Umineko: When They Cry, Vol. 1

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Kei Natsumi. Released in Japan in two separate volumes as “Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Legend of the Golden Witch” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Gangan Powered. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The story of Higurashi: When They Cry may not be finished here in North America, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen people clamoring for its sequel. And so Yen has decided to bring it out even as Higurashi reaches its climax, in the more economical but deluxe-looking omnibus format. Not to worry, though: it’s a spiritual sequel rather than an actual one. Only one minor character from Higurashi shows up in Umineko, and we don’t meet her in this particular volume. But Umineko certainly has a lot of what drew people to Higurashi. Cute moe-style girls (who later turn out to have terrifying sides), heroes who use over the top perverse antics to hide a darker side, and of course giant piles of corpses drawn in gruesome detail.

It can be a little hard for me not to try to compare the protagonists of Umineko with their predecessors, especially since some of them don’t quite live up to those heights. Maria in particular is meant to have a certain Rika-esque aspect to her, but comes across as more bipolar than anything else. I must also agree with her mother: the uuu-uuu thing is really annoying, I’ll take nipah any day. As for Battler, I am reminded that I really disliked Keiichi at first, then grew to like him quite a bit, and I hope the same thing happens here. I also hope that, like Higurashi, the boob jokes and fetishes get less important as the volumes continue. I realize they’re there to provide contrast and relief before the main events, but let’s face it: they’re there for an otaku audience which isn’t me.

As for the story itself, I’m intrigued. Ryukishi07 has already stated that the goal here is not Higurashi’s (figure out who was behind the killings), leading me to think that the chances of everyone eventually living happily ever after are far less likely. The goal seems to be ‘is this a fantasy world or not?’, with its discussion of witches and black magic being countered by Battler (and Eva’s) staunch common sense and realistic view. I admit I’m inclined to believe there’s a human element as well, but then we’ve barely started this series, and still haven’t properly met ‘Beatrice’, the witch whose message is behind the whole thing. In addition, this series is about an extended family rather than a group of friends. It’s easy to bond with a group of close friends, who you can choose. Family’s harder, as you’re born with them. Notably, the parents in Umineko seem to be playing a much larger role than they did in Higurashi, and I’m not entirely sure if the children are supposed to be the heroes here, Battler’s POV or no.

Higurashi was never particularly subtle and somber, but it seems to me that Umineko takes things even further into a theatricality that almost embraces the grand guignol. Battler’s expansive gestures, the parents’ florid arguments regarding the inheritance, and of course the over-the-top mutilation of the corpses, all seem to be something that would be more appropriate for an opera house than a manga volume. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, though. Once you get used to the fact that everything is over the top, it becomes a much more readable series – even Maria’s supposed terrifying faces cause a grin and a ‘here we go again’.

In the end, this is a series with the same positives and negatives as Higurashi. If you can get past the groping fanservice and the grotesque murders, at its heart this is a mystery that will play out over the course of many volumes, and this is most likely merely meant as a taster introduction. Hopefully next volume we’ll meet the witch and get a few more answers. Then again, the first 2 volumes of Higurashi gave us no answers whatsoever…

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  1. I enjoyed reading your perspective on this one! I forgot to mention this in Off the Shelf, but I did think it was kind of nifty how much of a role the parents had to play. Natsuhi is probably my favorite character at this point, actually. I also had to snicker every time Maria was supposed to look creepy, and totally sympathized with her poor mother. We’re probably supposed to hate Rosa for that whole excess-of-discipline interlude, but I thought she had a valid point.


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