Umineko: When They Cry, Vol. 19

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

I have made no secret on Twitter and in my previous review that there are aspects of this omnibus (and the original VN) that I dislike intensely. Basically, I’m not sure how much the reader (i.e. you and I, not Ange-as-Reader) is meant to side with Battler here. I get what Battler is trying to do. Ange at the start of this book is desperate to reunite with her family, to be there in 1986 when everything happened. Ange is suicidal. As such, Battler’s game is there for a very specific reason: he wants to show her that she’s been poisoned, to an extent, by what everyone now says about the “real story” in 1986. He wants to show her that the Ushiromiyas were not the most toxic family ever, that there were times they were happy and even (gasp!) got along. Which is fine. Happy Halloween Kinzo, though, really really makes me angry. We’re not Ange. We’re a reader who has just seen it shown that this is a man who abused his children, raped his daughter, and everything else. I don’t want Battler to be saying “no, Ange, he really loved his grandkids and you’re just remembering it wrong”, because that’s gaslighting, as he readily admits later. I hate it.

This is not to say that the omnibus is overall terrible – it’s actually overall very good. I just dislike that choice A LOT. But – Battler is up against Bernkastel, who presents her own game. Her own game is designed to be “what would make Ange suffer as much as possible”, so, leaving aside all the red truths and purple truths (yes, there’s purple now), readers who read Umineko for the character beats are not going to be fooled. Battler, of course, is. Even as a Game Master who knows the truth, he’s shockingly naive when it comes to Bernkastel, and Beatrice should know better as well. Of course, we now have even morre witches being added to the games willy nilly. There’s Erika Furudo, returned from being in Bern’s doghouse to be Ange’s guiding light. And there Eva-Beatrice, who we hadn’t seen in forever, there to protect Ange from those badmouthing her family. Which is what the real Eva did too. She just sort of also abused Ange while doing it.

Other good things. After all of the “yay, we’re all sweet and nice and no one fights ever!” crap, the party is a lot of fun. The visual novel had a quiz game, which could be somewhat tedious, and winning unlocked various scenes. Here we don’t need to unlock things, so it becomes a game of hide and seek. Unlike Kinzo’s frivolity, I felt these were well-handled, particularly Natsuhi’s torment over Beatrice and Beatrice’s acceptance of it, and Rudolf finally – FINALLY – telling Kyrie the truth about Battler’s parentage. The second “party”, which allows for all the fantasy characters to attend, is riotous, and also lets Lion and Will return, having been rescued from certain death by Lambdadelta, who wanted to see the look on Bern’s face when she found out. (Note Lambda is once again happy to hang out with Battler and Beatrice, but also happy to be on Bern’s side during the game. She’ll need to make a real choice sooner or later.)

As a manga, this is very good, making the visual novel more interesting and adding things that weren’t there originally for greater depth (Rosa’s recollection of her own doll being destroyed – though I note even in the happiest, most idealized of worlds Rosa is still hitting her daughter). The issues I have are with Ryukishi07’s choices to present this to Ange as “this is true, you just remembered it wrong”, which leaves a foul taste in the mouth. In any case, next time, can Battler and the rest stop Ange from finding Eva’s diary? Will Ange learn the truth in the game world or from Hachijo? And will Erika ever stop being smug? (OK, we know the answer to that last one.) Tune in next time to see.

Umineko: When They Cry, Vol. 18

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Eita Mizuno. Released in Japan in three separate volumes as “Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Requiem of the Golden Witch” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Shonen Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Stephen Paul.

Last time we finally got the answer to the riddle of the Epitaph, as well as the revelation of who Beatrice is, though that answer required jumping through a few hoops to avoid showing us a face. For the conclusion of this penultimate arc, however, the answers come fast and furious. In fact, one complaint of the audience that had read the original visual novels is that they’re a bit too much like looking at the answer sheet. When Clair and Will face off, we get her declarations, and we see his sword bluntly cutting them off. But the floating words literally stating what happened in the first four arcs was added to the manga especially. Apparently fans had started to get a bit over the top about how there was no real answer to the arcs, and this was Ryukishi07’s response (he worked closely with the mangaka for the last two arcs especially). And here we also find out the truth of what REALLY happened in 1986. Though, like Ange, I don’t think you’re going to like it.

One of the things that was made very clear was that Kinzo’s magic was money. Money is what has the power to make miracles. And so the solution to what really happens, once you realize that the parents actually put their heads together and all solved the epitaph together, is depressingly obvious. What’s more, it mirrors some of the battles in the prior arcs. Jessica’s fistfights against Kyrie and Ronove contrast with her pathetic demise here, having her face literally being beaten to a pulp. (There’s always a gore warning for Umineko, by the way, but this volume is particularly bad.) Natsuhi also doesn’t get a chance to fight back, and her death starts the chain of everyone else’s. As for the identity of the culprit, I’ll avoid mentioning it here, but I will say that we discover, as the reader was well aware, that Bernkastel’s goal is to see everyone suffer for her own entertainment, and given who she’s been “helping” for so long, you can probably hazard a guess. That said, I’m not sure EVERYTHING we see is exactly what happened. There’s a conversation between two characters about Ange that seems a bit too on the nose to not be “dialogue provided by Bernkastel”, to be honest.

Even Lion doesn’t manage to escape Bern’s mass slaughter, as Bern reveals that even in the ONE universe where Lion exists, their fate is also preordained. That said, three cheers for Will, who says what we all want to hear: mysteries that just end unhappily for everyone are not fun to read. Will is there to bring the reader hope, even if it means losing an arm and fighting along with Lion against Bern and her nightmarish army of cats. (Lambdadelta is there too, but honestly she’s more a passive audience member than anything else. She enjoys it, but it’s all Bernkastel’s show.) But still… we’ve got one big arc to go. We know what really happened in 1986. Is there any way to give Ange a happy ending in 1998? Bern says no, and she says it in red, so it’s going to be tough. (I recommend the digital version for that page, by the way, as the color red is actually used for the statement, and it gives it a lot of impact.)

Clearly the answer, however, is not to take the opposite tack either. We should not see an arc that shows us how everything was all happiness, sunshine and rainbows in 1986, not after everything we’ve seen involving the Ushiromiya family. But there’s no way anyone’s motivations would be that misguided. Right? Tune in next time for Twilight of the Golden Witch, aka “don’t mention this arc in the presence of an Umineko fan”. Same time, same publisher!

Umineko: When They Cry, Vol. 17

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Eita Mizuno. Released in Japan in three separate volumes as “Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Requiem of the Golden Witch” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Shonen Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Stephen Paul.

(If you aren’t spoiled about Umineko by now, best not to read this review.)

It does feel something of a cheat to be introduced to Will and Lion and then have them barely appear for the entirety of this next omnibus. Indeed, the author lampshades it. But it’s also something of a necessity. Battler wasn’t able to solve this. To a large degree, neither was the reader. And thus Will is here to reveal the culprit and have them explain everything. We’re not getting ALL the answers here, and the story plays a bit coy with the culprit by using Clair as the personification of the backstory. But here we learn about Yasu’s life as a servant in the mansion, her interaction with Battler, and what exactly it was that led to everything that happened in 1986. Yes, we finally learn Battler’s sin, and it’s the sort of thing that’s very hard to blame a young boy for but also very easy to.

That said, one of the answers we get spelled out here will, I suspect, frustrate the reader immensely. The Riddle of the Epitaph has always been fairly hard to figure out, but here we find that not only would it be hopeless for Western readers, even more Japanese readers were never going to get anywhere. Not because of the tortuous alternate kanji readings that infest every aspect of it, but simply because the one clue that would have started things off is deliberately hidden from us till this book, which is Kinzo’s “hometown”. Even Yasu, who ends up solving the riddle right at the end of the book, needs Genji to explicitly give the hint of “Taiwan” to start the ball rolling, and it’s *still* frustratingly obtuse. I credit the translator for not simply giving up and throwing his hands in the air.

I was, admittedly, about ready to throw my hands in the air when we got to the final scene, where “Beatrice” dons her regalia and is presented to Kinzo so that he can grovel and apologize to her. What Kinzo has done to Beatrice is so loathsome that even Genji, putting out feelers to see if he can get away with revealing who Beatrice really is, all but asks “Are you just going to rape her again?”. Ryukishi07 means this scene to be somewhat sad and pathetic for Kinzo, but I still can’t get over my intense hatred and loathing for the man who abused his family and made them into what they are in 1986. That said, the rest of this volume is excellent. The scenes of Beatrice and Shannon in the Golden Land are very well-adapted and help explain why Beatrice is so fixated on (and in love with) Battler. The art is also very good, conveying several times the “…wtf?” face that is the only reaction to events here.

We have one more large omnibus to go, and clever readers will be wondering what Bernkastel is up to. But Yasu’s story is not quite finished either, so put up with the backstory a little more. As for those dissatisfied with the riddle’s solution, well, can’t help you there. Umineko fans will find this essential, though.