Hinamizawa is a small Japanese village with a big mystery that the villagers would like to keep quiet. Every year, on the night of the village's traditional summer festival one person is violently murdered and another disappears. In past years, the murdered and disappeared were linked by their advocacy for a dam project that would flood the town, but now that the project has been set aside will the murders and disappearances finally end or will the so-called curse continue, and why does nobody but the prefecture detective seem to want to solve the mystery?
The events of the 24-episode anime series When They Cry are grouped around the weeks just before and after Hinamizawa's summer festival. Though the series features story arcs that provide backstory and future developments, the series mostly takes place in the summer of 1983, just after the family of schoolboy Keiichi Maebara moves to the village.
In a place as small as Hinamizawa it takes no time for Keiichi to become friends with all the other kids of similar age. Keiichi's first and closest friend is Rena Ryugu, the only kid in the village other than Keiichi who's ever lived anywhere but Hinamizawa. Keiichi and Rena are part of the school club led by Mion Sonozaki, a green-haired Tomboy who's the scion of the local Yakuza clan. Rounding out the club are two younger girls: Satoko Hoji, whose brother mysteriously "transferred" elsewhere last year, and Rika Furude, the scion of the family that operates the local temple.
When They Cry is based on a Japanese murder-mystery computer game series that allowed the player to solve the same series of crimes from different characters' perspectives with most fact patterns being the same between games, but others being somewhat different, but with each providing more clues that help the player understand the underlying common story better over time. The story pattern of the game series is adapted to the anime by means of six independent but overlapping story arcs which all concern the mystery of Hinamizawa as considered from the perspective of Keiichi, his friends, or the police, but also including particular unique details that may conflict with details from other story arcs. Thus, the victim in one story arc may be the villain in another arc.
Though the particulars of who kills whom may change from story arc to story arc, the biographical details of the characters remain the same. The effect thereby is that storylines frequently reset as in Groundhog Day, but the viewer's knowledge of important biographical details only deepen with each new story arc giving the viewer an opportunity to reconsider a situation both from a new perspective and with a deeper understanding of the characters and circumstances.
When They Cry isn't just a mystery, it's also a horror series. All of the principal child characters suffer extreme psychological and physical violence in some story arcs and inflict it in other arcs. Though mental illness can explain much in this series, there's frequently a dread about supernatural forces at work as well some of which can be explained away and some of which cannot.
Like the anime series Elfen Lied, the creepiness of the series is enhanced by sudden transitions from seemingly sweet and innocuous comedy to brutal violence and extreme horror.
When They Cry: The Complete Box Set contains six discs in three slimline cases in a cardboard box. The content of the discs appear to be identical to that of the prior six individual releases.
Video & Audio:
The 1.78:1 anamorphically-enhanced image looks great. Colors are vivid and detail is generally sharp despite some very minor and infrequent aliasing. Though a 5.1 mix would have been a nice touch, the 2.0 DD original Japanese audio and optional 2.0 DD English dub both sound acceptable. However, the voice acting on the English dub is dramatically uneven with Mion/Shion being especially unconvincing. The optional English subtitles are well translated and appropriately sized, paced, and placed.
Each of the discs include trailers for other anime series but other than this, there are no extras for this series.
When They Cry: The Complete Box Set offers viewers a fascinating horror/mystery from multiple perspectives. Through six independent but interconnected story arcs ranging from two to six episodes, viewers can puzzle out the murders and disappearances surrounding Hinamizawa village's summer festival. Although the series has many light moments, it frequently descends into brutal violence and madness. For viewers who appreciate darker themes, When They Cry: The Complete Box Set is highly recommended.