Umineko: When They Cry, Vol. 21

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.

This is the final volume of Umineko: When They Cry, unless Yen licenses Tsubasa, which I suspect is about as likely as Hinamizawa Bus Stop. It’s a very good climax, essentially divided into two parts. the first is the “action finale”, showing off Ange and Battler doing battle with Erika and Bernkastel, with everyone getting a chance to kick some ass (even Krauss, in one of the funnier bits) and with Lambdadelta going above and beyond the call of duty, essentially sacrificing herself to save the siblings. Now, given we’re in the meta world, sacrificing yourself is not as permanent as it sounds, but it’s still quite heartfelt. From the sdtart, Lambda has been more interested in fun than Bernkastel, who just wants pain and suffering. (Of course, if the pain and suffering was fun, Lambda was all in.) We see another Higurashi flashback that reminds you of Lambda’s origins as Miyo Takano, though honestly there’s a lot of Satoko in her as well.

(It’s also my last chance to complain about Squeenix insisting on using “the first cover” every single omnibus, as it means we don’t get the awesome BeaBato final cover on the outside.)

The second half of the book is the aftermath, which faces up to the fact that most of the cast is dead, and that if Ange wants to have a future she’s going to have to “die” as well. Fortunately, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Ryukishi07 it’s how words can be manipulated to mean multiple things. Ange erases her identity and lives on as a famous children’s author, who writes books essentially starring Maria and Sakutarou. (Well, mostly. This was based on a game, as you know, and the manga did include the game’s “bad end”, where Ange decides magic is a lie and kills everyone around her, earning praise from Erika. I appreciate the need for completeness, but it feels really out of place in the manga itself.) As a Higurashi fan, I must admit it’s very odd to see a nice, friendly Okonogi here. But then again he’s getting everything he wants. Certainly I’m sure he prefers dealing with Ange to dealing with Takano.

The other reveal is what we’d seen hints of this entire arc: Battler survived the tragedy as well. Well… sort of. One one last twist that combines the real life and the meta world, Touya (his new name) has a sort of amnesia – he recalls Battler’s life but doesn’t think of it as his own memories. This is why Ikuko’s books were so accurate. After a number of years (both are in middle age), Ange is finally invited to meet Touya and get the explanation, and Battler’s spirit is able to find peace (and separate itself from Touya). That said, the REAL ending of the book feels like the one with Battler and Beatrice, showing what really happened as they escape the mansion’s tragedy. Unfortunately, as we already know, this ends badly, as Beatrice/Sayo still can’t imagine Battler accepting her body and can’t forgive herself for coming up with a mass murder plan, even if she wasn’t the one doing the murders. It a gorgously bittersweet tragedy, that ends happily only provided you believe in magic.

So I think in the end Uminako manga readers will be very happy with this. Umineko visual novel fans may be slightly less happy, but this ended up being a story that needed to be told more tha a mystery that needed to be solved. Don’t be a goat. Enjoy Umineko.

Umineko: When They Cry, Vol. 20

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.

Given this came out about three months ago, faithful readers might have wondered what happened, given my When They Cry obsession. Well, frankly, reading about 200 pages or so of Ange revealing her suicidal mental state for all to see is relatively exhausting and hard to get through. It’s well-handled, it’s just really goddamn depressing. A lot of this arc of Umineko, and this volume in particular, is dedicated to hammering into the reader that this isn’t Higurashi and there is absolutely no “everybody lives” ending. The time for guessing the murderer is over, The time for figuring out Beatrice is over. And, just in case readers of the VN were still debating endlessly because Ryukishi07 wanted to not spoon feed people the answers, we now get those same answers spoon-fed. How much you enjoy that may depend on how much you wanted to “solve” the mystery of Umineko, and how much you just want to read a good story.

Once again, I think there was a more appropriate cover they could have chosen, but I’ve given up on that fight. And to be fair, Will and Dlanor do get a wonderful epic teamup here fighting the goats spinning their endless theories. They each balance each other’s weak point. The start of the omnibus intersperses an awful lot of battles into the mix, with logic flying back and forth and everyone screaming at each other. This contrasts with the end of the book, Confession of the Golden Witch. This is possibly the most controversial manga addition – it was not in the original visual novel, and some say that Ryukishi07 added it as he was tired of people saying there was not a “real” answer. There is one. This is it. We see the culprit narrating what led to this point, why they decided to do it, and how they did it, down to the tiniest detail. As a mystery element, it’s terrible. As a character moment for the villain, it’s amazing.

For all that I’ve been going on about an unhappy ending for all, and certainly Ange does seem to leap off a building while Bernkastel describes how ludicrous it would be for convenient netting to break her fall, there is also something suggesting that she and Eva may not have been the only survivors from the island. We get a bit of background for Ikuko, who is far more likeable in the real world than she is as Featherine. She almost runs over a body on the highway one day, and finds they’re not as dead as expected. Sadly, said body seems to have lost his memory, and is facially bandaged… and then hidden from the reader. That said, the secret identity of this person is not all that hard to figure out. What IS hard to figure out is where Ange goes from here. She’s read Eva’s diary, and did not like what it said. So she can’t get her revenge, and also she’s seemingly dead, though a lot of Beatrice’s impassioned speech at the end certainly implies she is not as dead as everyone else in the Golden Land. What can she do, other than scream and pound Beato’s chest?

Well, that’s what the final omnibus will tell us. It’s been delayed till 2020, so we may not find out for a bit. Till then, enjoy a fun but emotionally exhausting book. Unless you were trying to figure out the mystery, in which case you may hate this. The answers are highlighted in yellow.

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.