This front page is for general thoughts about Umineko no Naku Koro ni with as little spoilers as I can withhold, designed for those who have not played the game yet, waiting for the anime, are on the fence about it, or otherwise interested parties. Page 2 is my crackpot “theory” (more random observations and thoughts) of what’s going on and will be heavily littered with spoilers up through episode 3 of the game. So don’t go there unless you’re ready for it, okay? Beatrice might get mad.
Over the past couple of months, I have (very slowly, I will admit, to the chagrin of both myself and friends encouraging me to play more near-constantly) played through the first three episodes/arcs of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, which is probably more of a personal achievement than it might seem. I love books, and I liked the immersive feel of Umineko’s “sound novel” format, but I would still rather have a physical book than press “enter” a lot, so I chalk up the fact that I was able to overcome that to Umineko‘s rather gripping nature once things start to enter full swing. And lots of free time to allow me to space it out so that I can stave off carpal-tunnel and repetitive-motion injuries until at least after this post.
At this point I would imagine that most interested parties are by now at least passingly familiar with Umineko‘s locked-island mystery setup, although viewing it simply as a locked-island mystery would prove to be the first red herring in a long, long string of red herrings. Umineko is less about who is doing the Rokkenjima island murders so much as what is going on inside the whole Umineko-verse–in other words, rather than being a story about a mystery, the mystery is the story itself. The “whodunit” question is still integral, mind, but given the world-reset nature of the Umineko narrative the question “whodunit” shifts its focus, methodology, and implications away from the traditional understanding of the term. The central mystery revolves around puzzling out the nature of the ceremony Kinzo invokes and Beatrice carries out, and then its desired results, rather than who, specifically, is killing whom at any given point in time. “Whodunit” becomes a means to the end, rather than the end itself.
That end is proving, to a witch, that witches don’t exist. And if this sounds mind-melting already, then you should either go forth unto the breach or run away screaming, depending on how much you enjoy the feeling of your mind melting, because it only gets worse from there on out. For the path to that proof is paved with twisty logic, bizarre paradoxes, a desire to not suspect one’s own relations, and the Dread Inequality 18<X<19. Oh, and graphic, wanton slaughter. It is Ryukishi07, after all.
To that end, the repeating nature of Umineko serves as its strongest asset: the 18 trapped on Rokkenjima are a complex bunch, and nearly all of them have an issue that could potentially affect the outcome of Kinzo’s fate roulette. They range from the four cousins Battler, Jessica, George, and Maria, who together compromise a more palatably friendly bunch than their parents and their spouses who are eternally at everyone else’s throats (hint hint), and the servants who generally require coaxing to have personalities unbefitting of furniture. Well, okay, except maybe for Maria when she goes evil, but it took me approximately 3.86 seconds to have Maria melt my heart with askew (and pointless) crown, oversized (and pointless) purse, and framing every single one of her lines with the (pointless) interjection “uu~uu~.” It very closely resembled a perfectly executed Hokuto Hyakuretsuken of cute, rendering me helpless against anything thrown at me regarding Maria.
Each episode/arc chooses to focus on different sets of characters and different interpretations of central themes. The delightful Higurashi method of storytelling, with the character development spread across different story arcs with different progressions of the same events, is in full force here. Each arc brings with it new light on old questions and dregs up more questions as an encore, with the interesting result that each of the episodes/arcs thus far upend and scatter any theories one concocted from the previous arcs, leaving the reader much more in endless confusion and consternation than the Higurashi anime seemed to. In terms of Our Protagonist Battler’s favored style of “chessboard thinking,” the chessboard that is Umineko not only gets turned around, but also knocked over, upended, thrown across the room, jumped upon, ripped to shreds, and set on fire. Repeatedly.
In other words, I’m not entirely certain that a combined sleuthing team of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Frank and Joe Hardy, Nancy Drew, Those Meddling Kids and Their Dog, and Encyclopedia Brown (feel free to replace and/or add your favorite fictional sleuths here) would be properly equipped to deal with Rokkenjima. But I’d pay good money to watch them try.
Umineko bears more than a passing resemblance to NisioisiN’s Zaregoto, where the appeal lay less in the mystery than in the characters (which, in the first book, seemed roughly as developed as they were in Umineko episode 1, i.e. not very much) and in the psychological effects of having no idea what was truth, what was not, and who to trust, and having the rug yanked out from under you when you think you have it. I would argue at this point that Umineko is better, but that’s unfair since I’ve read more of it than Zaregoto. Not that it matters much, as I’m a sucker for both, and may very well be a red herring.
It is devilishly (ha) difficult to describe Umineko for the uninitiated, as specifics confound and confuse more than they elaborate–in part because those who have played it have already had their minds broken by it, reducing them to gibbering fools and incompetents, and I am certainly no exception–and I’m not even fully caught up yet! And this thing is going to go on for at least four more episodes over the next two years!
What madness have I gotten myself into it? It’s useless, it’s useless, it’s all useless!