When They Cry centers around a small rural town and a group of students that live in it, study in a small classroom, play fun games and brutally murder each other multiple times. An infamous curse and a bizarre history steeps the town in bloody mystery and intrigue as each year during the cotton drifting festival (a name that means something far more sinister) someone is murdered and someone goes missing. When They Cry works through this lore in multiple realities as the story seems to reset, but in fact what is really happening is far more connected and intelligent than what is imagined.When They Cry
starts with a brutal slaughter; the assumed protagonist Keiichi who is a transfer student is seen beating his two best friends to death with a baseball bat. This initially confusing scene is not explained and instead transitions to what must be in the past as Keiichi is seen greeting the aforementioned two girls Mion and Rena. The tone from this point is extremely lighthearted, there are elements of playfulness, comedy, happiness and friendship as the group socializes.
When They Cry
has elements of 'moe
' (pint-sized cuteness) as two other classmates, two very innocent little girls Rika and Satoko join the group. Regardless of the inane conversations they have, the fun games they play and the overall cute and cheerful animation style, the scene that preceded these cannot be shaken and therefore if this meandering playtime fun can be tolerated long enough, When They Cry
becomes hard to walk away from as the mystery, intrigue and violent insanity intensifies.
The animation is really quite mediocre, employing some tried and true methods and tropes of displaying emotions and little cute expressions, but the quality of the animation is trumped by the intelligently paced mystery.
The jarring tone of light to extremely dark really works, and in most scenes this is a split second transition. Rena, one of the little girls laughs and jokes with Keiichi and the mood and music is superfluous, only for it to dramatically change a second later revealing Rena's inner thoughts and dark intentions.
This simple description of When They Cry
really does not do it justice, in fact When They Cry
is similar to David Lynch's Twin Peaks
in its intelligent use of bizarre supernatural elements but also in its understandable plot, narrative and explanations that eventually explain the majority of what is happening instead of just being random for randoms-sake. David Lynch is the master of nightmare scenarios, but even he can rarely tap into the unique form and function in what is known as the Japanese psyche.
When They Cry
is also comparable to Twin Peaks
due to its setting of a small town, that not only harbors mystery, but also political and personal motivations. In When They Cry
this is in the form of the major family clans, to which some of the protagonists belong and play a crucial part in. Another similarity can be seen in the bizarre cast of unreal characters that appear and disappear and only add to the strange and unpredictable plot. The name of the town is Hinamizawa which is a name for a psychological disease that causes anxiety and paranoia.
Like most good mysteries When They Cry
wraps up and resolves a major point only to reintroduce another element and continue the story, but it does this is a very effective and original way as the show is layered. This means that When They Cry
revisits the same scenarios in a later episode that this scenario may be in a different reality, point of view or alternatively approached by the protagonist.
In terms of it being in a different reality, it is clear that in the inclusion of chapters that group episodes together (parts within parts) that some events have and have not taken place. In one reality the protagonist murders Mion and Rena, but in another this did not happen. Why this structure of seemingly alternate realities is utilized is unclear but its connection to the overall plot is hinted at during the season finale.
When They Cry
is a wonderful achievement for animated psychological thrillers. When it is not confusing time lines and character motivations purposely, it is creating subplots and clever links that later explain exactly what is happening in this sinister town. The tone is schizophrenic and so are a few of the characters, in fact, looking back at the lighter scenes it is shocking to believe what really lies behind their fake and happy masks and the brutal, cringe worthy torture porn that eventuates from their individual madness and complexes.
It is worth mentioning that the original title means 'when the cicadas cry' and it is obvious why as the majority of the sound scape is the increasingly unsettling buzz of these insects. This connection will definitely prove more relevant in season two.
When They Cry
has two seasons and an OVA, and is itself a successful franchise as the media regarding it also includes novels, manga, video games and even a live action movie. Siren Visual has released season one (26 episodes) as two box sets. The transfer and subtitles are excellent and the packaging quite attractive, there are no DVD extras of note. The only problem now is the agonizing wait and quest for answers regarding the release of season two.