I certainly never expected to blog Higurashi again. I had no plans to blog this OVA, in fact, but when it was over and I realized how much I liked it I discovered I wanted to say a few words about it. It’s been an ugly time for the franchise if you ask me – the last few years have been a range of OVAs that have ranged from tolerable to horrifyingly putrid. But Higurashi holds down a prime spot in my anime psyche from the period where I was obsessively consuming as much as humanly possible, so every time a new episode comes out I can’t help myself but give it a chance.
In the first place, I suspect many of the core fanbase will hate Outbreak, because in premise it’s quite a departure from the established series mythology. Well, Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care – it feels a hell of a lot more canon to me than those hideous attempts at screwball comedy that have constituted most of the recent anime output. It is by the original author, Ryukishi07 – it’s a side story that was on the OST for the game – and for the first time in a very long time, we got Higurashi that really felt like Higurashi to me. It was creepy, bloody, silly, and atmospheric.
I think a large part of the success of Outbreak comes down to off-camera talent – underappreciated Kawase Toshifume wrote and directed, and he has experience both in the franchise and out, having done series composition for most of the better Higurashi adaptations and directed classics like Pita Ten. You also have the incomparable Kawai Kenji providing the music, and while he’s done so for the previous Higurashi adaptations this is the first time in a while his music has really soared – perhaps in part because it had a story with enough heft to stand up to it. There were times as I watched scenes playing out against those mountain backdrops to Kawai’s soundtrack that I was really put in mind of Seirei no Moribito.
As for the story, it may not be 100% canon but among all the “serious” Higurashi works, this was probably the most logical, internally consistent and easy to understand. Basically, science has discovered that 99% of humanity is infected with “Class-C brain viruses”, and has been for its entire civilized development. These viruses cause the host to ally with other carriers of the same virus against carriers of rival strains, and naturally Japan has violated the U.N. ban on researching them further (for fear of ethnic cleansing) and developed a supervirus of their own. You know where this is headed, I’m sure, and I think it’s a really interesting twist on the core mythology that maintains some of the essential dynamic but allows the plot to move in some new directions.
There are certainly a few head-desk moments here, but this is Higurashi – even at its best, those are part of the deal. Despite the silliness from Keiichi and Rena there’s a fairly grave tone to most of the affair, and it plays out mostly as a taut, suspenseful virus thriller. It may be more conventional than we’re used to from Higurashi, but after the disaster we’ve had from the franchise some well-executed convention is fine with me, and it was really nice to see Keiichi’s parents get a meaningful role in the story (if not faces). It’s not the best anime I’ll watch this year or even this week, but getting something this good out of Higurashi is completely out of left field – I feel like I’m playing with house money here. if you’ve given up on the franchise, this would be a good time to give it one more chance.