There was a rather large tectonic shift in the Higurashi universe this week, one that seems to have diehard fans of the franchise pretty apoplectic. Turns out (you may notice a change on the title line) this wasn’t a remake after all, but a sequel. This fact the studio managed to keep a secret until this week, when they spilled the beans with this episode, along with the name change and a heavily spoilerific PV.
Not being a true expert here (I’ve only seen the various anime, which cover only a fraction of the game series) I’m relying on second-hand info, but “Gou” seems to be pulling from “Onidamashi”, which was part of a series of fan-submitted works later compiled into a novel volume. But there also elements from “Umineko”, which is the follow-up to Higurashi in the When They Cry series, and actually got an anime (indifferently received) series after the original Higurashi one aired. In some form or another this appears to be new material for anime, and I’m not sure whether original creator Ryuukishi07 is even involved in this version.
One way or another, most devotees don’t seem to be happy, but I’m not enough of a fan to be a stickler for faithfulness – full steam ahead with original material, I say. I was OK with the idea of an “Onikakushi” remake but didn’t really see the need – I’d rather get something new, even if it’s not canon. And for the record I think the execution in this version has been quite good so far. I especially thought the scene where Rika did her odori at the Watanagashi festival was beautifully choreographed and animated – the best-looking scene of this version so far for sure.
We start things off with week with the introduction of Hanyuu, played unmistakably once again by the great Horie Yui. Her early appearance was the first sign things were seriously changing course (I did note that the development in the premiere was quite a bit faster than I remembered). It makes sense that Passione is spending less time establishing a sense of normalcy and developing the mystery and more on big reveals, when that element isn’t really the focus of this story.
The rest of the episode is really just the familiar Higurashi atmospherics, but they’re done really well. I’ll say once again – this may be new material, but I’m glad Kawaguchi Keiichirou and team haven’t updated things much in terms of tone and style. The cast is the same and they sound the same, hamming it up big-time and clearly enjoying themselves. The quick-cuts, the horror movie shadows and reflections, the fragments of flashbacks (or flash-forwards) – it’s as comfortable as an old blanket and brings forward a lot of nostalgia. I like nostalgia in its proper place, and this place is definitely proper.
We also learned that this update has 24 episodes to work with (not a split cour as far as I know), so whoever is mainly in charge of the writing (Hayashi Naoki is listed as Series Composition) has plenty of time to spin a good yarn here. This is one of those cases where I’m glad to have no attachments to the source material – I can enjoy this series for what it is, an entertaining pulp horror that frequently crosses the line into parody. Higurashi has by no means always worked as anime, but I would say the early signs with this version are quite promising.