felt as if it suffered from an identity crisis. It makes its intent to be a sequel clear from the start. The story sees Rika being unexpectedly whisked back to 1983 and cast back into the body of her childhood self. For reasons unclear, she is once again forced to avert the disaster that will strike the village of Hinamizawa. Now with even less help and less of a clue as to what is going on.

PHOTO: Keiichi discovers Mion at her part-time job while Shion spies around the corner.

Gou does reuse entire story arcs from the original anime, but the plot around it is very much new. This leaves everyone out in the cold when you think about it. Returning fans that wanted a remake only get a few arcs out-of-order. In the process invalidating the original ending without offering anything to make that sacrifice worth it. Meanwhile, those that wanted a sequel need to rewatch hours of old content before actually getting to see anything new.

#2 Staggeringly poor pacing

Actually, let’s harp on that for a bit longer.

Many of the arcs in Gou are remakes of ones from the original anime and visual novel. Onidamashi mirrors Onikakushi, Watadamashi matches Watanagashi, and Tataridamashi is akin to Minagoroshi. These 3 arcs take up over half the series’ runtime and all of them play back-to-back right at the start of Gou.

PHOTO: Rika in the Sea of Shards.

This is a big reason for why Gou‘s claims of being a sequel falter right out of the gate. Yet, even as remakes, these arcs feel misplaced. The original anime was split between question arcs that presented most of the mystery, followed by answer arcs in season 2 that re-explored those from a different angle—providing new revelations and conclusion.

Watadamashi mixes Watanagashi’s question and answer arcs into one; in such a way that it avoids the mystery, drama, and action of either one. As a result, it ends up being a forgettable retelling of the story with little of note happening in it. Tataridamashi goes one step further. It’s only an abridged take on the answer arc, lacking its question counterpart. This leaves it without a foundation for its drama and skips over a lot of essential context.

PHOTO: Rika and Satoko looking out over Hinamizawa at sunset.

Only after 14 episodes does Gou finally dabble in new content of its own. New mysteries, new drama, it finally livens up a bit. Then this arc comes to a close with a new revelation, which Gou then proceeds to explain to you for 2 fucking hours. The final arc, Satokowashi, is 7 episodes of back-to-back explanation for what actually happened thus far. It is exceptionally tedious to sit through; taking literal hours to get basic concepts across and reiterating points as often as it can.

Separate from any discussion of whether Gou should’ve been a sequel or a remake, I think we can all agree that it should at least be engaging. The repeat content and overbearing nature of the Satokowashi arc become plain boring to sit through. Even if they have their interesting moments scattered throughout.

#3 Poorly handled key scenes

Another issue that stood out during the remade scenes is how often they miss or fail to reproduce key moments from the original series. Even Onidamashi, the best of the remade stories, misses the beat a times. The big argument between Rena and Keiichi, for example, feels nowhere near as tense. The presentation is simply not as unsettling as in the original and the voice performances are weaker too. Onidamashi then also chooses to exclude the scene at Keiichi’s front door, which was the franchise’s first big horror moment.

PHOTO: Rena scratches at her neck during a fit of paranoia.

This trend continues on for a while. Notably for Watadamashi, it remakes the ladder scene that was long held up as one of the worst-looking scenes in anime history. While the animation is better, the presentation and directing are far worse. The scene is in broad daylight for one thing and there’s no real sense of danger to any of it.

Then comes Tataridamashi, which omits the crucial pay-off scene. The entire, original arc works towards a big moment of character development punctuated by a flurry of action. Tataridamashi manages to adapt most of the story fine, only to then skip its most intense moments. It instead cuts to the aftermath where the characters are casually recapping what happened—robbing the whole arc of its emotional climax.

PHOTO: Keiichi's cooking sends a pillar of fire up into the sky.

Sometimes these opportunities are so obvious that it’s actually maddening to see Gou miss the mark. In a flashback scene, there is a discussion between Rika and Hanyu at night. This would have been a perfect opportunity to remake the iconic scene of Rika drinking wine in her windowsill. Instead it’s a generic conversation without any noteworthy flair whatsoever.

If you were still hopeful for at least getting to see some of the series’ iconic moments remade, then I’m sorry. Even that is something Gou can’t manage.

#4 Lack of suspense

Higurashi‘s flavor of horror stood out for 2 reasons:

  1. It was incredible at building suspense. The atmosphere was unsettling and the mystery often so puzzling that you didn’t know who or what to trust. An effect that the anime leveraged with great success.
  2. The violence was disturbing. Torture and macabre deaths, mixed in with just the right amount of intense gore.
PHOTO: Rena and Keiichi lying in a pool of blood.

In this regard, Gou takes the easy way out. Its horror draws from the reliable wells of shock and gore. Its violence is sudden and fast, as action breaks out and instantly paints everything red. Sometimes literally, as the camera shakes and a red visual filter coats the screen.

It contrasts nicely against the cutesy new artstyle, but it feels so much cheaper. The 17th time somebody’s skull is turned into a blood fountain isn’t frightening, it’s cause for a drinking game. Nothing in Gou ever comes close to the torture scenes of the original, no matter how much blood they toss in. Hell, even the normal deaths used to be so much imposing. A certain someone’s suicide-by-knife or even Keicchi’s murder at the very start of episode 1 were so much more grisly.

These deaths were harrowing to watch, whereas in Gou it feels like comparable scenes were meant to be cathartic. Even when their context implies that these should be dramatic, or even tragic.

#5 Visual downgrades

Looking worse than the original Higurashi would be a tremendous feat and I am not so deluded as to imply this is the case. I actually like Gou‘s artstyle and think it’s a vast improvement over the original. My problems mostly lie in the details of the animation, rather than its overall look & feel.

PHOTO: Oishi greats Keiichi from inside his CGI car.

The cute new artstyle is often supplemented with CGI, which they don’t even try to blend in. This is particularly noticeable in cars that now look like PS1 renders, though CGI also slips in elsewhere. The waterwheel that often features in backdrops looks fine in some scenes, then abysmal in others, just to name an example.

Speaking generally, Gou feels unremarkable. Despite its lacking animation, the original anime was creatively directed and had many memorable moments; even outside of those aforementioned horror scenes. Even a game of tag was made memorable with visual gags and creative shots. A lot of Gou feels unexciting by comparison—static almost. A trend that becomes more noticeable as the series carries on and the initial hype after Onidamashi dies down.

#6 Bad villain

Spoiler alert! Click to reveal #6

A major issue with making a sequel to Higurashi is that, by the end of Kai, we’re more or less left without believable villains. Gou would have to find some way to introduce someone new to fill that role. There were some angles that could work… but instead we got Satoko.

PHOTO: Satoko in a St. Lucia uniform, nodding off during class.

The way this works is that, after Kai, Rika and Satoko had a falling out. They grew up to become teenagers and eventually had to decide on a school to continue their education. Rika wants to move somewhere far away, to attend the sophisticated St. Lucia Academy. Satoko wants to stay in her beloved Hinamizawa and attend a local school. It’d be bittersweet for the girls to split up, but that’s part of growing up. Except neither of them will permit this to happen under any circumstance.

They are absolutely determined to stay together, even if that means sacrificing the other’s dreams. Rika denies Satoko her quiet village life, insisting she must follow her to an academy far above Satoko’s academic capabilities. Satoko, meanwhile, yearns for the carefree days of 1983. A wish that leads her to discover the truth of what happened in Hinamizawa and attain magical powers with which she can once against cast everyone back into the time loop.

To justify this course, both characters have to change so drastically that I ended up hating both of them. Rika becomes cruel and uncaring; expressing her love for Satoko, even as she ignores her obvious suffering. She just sits idly by as Satoko slips into depression and faces abuse; behavior that is completely at odds with her personality in the original anime. This is supposed to be the same Rika who faced impossible odds to save Satoko from a similar fate in Minagoroshi.

PHOTO: Satoko leaning over a sweating, worried Rika.

Even worse, when confronted with her behavior, Rika blames Satoko. Complains that she isn’t trying, that she’s a quitter, and all her problems are of her own making. Even as she continues to refuse to let Satoko back out of St. Lucia.

There is no denying that Satoko has been wronged here, yet still her development feels forced. Her teenage spat with Rika inspires her to become a heartless villainess, capable of inflicting unimaginable horrors on her best friends. The psychological leaps feel forced and edgy, making it difficult to feel emotionally invested in this new direction.

Higurashi turned from a horror-mystery about folklore, conspiracies, and mysticism, into a high school drama series gone kill-crazy.

#7 Multiverse bullshit

Unnecessary sequels are one thing, but what bothers me just as much is the push to make Higurashi part of some grand multiverse. The 2006-2007 anime worked perfectly fine as a standalone story, but Gou insists on absorbing it into the overarching mythos of 07th Expansion works.

PHOTO: Eua gloating.

The significance of Higurashi‘s plot is constantly downplayed in order to prop up this multiverse. Hinamizawa and its beloved characters are reduced to bit part players in cosmic happenings of far grander significance. The story is full of references to other series; even implications that the cast of Higurashi itself may just be figments of characters from other stories. It caters to the most die hard followers of the developer’s work, at the cost of Higurashi‘s own fanbase and newer viewers alike.

It frustrated me how much the series bends over to accommodate these references. Plot points get rewritten, obscure characters get added in where they had never been before, and sometimes those get to take on lead roles. Higurashi and Umineko always had references to each other, but now they’re central to the story and impossible to ignore.

#8 Mediocre music

A lot of talent returned to work on Gou, including most of the voice actors and composer Kenji Kawai. While I was impressed with how well the actors handled the same roles 13 years later, Mr. Kawai apparently left his A-game at home.

PHOTO: Rika looking melancholic.

The OST of the original anime was full of standout tracks, especially in calmer or suspenseful moments. Hearing that music creep up in the back really helped sell the horror mood. The main theme especially sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear it; that solemn piano music mixed in with the ominous singing hits just the right spot.

I would already feel letdown if Gou didn’t match this soundtrack in atmosphere, but it’s worse than that. The soundtrack is so utterly boring that I hardly noticed it at all. Even listening to it outside of the anime, most tracks feel completely interchangeable. Soulless sad-music.mp4 that could’ve been stapled to any random anime.

#9 Sotsu

Gou itself is 24 episodes long and ends on the tedious Satokowashi arc. For the actual conclusion, you need to also watch the 15-episode sequel Higurashi: When They Cry – Sotsu. An anime that is just as baffling in just as many ways.

PHOTO: RIka in the rain, wearing a shrine maiden uniform.

First and foremost, Sotsu attempts to mimic the original’s format by providing answer arcs to the remade storylines that featured in Gou. These reveal how the twists in those stories came to be, but that’s a futile effort. We don’t need answers to that, because Gou already reveals what happened in them. You just get a different angle and a confirmation of what you already knew.

Of the 15 episodes, these answer arcs take up 11. That’s 11 episodes of MORE repeat content. Of the 4 episodes that are then left, 2 serve mainly to reiterate and recap plot points; leaving the season with about 2.5 episodes worth of new developments. It’s an astonishing waste of time that I can’t believe they sank so much talent into.

#10 The Ending

Spoiler alert! Click to reveal #10

Wow.

For years, I was convinced that Outbreak was the worst that ever happened to the Higurashi series. I couldn’t imagine anybody ever taking on the series and somehow doing a worse job of it. To create something even more jarringly out-of-tone with the series. Then Gou & Sotsu came around, with this as the finale.

PHOTO: Hanyu leaping forward, readying to strike with a sword.

Higurashi, the renowned and respected horror-mystery franchise, is turned into a magical shounen battle anime for its last 2 episodes. Characters fly through the sky, radiate with magical energy, and shout as they perform special attacks. It is laughable. “What if the series was a magical action series” was literally a joke in the parody OVA, yet here it’s presented as the canonical finale to the franchise. This is the best they could come up with.

It looks and sounds like shit too. The animation struggles and inspiration runs out quickly, as the fight eventually deteriorates into overused shots with wavering framerates. There were many moments that looked outright silly; stuff that would be embarrassing, even in shorter series with a lot less clout.

And that’s while exclusively judging this ending by its own merit. If I were to compare it to the finale of Kai we’d be here for several more paragraphs.

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