Impressions: Higurashi – tentacles and moe, oh my.

Every now and then I watch a series that makes me go totally fanboy. The last time was when I watched Code Geass.

But it’s been a couple months since then and even though I’ve watched some good series, I hadn’t seen anything that actually got me excited (in a completely non-sexual way, thank you very much.)

That was until I watched the first season of Higurashi.

First, I have to say… wow. There is so much to talk about this series. I mean I could talk about the structure (It’s broken up into six arcs, two of which are retellings or additional material). I could talk about the really great opening sequence. I could talk about the crazy girls with hatchets as big as they are.

Or I could talk about moe.

Where Elfen Lied tried and failed, Higurashi succeeded in using cute girls as a façade for crazy. Elfen Lied and Higurashi both used moe in similar ways: to set up a cognitive dissonance in the viewer. Basically they’re so cute, but so evil. Elfen Lied forced it a bit too far, making the more powerful characters progressively weaker and weaker, until the most powerful (and inhuman) had to be carried out. Higurashi doesn’t do that. In fact, the characters become progressively less cute as the story arcs progress. I found this twist on the slice-of-life genre both interesting and… well… Lovecraftian.

Yes, I know that summoning up the ghost of Lovecraft is pretty common when it comes to looking at horror stories.

And to be totally fair, Lovecraft wasn’t the first to use the idea of thin veneer of civility covering a wellspring of evil (how you define evil is up to you.) Arguably, Joseph Conrad did it in The Heart of Darkness and Poe did it in the Tell-tale Heart. But where Lovecraft is different is the idea that people are generally sane, it’s the world that’s crazy.

The structure of a Lovecraft story (for the most part) goes like this: Some random guy encounters strange events/items/things. Guy is driven insane by these. Guy either gets divine retribution or gets sent to an asylum or dies. Story ends. There are some variations to the theme. I mean he wrote a lot.

He did this by creating a completely alien landscape. I’ll be honest, the Cthulu mythos is still unlike anything else that I’ve ever encountered in fiction. You have Elder Gods, who in general like screwing around with people. You have the Old Ones (the giant tentacle things that live in space or in the earth), who are creatures of extreme malevolence. In fact, there really aren’t any good things in the mythos he created.

Which is a lot like Higurashi. Now the mythos in Higurashi is a lot more limited, since all of the stories take place in one village and really within the same week or two (although two of the stories dip into the past.) But still you have the Shrine God’s curse, which is that someone will die every year. You have the demon that descends from the mountains to take one person every year. There are other elements of the mythos, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched the series. (And really, go watch this show. It’s still available in it’s entirety in fansub form, and since it’s one of the Geneon titles that’s in limbo, I don’t have deep ethical reservations downloading it.)

What I found interesting while I was watching it was the fact that the entire mythos felt alien. Granted, not quite as alien as amorphous, tentacled blobs that live under the sea, but still it felt unusual and unusually cruel. The powers that be didn’t care about the lives of the villagers as much as they cared about their own machinations. Now part of that might be part of being an American viewer who isn’t really steeped in Japanese religion and folklore, but that is how it struck me.

So what does moe have to do with all of this? (Well other than the fact that moe drives at least one character crazy.) In general, the cutesy character designs acted as a reflection of the “sane” world. Much in the same way that educated (or non-educated) first person narration reflected the “sane” world of Lovecraft.

11 thoughts on “Impressions: Higurashi – tentacles and moe, oh my.

  1. Hanyuu essentially took human form and died so that Rika could go on with her life.

    That, and I really can’t link Hanyuu with malevolence. Playfulness yes, but she’s not the sort who’d mind rape people for the fun of it. That’s Takano and Rika.

  2. Damnit iniksbane! Here I was all ready to see / read something interesting about moe tentacles in Higurashi, but there was no such thing to be found in your post. Your subject line lied to me!

  3. @nckl – My evil plan worked 🙂 Well there was Cthulu in there. I mean he has tentacles. And there’s definitely moe.

  4. Higurashi made me “go totally fanboy” too. I watched the whole thing in three days (I believe I split it 5/14/7). That wouldn’t have been unusual during my first few years of watching anime, but I’ve rarely done it since I started blogging. The way I see it, Higurashi is the perfect example of how anime can be mentally stimulating without being pretentious.

    1. Such a dark show wasn’t afraid to have a little fun. Most importantly, it didn’t feel awkward.
    2. Higurashi is just plain slick. Simple lines like “I thought you’d give me a different answer this time” blew me away.
    3. A show that rocks despite relatively weak animation. I was actually kind of disappointed when Higurashi Kai raised the animation quality.

  5. @Baka-raptor – Yeah I think I watched 16 episodes in a day and then watched the next ten episodes the next day. Generally I’ve been watching series in dribs and drabs for the last couple of years. But I agree with all of your points there.

  6. I liked how Higurashi varied its tone and atmosphere, like Baka-Raptor mentioned. A show that’s completely dark and somber leaves me feeling moody (sometimes amazed, but that really depends on the show’s story) and unwilling to watch more for the day. Higurashi kept me watching by adding the cute and cheerful scenes here and there, which made for pleasant viewing.

    Hm, this post has piqued my curiosity; will have to read some of Lovecraft’s work sometime.

  7. I gotta agree with your overall impression. I had some warning because I was introduced to the series with some line from a friend about “cute girl goes nuts with a hatchet”, otherwise I’d probably have ditched it immediately from the terrible secondary school harem setup it threatened to present me with up till the end of the first episode. Then they started going on about dismembered corpses again so I had to keep going. Unfortunately it ended up far too confusing for me and I hated the second series, but I still recommend it to people sometimes as a great “trap” anime (and I have several MSN avatars of things like a bloody laughing Shion with MS-painted words scribbled on it, but…yeah.)

    Oh yeah, the OP being solid and the ED being hilarious Engrish is great too.

  8. @IcyStorm – I’d definitely pick up some Lovecraft. I really wasn’t sold on him until I read his stuff. But it’s like reading Arthur Conan Doyle, if he was writing about people going crazy or creepy evil things or pacific voyages gone wrong. Actually the pirate story in The Watchmen is pretty Lovecraftian.

    @Shiri – I didn’t really find it confusing. At least not in the same way that I find Dennou Coil confusing or Ghost Hound confusing. I just pictured all of the arcs as seperate stories (although I was prepared for that by listening to an AWO review, so take that for what you will. But I really enjoyed it all around. And really from the first scene when you see Keichi beating the two girls with the baseball bat, I was ready for the crazy.

    I didn’t really listen to the ending, but the OP was excellent. The colors were just off enough and it was all set off by that creepy music. That was awesome.

  9. I found Dennou Coil easy to understand, but you’re right that it didn’t get as bad as Ghost Hound (which I thought of as “mysterious” rather than “confusing.” I could tell which stuff I wasn’t supposed to know and assumed they’d fill it in later).

    I suppose it didn’t help that I was trying to look for consistency since I was told it was a timeloop or something. Either way, great show to watch from my perspective.

    And yeah, the OP video is solid too, and I like the “other” music video for the full track too.

  10. While I enjoyed both anime, I think Elfen Lied did a better job by far.

    What others seemed to like – the varying between happy and scary – is what turns me off from this show. I really enjoy all the murder and mystery, and I understand that the silly happy parts need to be there to provide the contrast – and the shock – when the girls’ voices go deep and eyes cat-like.

    That said, the happy parts are so cutesy and immature. They don’t show any character development – the characters are all the same. Unrealistic hair, cutesy faces, cutesy voices… I don’t feel like any of them are real. It’s so childish. If they’d cut down on those parts, I’d like this show even more.

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