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.

Umineko: When They Cry, Vol. 16

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.

It’s been nearly a year since we last checked in on Rokkenjima. We have two arcs left, and they’re both packed to the gills – each is nine volumes total. And they’re sometimes big volumes. That means this first omnibus of three by Yen is 826 pages long, but fortunately it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a lot. By now we’re familiar with everyone in the story, and since Requiem is, for the most part, devoted to explaining the mysteries from the previous six arcs, everything glides along very smoothly. Well, we’re familiar with almost everyone in the story. This volume is noticeably short on Battler, who only shows up at the very start. Instead we get Willard D. Wright, who is to S. S. Van Dine what Dlanor is to Ronald Knox. Battler was a teenager who liked mysteries, Willard is an actual detective. And he’s here to get answers, along with his Watson, the heir to the Ushiromiya family, Lion.

That’s Lion on the front cover there, and you might be forgiven for a certain lack of recognition. And also wonder, as Will does, what Lion’s gender is. Ryukishi07 has deliberately hidden this from us, and explicitly told the manga artist (best known for Spiral: Bonds of Reasoning) to do the same, so I will try not to use gender pronouns. That said, if you understand Kinzo’s monstrous sexism from previous arcs, you can easily hazard a guess as to what gender his beloved grandchild and heir is. Lion is a lot of fun (and yes, the name completes the horrible Eva – Ange – Lion pun), pinching Will’s ass whenever he acts callous, which is a lot of the time. Will is retired, and doesn’t want to be here, but Bernkastel is basically forcing him to solve everything for her master. So we see him ask Rosa about what happened that day in 1967, talk to Jessica about her own experiences with being rude to Beatrice (or more accurately, Maria), and find out how Kinzo really got all that gold and who Beatrice was originally. (Admittedly, Kinzo’s story seems very romantic and idealized – you’re left wondering if that’s really all that happened.)

The ugliest part of this volume is, hands down, the section where everyone talks about the fact that Kinzo raped his own daughter, and all the servants basically say “well, yeah, that happened, but he really loved her mother, see?”. It’s infuriating, and at least Genji had the good sense to hide the next generation down until he was sure it wouldn’t happen AGAIN. Speaking of which, as rapidly becomes clear, Lion’s existence here ties into the 5th arc, where Natsuhi shoved the baby she’d been given by Kinzo to raise as her own off a cliff. Lion is what happens when she DOESN’T do that, something that Bern says is an incredibly rare thing. It’s to Lion’s credit that the first thing that comes to mind is defending Natsuhi, who really is a loving mother here. Honestly, Lion holds up pretty well with everything that’s going on, especially when we find out that in all the worlds where Natsuhi shoved the baby off the cliff, we get Beatrice, not Lion.

Towards the end of this omnibus, Will reveals the culprit to Lion and Bernkastel – but not to us, as we’re still supposed to make guesses. That said, many of the hints are laid out in front of us this volume as well. The fact that Shannon and Kanon are the only ones besides Will to not know who Lion is. The fact that when Will asks Shannon to go get Kanon so he can talk to them together, Shannon has possibly the scariest mental breakdown in the entire series. And the fact that when we get the “culprit” POV at the end, we see her, in 1976, working with a Shannon who looks exactly the same age as she does in 1986. Speaking of the word culprit, if you weren’t already horrified by the Evangelion pun, the fact that the nickname for the culprit is “Yasu” will surely have you rolling your eyes and grinding your teeth – that is, if you know Japanese mystery games.

This is, incest apologia aside, one of my favorite arcs, and the manga artist does a great job bringing it to life. Next time around we’ll get more flashbacks, as “Yasu” grows up, falls in love, and becomes a witch. If you’ve been reading Umineko all along, this is an essential volume.