Studio: Studio Deen
Publisher: 07th Expansion
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Psychological, Supernatural
Release: S1 (2009)
Umineko: When They Cry, or Umineko no Naku Koro ni as its Japanese title, is the successor to the exceptional Higurashi: When They Cry franchise.
Though it didn’t quite gain much acclamation as I believe it should have- this is probably due to the fact that people were expecting something along the lines of Higurashi, and then this anime goes and takes on a different style: instead of the usual murder mystery-solving its predecessor has been known for, it takes on a risky yet fresh approach with a battle of wits between reality and magic using logic and sound reasoning.
Plot: In a fictional 1986, the annual family conference of the Ushiromiyas is held at their private property Rokkenjima Island. The four family members, along with their spouses and children, arrive at the island to discuss how the assets will be divided once the old and near-dead family head, Kinzo Ushiromiya, passes away. Shortly after, a typhoon traps them in the island and bizarre things started to happen where people in the island start dying.
Battler Ushiromiya, the son of Rudolph, hasn’t been in the family conference for six years and is re-acquainted with the island’s legend of the Golden Witch Beatrice, who supposedly lives in the dense forests of Rokkenjima. A portrait of her is erected at the entrance hall of the Ushiromiya mansion along with a puzzling epitaph underneath.
It is rumored in the island that when Kinzo lost most of his assets due to the 1923 great Kanto earthquake, Beatrice gave him ten tons of gold to restart his family and business. That said, whoever solves the riddle of the witch’s epitaph will get the gold as well as the headship of the Ushiromiya family.
As the typhoon hits, a game of homicide begins where 6 people in the island will die, as stated in the epitaph. If the epitaph isn’t solved, then people will continue to die mysterious and brutal deaths until the Golden Witch Beatrice is resurrected.
The nature of the series (before the reset happens just like in Higurashi) is revealed on episode 5: Just about when the last person alive, Battler, is about to be consumed, he is suddenly able to stop Beatrice’s revival by stating his denial in the existence of witches. It seems that everyone in the island must believe in them in order for the Golden Land to open its doors.
For Battler, believing in witches just because everyone says so is not enough, as it will be just a case where a lie is accepted by everyone and becomes the truth. Because of this, Beatrice shows herself and takes him to a parallel world, Purgatorio, where they will be able to oversee all the events that happened on Rokkenjima.
Thus starts the battle between them where Battler must attempt to explain every mystery via human means, and Beatrice, by witches and magic. Among the frequent concepts used is the ‘locked room mystery’, as well as several logical arguments including devil’s proof, raven’s paradox and Schrodinger’s cat.
The next chapter (episode 6) starts the first official battle between Battler and Beatrice, where they will oversee everything through the ‘meta-world’, and attempt to fend each other off by reconstructing the murders with their theories.
It’s really exciting to watch the two battle it out, not to mention a fun way to exercise the mind, but sadly that’s also the downside – the series tends to focus on the notion where Beatrice says something like “Everything is caused by witches and magic is real!” and Battler counters with a “No! They’re not real!” all throughout. It can try your patience if you’re not that into it. Though the thrill brought by their creative arguments compensates for that.
Unlike Higurashi, the culprit is never revealed (that’s the whole point of the battle between the two), and will keep on feeding you with new murder mysteries that they will keep on fighting about. I’m sure some will find it hard to keep track of the previous mysteries, so this show probably isn’t for those who are looking for a light and easy watch. On the other hand, those avid mystery/logic enthusiasts like myself who are looking for a mental exercise, will find Umineko pretty awesome.
Two easter eggs from Higurashi appear in Umineko: The Witch of Miracles Frederica Bernkastel, who greatly resembles Rika Furude and The Witch of Certainty Lady Lambdadelta, who in turn resembles Takano Miyo. It is said that these two witches fought each other in a ‘game’ in the past. Now, I wonder what that ‘game’ could be? Hehe.
The show finished with its four initial chapters, but left a lot of people disappointed with its major cliffhangers and unanswered mysteries- mainly Beatrice’s last riddle for Battler, which I won’t tell to avoid spoilers. To those hastily judging this show and trashing it relentlessly, I suggest you give it a chance, since the same thing happened to me after watching Higurashi’s first season (though honestly, the end with Rena and Keiichi had a more satisfying closure). The first season is supposed to be filled with the ‘question arcs’ where the 2nd would have the ‘answer arcs’.