This spoiler-free article is available in audio format at the following link: https://anchor.fm/dilkokorocollection/episodes/Higurashi-Gou-is-a-Fresh-Changeup-on-a-Classic-emo4t5
When I wrote about Higurashi for the collab that DoctorKev spearheaded last month, I expressed my frustrations with how much the original season was soured by its subsequent seasons. The explanation of the “why” to the mysteries of the first season diminished the fun I had re-watching the original. When Higurashi: When They Cry — Gou was revealed to be a sequel and not a remake early in the second week of Fall 2020, people scurried away from this show like it was a live grenade about to explode. Another popular take that emerged from this second episode was “Oh man, it spoils so much of the show” and, surprisingly, no one commented on the anime for nearly two months. At the time of writing this, it just finished the second story arc. In today’s article, I would like to highlight how clever this season has been in making classic stories feel fresh with new twists and great technical improvements. Also, I will explore how Higurashi’s accessibility makes this is a “beginner friendly” introduction that could serve as a wonderful starting point for a new wave of anime fans curious about the franchise. This article will be spoiler-free.
The first thing that pops out of the page for Gou is how polished everything looks and how effective some of the creative decisions are. At worst, the redesigns of the characters strike me as budget Studio Shaft Monogatari styled characters, but the new designs are essentially inoffensive. There are little technical improvements that are natural to see fourteen years after the original anime first aired (fun fact: the season the original Higurashi aired, Spring 2006, had the horror classic pitted against Ouran High School Host Club, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Gintama, Black Lagoon, and Nana). Where I think this sequel really catches up with the likes of other modern horror classics like The Promised Neverland, however, comes from how the direction feels suave. It ditches relying solely on “creepy girls being creepy” and works in camera angles, ambient sounds, and cutting out audio in moments to deliver on details like facial expression changes or the mood of a conversation abruptly shifting.
My favorite example of how the direction of this anime shines is from how there is a sort of “film grain” filter it introduces along side a widescreen effect whenever particularly troubling lore is being introduced or if a character’s life is in danger. The first time we see this, it is used during a scene that is subverting the expectations of those who have seen the previous seasons (something we will discuss in a moment) and effectively makes the change of pace even more unsettling. While I was initially let down by the removal of the iconic Studio DEEN snake/cat eyes certain characters make, the anime made up for these with the other creepy editing tricks they rolled out here. Also, for being a show that relied so heavily on gore before, Gou has picked its very few moments when it wants to get gory. I found that this made the payoff moments more disturbing and impressive. All said, I think these improvements make the season worth a watch for these elements alone.
Something that I think is lost to anime enthusiasts who are dying to hammer their expectations for what every anime should be is how casual fans exist. More specifically, there are viewers who are looking for introductions into various genres in the medium. Look, I’m not going to turn into the guy who throws shade around at “people” or “folks on social media” but the aggressive behavior taken in response to the prospect that a sequel season could be something subtle enough with little details for fans of the original material while also introducing new viewers to a world and encourage them to watch the original stuff is a bit absurd. The strangest, strongest kickback I have received all season has been that the idea of a sequel season having accessibility in mind was basically sacrilegious.
While I could really roll up my sleeves and discuss the specific moments of the anime to date and how these are evidence to my point, I really do not feel like I must. Simply put, this season has been an absolute tease. The more that the viewer thinks they know about the incoming twists, the better the thrill of something different is. For much of these stories, we see 1:1, faithful recreations of the original season of Higurashi. What Gou excels at is picking its moments for changing up the way the story changes. It is not all just the finales that are altered, we see conversations completely messed with, events unfolding in orders that are just small enough, and even some new dialogue. To a new viewer, I would imagine this makes the journey just as rewarding as the first season was for the returning enthusiasts. For those who were soured by how convoluted and underwhelming the sequel seasons became, I think this season is nothing short of reinvigorating.
Am I saying to throw caution to the wind and for brand new viewers to watch this season without any thought? No, of course not. What I am saying, however, is that I think this season makes itself very accessible. So accessible, in fact, that it would encourage a newbie to go back and explore the original Higurashi. There are details I’m sure someone will nitpick in my comments or DMs, but I’m wholeheartedly telling you I don’t foresee this mattering. When I first bit into the apple of mysteries that was the original anime, I was captivated by how there were no answers to the wild, furious twists experienced. While that may not be for everyone (and why the sequel seasons appealed to others far more than myself, admittedly), I think, at worst, these cryptic details will just make an already super confusing anime just a bit more confusing. To say this breaks and changes everything is comical when considering just how much of a mess Higurashi is to start with.
Ultimately, I’m saying just kick back and take a stab at this anime. Or thirty-two of them.