It's July 2016, and the Tadamura family gathers in the Hirasaka village for the funeral of the grandmother and head of the family: the young man Yukito, his step-sister Yue, his father Masashi, his uncles Nobuteru and Tsunemasa, and his cousins Terumi and Teruya, all come to pay their last respects.
But on that evening, Yue witnesses an incomprehensible scene: the grandmother's dead body starts to move and disappears into the night! The morning after, the family wakes up in a strange world, seemingly cut off from reality, where two suns shine...
I'm quite surprised that with the popularity of the When They Cry franchise that Hotarubi has been quite overlooked to the level of it not even being reviewed on this site at all. As of the available chapters in English of Hotarubi no Tomoru koro ni it seems like you'll need to read or watch at least up to the Festival Accompanying Chapter of Higurashi no Naku koro ni and knowledge of Umineko no Naku koro ni isn't exactly required. Unlike its previous two entries Hotarubi strives to accomplish something just a bit different, yet something extremely familiar.
If you've followed the series even
somewhat you're aware of the basics of a group of people being trapped in a seemingly inescapable scenario that gets way out of hand really fast. Hotarubi follows in the footsteps of Umineko by following a cast consisting of a family going to a remote location and tragedy unfolding - unlike Umineko, however, the family is much smaller and the location is much more realistic. The family in question isn't rich like the Ushiromiya family of Umineko with a mansion, in fact, they're visiting the house of one of their recently deceased family members, a grandmother, to prepare for her wake - we find out her fortune has been drained and she holds nothing left financially for the rest of the family. Quickly, tragedy strikes and it goes from a regular trip for mourning to a survival horror story - our cast finds themselves in a literal Hell on Earth. Returning from the Higurashi cast is Miyo Takano, who helps somewhat guide the family along their way. You won't find the bloodthirsty murderers in this that you saw in Higurashi, instead, you'll find supernatural occurrences that may not look as they seem and may have you second-guessing the nature of everything the cast finds or what happens to them.
Ryukishi07 outdid himself with the story this time - this is personally my favorite among all of the When They Cry entries. I think one of Hotarubi's biggest strengths is actually the idea that is presented that many other isekai series don't. Yes, this is in a way, an isekai as the world around the family is warped and they become trapped within. You see one of the family members, a grandson named Yukito is your obligatory NEET character who finds a second wind in the new world. Hotarubi actually touches upon why exactly does Yukito feel this second wind? Why does he actually feel the need to help others when in normal everyday life he's just reclusive? What drives this man? From arguments within the family to reconciling and realizing that working together is the best - the family holds all kinds of different tensions within them and each is different in their own way: an aspiring actress, the hated stepdaughter, the cool-headed analyst, one who steals with good intentions. Their philosophies on life clash as this world takes them for a turn, what they find will surprise them, the answers they find aren't always going to be the ones you expect. And just what is Takano's role in all of this? Knowing Higurashi, I shouldn't trust her one bit.
Generally, I think survival horror is hard to come by in anime and manga and this does it right and where it has a few bumps it recovers. You have your tried and cliche "kill her, she's not the one you knew anymore" line for example - but in the grand scheme of Hotarubi, that's nothing. The way it handles its world and the actions of each character are both logical and rational. I hope this series ends as strong as it began.