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Umineko: When they Cry

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Hello boarders!

This is the second attempt of mine to talk about or introduce one of my all time favourites to you guys here. The last thread disappeared during the forum roll-back quite some time ago and I never got myself to revitalize it. Hopefully some people have given "Umineko no naku koro ni" a try in the meantime. If not, I'm gonna try and explain what this story is about right here. Which is harder than you might expect.

So... why do you love A Song of Ice and Fire? Well, for me, the reason is mostly the sheer megalomania of GRRM having created a whole world full with complex layered characters with deeply interwoven fates. It's an intelligent story that doesn't treat the reader as a fool who needs everything offered to him on a silver plate, but instead asks us to challenge the characters and find out the motivations which drive them.

I start out with this because I think the intelligence behind "Umineko no naku koro ni" or "When the Seagulls cry" is similar in a lot of ways, even though the stories couldn't be even more different. While GRRM's world is a deconstruction of the classic Fantasy Setting, making it less black and white and more raw on emotions, Umineko takes the classic genre of the Detective story in the vein of Agatha Christie, deconstructs it viciously and then reconstructs it as a love-letter to the genre. Even as someone who wasn't really all that much into Fair-Play-Whodunnits I became really, really hooked afterwards, which is an accomplishment in itself. It is written by a Japanese author under the pen-name Ryukishi07, originally as a series of Visual Novels, but it was also adaptated into a terrific Manga version and a pretty terrible and rushed Anime that succeeds spectacularly in ridding the first four novels of every shred of nuance. By the way, it is the second installment of the "When they Cry" series, with the first one being the widely acclaimed "Higurashi - When they Cry", if anyone here has heard of that one.

But what is Umineko about anyway? Well... Umineko's setting is inspired heavily by Agatha Christie's "And then there were none". It is October the fourth, 1986. For the yearly family conference of the filthy rich Ushiromiya clan 18 people gather on a mansion on the secluded island of Rokkenjima that is cut off from the world by a typhoon soon afterwards. The typhoon passes two days later, and with the return of both the seagulls and the boat that was supposed to bring the family members back home, nobody was found alive. What happened? That simple question is what Umineko is all about. You may say that 8 novels with together twice the wordcount of "War and Peace" is a little too much to tell the story of just two days, but Umineko begs to differ.

It starts out relatively straight-forward. The brilliant but mad patriarch Kinzo is about to die, his children are bickering about the inheritance, but then the letter signed by Beatrice, the Golden Witch who is said to rule over the island at night, appears and challenges the Ushiromiya's to solve the riddle of her epitaph till midnight of October the fifth. The epitaph itself is supposed to be a riddle made by Kinzo that leads to a treasure of gold that is hidden somewhere on the island, but if you read it literally, it describes an occult ritual in which everybody on the island will get sacrificed in order to revive his dead mistress. Panic, reasoning, heated confrontrations, murder... all this ensues as the whole cast gets picked off one by one by an unknown murderer. But there are two sides to the story, just like to the epitaph. The barriers between mystery and fantasy begin to blur. Soon enough demons and witches bleed into the story, keen on convincing the reader that they are responsible for each gruesome murder. And yet while the closed-room mysteries seem fantastic, every crime is solvable by the application of rational thinking. And it is the task of the reader to find out who it is, what drives him and what all these fantasy scenes are about. To find not even the true culprit, but the truth itself, you must dig deep through layers and layers of storytelling, which seem conflicting and contradictory at first glance, but trust me, it all makes sense, it will all click into the right place once you found the answer, and this ride is wonderfully rewarding.

A ride you do alongside the characters, by the way. Each and everyone wonderfully layered, with motivations both clear and hidden, and you will get engaged with every single one of them as they descend into both the deepest layers of the story and the deepest layers of their own issues, showing them from their best and their worst sides as the story torments them unrelentingly. Layers are a thing Umineko manages to do masterfully. Nobody is what he seems to be at first glance, heck, the story itself is never what it appears to be. With every new revelation the meaning of plain every word changes drastically, because every truth is buried under clever metaphors and distractions. Without love, it cannot be seen! Especially since with every installment, the fantasy aspects become more and more outlandish, even crazier and even more gory in their sudden mood-shifts. But don't worry, the story is never confusing for the sake of being confusing. Given time, it offers you the tools to unravel everything yourself. The entirety of Umineko is structured after a clearly defined rulework made up of the Knox decalogue for Fair Play Whodunnits and very specific use of unreliable narration, the trademark of writer Ryukishi07. It is not like LOST, where the writers made shit up as they went along, because the ending is pretty much already there in the first novel, for those who are able to see it. Everything makes sense. Everything has a meaning.

Part of the reason why I try to revive this thread is this tribute video, which I find relatively safe for newbies to watch to see just how mental the story can be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owQwykuLWEk


I also tend to link this essay, which wonderfully captures the impact Umineko has upon its readers: https://kakeracomplex.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/umineko-is-more-than-just-a-story/

Personally I prefer to recommend the Manga-version up to Episode 6. The last two episodes are in my opinion safer to read in the original Visual Novel, considering that the way the Manga blatantly reveals the culprit is a little contradicting with the overall message of Umineko. The Visual Novel keeps the catbox closed and I find that somehow more rewarding an experience.

So... anyone up for a challenge?

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Well, since there seem to be little interest in a discussion so far, I guess I kept my introduction a little too vague in between the gushing about how clever the story is. It might interest you that the packet with the first four Visual Novels has appeared at Steam by now: http://store.steampowered.com/app/406550/

Due to some licensing problems they couldn’t get the PS2 sprites that you can patch upon the original version from Ryukishi’s website. The new art style is in my opionion a little odd, but I guess you’d get used to it after a while For the old, inofficial translation, you need to get to the Witch Hunt fan group, they also have far better guide than I could deliver right here: http://witch-hunt.com/

For the time being, I think I could talk about the central characters and in doing so maybe the plot will get a little clearer for those interested in the story. Here we go...



The protagonists


Ushiromiya Battler




Battler is the detective protagonist and owner of the First Person narrator in the story. At least until the latter gets literally stolen in Episode 5. Battler has been absent from Rokkenjima for six years by now. Shortly after his mother died, his father shockingly introduced him to his affair Kyrie who soon thereafter gave birth to his half-sister Ange, a betrayal that he could never forgive him. Battler rebelled by fleeing to his maternal grandparents, casting off all ties to the Ushiromiya’s. But unfortunately these grandparents now died in short succession and with nowhere else to go, the High-Schooler begrudgingly came back to his father. He is still suspicious of his old man, but he bears no ill will towards Ange and Kyrie, actually somewhat admiring the latter for her deductive reasoning skills.

He’s an odd choice for a detective, he’s quite a bit of a laid-back goof-ball who seems a little grating in his very first appearance in the Manga (though his ‘chivalrous pervert’ side is thankfully dropped immediately, I really don’t know why they had to introduce him like this). In general he is very compassionate, the first to stand the ground for his friends and family and absolutely refuses to distrust them on the grounds that they could be responsible for the murders. This however is in stark contrast to his severe dislike of a supernatural explanation, so he swings back and forth between offensive and defence in his analytic reasoning and the ‘chessboard-thinking’ strategy he’s copying from his stepmother.

After the first episode after they failed to find the culprit and everyone died, Battler is the only one left who still refuses to acknowledge the existence of Beatrice, which ends with him stuck in ‘purgatory’, forced into an unending battle of wits against Beatrice until he can explain all of the seemingly supernatural occurrences on Rokkenjima and reveal her true identity. At least that’s how it seems at first...






Beatrice, the Golden Witch and owner of the third person narrator that crawls into the story whenever Battler isn’t looking. Which is a major hint for the reader that nothing should be taken at face-value whenever she takes over. Seemingly cruel and whimsical, she takes pleasure in torturing the Ushiromiya’s and letting them face their greatest flaws and failures, though she occasional allows you to catch some glimpses upon a soul that is tortured itself. Of course I can’t say too much about her, since she is the representation of the culprit you are supposed to find. I can only say that there are many legends about her. That she gave Kinzo 10 tons of gold to finance his textile empire, that she was his mistress hidden in a secret mansion on the other end of the island, that she died a long time ago or that she’s still haunting the main mansion at night, cursing everyone who denies her existence. Keep in mind that Beatrice is a title that can be bestowed and that all these stories may not necessarily apply to the same person.

There is however one witch who is the opponent of Battler. And she cannot rest until he acknowledges her existence.

Ushiromiya Ange





Ange is Battler’s little half-sister who remained at home due to a cold during the events of Umineko and for that stupid reason became the only survivor of the family. She is the protagonist of the hellishly confusing 1998 storyline in which she sets out to finally find the truth about who killed her beloved family and move on with her life. Either by forming a contract with a witch to the travel into the past and help Battler against his fight with Beatrice, by travelling to the Rokkenjima of 1998 to put their souls to rest or by visiting the author of Umineko who claims to know the truth, reading the very same story you are currently reading. Yeah, really. I said it was confusing, huh. But Ange is one of my favourites. The story might torture her relentlessly with cruel truths and insane twists, driving her to the brink of despair, but even that never sticks and you can be assured that she will be back to soldiering on with her dry wit and iron determination. Her only weakness is that she is convinced that the truth must be either pointing at her aunt Eva or Beatrice and she has difficulties accepting any alternatives.

The patriarch



Ushiromiya Kinzo



Umineko’s mad king Aerys, so to speak. Always the gambler, Kinzo created his textile empire in the wake of WW2 based on high-risk investments, his good relations to the MacArthur administration and an insane pile of gold bars as a leverage that somehow ended up in his lap, allegedly given to him by Beatrice. His relationship to the witch is quite mysterious. Many believe that she was his mistress that he escaped to in order to flee his unhappy arranged marriage. The only certainty is that her death triggered his descent into madness, further increasing his violent temper-tantrums and his abusive behaviour towards his children now that they were only distractions to his occult hobby in which he searched tirelessly for a way to revive her.

You may notice that there are many Western names popping up here. They are a good indicator for the relations within the family since Kinzo’s obsession with western culture caused him to give all of his children non-Japanese names. People with Japanese names are therefore the ones married into the family. This also applies to the cousins, since Kinzo is forcing his children to do likewise. Battler’s garbled attempt at a meaningful first name (he was initially born dead and miraculously fought himself back to life) is more of an indicator for his father Rudolf’s poor English, something Battler himself is very vexed about (“My parents and the government official who gave this name a pass are at the top of my must-kill-list”).


The parents


Ushiromiya Natsuhi




Married into the family as the wife of Krauss, the eldest son of Kinzo, she finds herself in an odd and conflicting position. Due to the way her family was pressured by Kinzo into giving her away, she was initially regarded and pitied as little more than a hostage with the task to giving birth to a successor. But that was something she could never live with. To win back her pride, she took her position as the manager of the Rokkenjima household very seriously, working herself into her (hilariously inept) husband’s affairs and fighting very hard for her position, the one of her husband and of course the one of her daughter Jessica in the squabbles around the inheritance. Especially Eva, Kinzo’s eldest daughter, takes not very kindly to that active stance and soon Natsuhi ended up the victim of vicious bullying. Her only venting mechanism is her own cruel hounding of the servants, something that displays a ‘vicious cycle of bullying’-theme in which abused people become abusers themselves, something that pops up over and over again in the story.

During the story of Umineko proper, Natsuhi is not only under immense pressure due to the family conference, but also receives threatening phone calls by an unknown man who seems to be privy to her darkest secret. Not helpful at all to her chronic headaches and possible slip into a madness of her own.


Ushiromiya Eva




My single favourite character in Umineko. She’s utterly amazing, really! Eva is the eldest daughter of Kinzo, the most able of his children and also the most ambitious. Too bad she’s born a woman in post-war Japan, which isn’t exactly the most progressive place. Denied of any reasonable chance to inherit her father’s business, she spent the better part of her youth rebelling against him, but also working her ass off in the vain hope to ever get his approval. Over time she grew bitter and while she never let go of her aim, she slowly got conditioned to work within the system, playing her cards only when success seemed guaranteed. Now she’s trying to take the inheritance by proxy of her son George, is grooming him as a successor and constantly fights Natsuhi and Krauss to get George ahead in line in front of their daughter Jessica, all the while spewing misogynistic bile at Natsuhi. She is however painfully aware that the budding feminist is now using misogyny when it is to her advantage, and she constantly beats herself up over it when she’s in private. She also loathes herself for dragging both George and her beloved husband Hideyoshi into her lifelong quest for the family business.

In the 1998 storyline she’s also the only survivor of the Rokkenjima massacre and becomes the guardian of a devastated young Ange who suspects her of being the actual murderer. And while there was found no proof that she has been responsible, the public shares Ange’s doubts in her innocence, making her the target for widespread slander that she is barely able to cope with. But when it comes to what actually happened, her lips keep tight for the sake of Ange. She prefers to take the brunt of her hatred for the sake of sealing a dark truth that she fears would be too much for the girl to take.


Ushiromiya Kyrie



Kyrie (here pictured alongside Rudolf) is the step-mother of protagonist Battler and second wife of Rudolf. Cold-hearted, intelligent, determined, but unapologetically selfish she used to be his partner in crime in their shady business ventures, even before she decided that she wanted to have him in bed as well. In the present day, the two of them are in quite some financial trouble after a scam blew up in their faces and ended up with an American court coming down on them harshly, which is the reason why they join forces with Eva and Rosa to take the inheritance out of Krauss’s control.

Her trademark is the ‘chessboard-thinking’ with the “let’s turn the chessboard around”-catchphrase that Battler borrows from her. It allows her to view the case from the perspective of the culprit and deduct his motivation through analysis of his acting patterns. She also happens to be a first-grade badass who mows down higher-level demons with a sawed off shotgun she took from Kinzo’s collection. Trust me, you really don’t want to mess with Kyrie.


Ushiromiya Rosa




Affectionally dubbed “BEST MOM EVER” by the fandom, Rosa is the youngest child of Kinzo and the mother of Maria. Being a kid in a house of adults who grew up under the thumb of a resentful abusive bastard like Kinzo, Rosa always had to put up with a lot of shit. As the chew toy of frustrated bullies of siblings, she developed a lot of anxieties about being perceived weak and childish and projects a lot of these issues upon her daughter. The major ‘weakness’ alluded to, is her daughter Maria herself and everything involved around her and her father. This asshat is a bit of an elusive shadow. He showed up, made her pregnant and dumped her after she naively took his absurdly high debts upon her name. She’s now working tirelessly to build up her own fashion label, all the while juggling with the raising of her daughter. Maria herself is a cheerful girl, but has some kind of unspecified learning disability that also caused her verbal ‘uuu’ tic that made her end up a pariah in her school. Rosa tries to do her best as a parent, but with all the pressure thrown upon her, she usually ends up violently lashing out at Maria when she gets too agitated by her antics, though in the end she regrets it immediately and opts to shower her daughter with affection trying make up for the beatings she suffered at her hands. This horribly bipolar behaviour of course makes Maria’s issues even worse and causes her to think that only the affectionate Rosa is her true mother and that she’s possessed by an evil witch when she gets angry.

Witches themselves and Maria’s obsession with them are an especially sore spot for Rosa ever since she found the secret mansion Beatrice inside when she was a child. Her initial intrigue was however turned on its head once she accidentally caused the witch’s violent death...


The cousins


Ushiromiya George




The son of Eva and Hideyoshi and a freaking poster boy for the ‘Nice Guy’ at work. He is initially presented as a young and dutiful son who gained the best education and all the possible opportunities due to his mother’s grooming as a possible successor. He bears no ill wills, shows himself as a responsible role model and, even if a little stiff, happens to get along splendidly with his cousins. This surface cracks only a little when he keeps painfully neutral during Rosa’s outbursts at Maria, but only slightly. Then comes Shannon. A young maid working at Rokkenjima and who happens to have caught his eyes for years. He showers her with affection to make her his own personal Cinderella even in spite of his mother’s hostility towards the match, but also really enjoys playing the status card to make her do what he wants.

During the family conference he plans to propose to Shannon and the readers get presented with a series of versions how he approaches his relationship to the demure girl and how he comes to realize his own entitlement complex. Shannon herself is of course a major character as well.


Ushiromiya Jessica








The daughter of Krauss and Natsuhi and one of my favourites as well. She is as average as girl as possible, bashful, fiercely independent and really annoyed at the pressure her mother constantly puts upon her as the designated successor of the family business. She would prefer to hang out more with her friends instead of being holed up on an island mansion. Her escape is her own band where she enjoys being the lead singer and guitarist, something she keeps a secret from her parents. What however causes some envy at her classmates is that they are free to have their first romantic endeavours, which causes her to put her eyes on poor Kanon, a young servant boy with a boatload of self-worth issues who only recently started working on Rokkenjima. In an attempt to mirror George and Shannon’s budding starcrossed love, she drags him to a cultural festival at her school to pose as his boyfriend, and while Kanon had more fun than he likes to admit, he ends up fiercely rejecting her and pointing out the obvious status problems as well as his own painful inferiority-complex. But I have to mention that he isn’t all that averse to her advances and is really fond of his ‘ojou-sama’, he is just too full of self-loathing to see it ever working out and therefore they end up hurting each other in their awkward fumbling for each other. I however find them really, really endearing, even though it usually ends like this:



http://s850.photobucket.com/user/Couplesmix/media/Umineko/Jessica x Kanon/7fedbb324839027b1b451af288b975d0.jpg.html

Ushiromiya Maria





The daughter of Rosa and Witch of Origins. As already mentioned, she is a little bit behind in her development, is socially very awkward, keeps saying ‘uuu’ between words because she is convinced that it makes people happy and ends up soaking up everything about the occult as a refuge from her life with her abusive mother. She is apparently the one who knows Beatrice more than anyone else, considering that the Golden Witch found a kindred spirit in her. She is privy to the fantasy of the true person behind Beatrice and is herself utterly convinced that all the dead are going to be revived in the heavenly Golden Land at the end of the ritual, which is the reason why she is so chillingly fine with people getting messily murdered in front of her eyes.


The Servants

Shannon and Kanon



Two servants with the most focus in the story. Both are orphan children who come from an orphanage sponsored by Kinzo, grew up together and consider themselves siblings. As aldready mentioned, Shannon is a somewhat demure maid who essentially grew up on the island because Genji, the head butler, made an argument that Jessica should have someone her age around. Due to that weird arrangement that she was technically a hired maid despite going to school and barely working in the mansion, the other maids soon grew resentful and kept pushing her around, which is why she is something of a nervous wreck under pressure, especially under the watchful eyes of Natsuhi.

Kanon followed his 'sister' some time later, being even younger than her. He picked up a line by head butler Genji that servants should act like furniture and took it to his heart, considering himself less than human (even though it actually meant being sneaky as hell). On the other hand, in contrast to warm and trusting Shannon, he is cold, distanced and full of sarcastic quips, lamenting both his fate and his contempt towards Natsuhi's backbreaking schedule for them. Interestingly, the fantasy perspective regards them artificial humans created by Kinzo with his black magic, something underlined by both of them wearing the Ushiromiya Eagle crest, which marks them as directly under the command of the family head.

Other Witches and other Fantasy Creatures


Bernkastel and Lambdadelta





A couple of thoroughly messed up ‘wandering witches’ who intruded into the story and want to toy with Beatrice, exposing her as who she really is by hijacking her ‘gameboard’ that is Rokkenjima and playing with the pieces (which is, the victims) themselves. Sure as hell no good LGTB-representation, given that they play the psycho lesbians trope straight. Bernkastel, the Witch of Miracles, represents the desire to get to a conclusion at all costs, while Lambda as the Witch of Certainty represents the hard work to accomplish any goal (in this case, finding the true meaning of Umineko). Guess which one is the most messed up?


Furudo Erika





THE Mary Sue. I’m not even kidding. And she’s one of my absolute favourites, bone-chillingly awesome as she is. Erika is the brainchild of Bernkastel, created after her own image and violently inserted into the story (she just so happens to be washed ashore in the midst of the typhoon), where she proceeds to be an insufferable bitch to everyone even while abusing detective genre conventions that deem her the new detective character. Yes, she’s aware that she is in a work of fiction and she can’t stop pointing it out and making a mess out of the narrative. In fact, she isn’t searching for the culprit, any culprit suffices as long as she can craft a reasonably convincing tale that denies the supernatural, motives and true culpability be damned. You know that something is severely wrong when in a story about a mass murder the detective ends up being more villainous than the killer.


Willard Wright and Ushiromiya Lion




The protagonists of Episode 7, a retired angel and a mystery kid exploring the abyss beneath the Ushiromiya legacy and endless source of Yaoi fanfics. Willard Wright, badass extraordinaire, gets pulled into Umineko by Bernkastel and tasked with finding out the truth behind Beatrice by investigating on a weird ass Rokkenjima stitched together out of parts of different possible Rokkenjima’s, being something of a crossroad between universes. There he teams up with Lion, who becomes the Watson to his Holmes, even though he was never mentioned before and comes straight out of nowhere. Which is the point. Who exactly is Willard’s companion and how the hell is he related to the massacre? That’s the big question that needs to be solved by Willard.



Of course there are many other great characters, these are only the major ones. And I hope they give you something of an impression what kind of story this is.

Edited by Toth

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21 minutes ago, Hello World said:

Are you the same person who started a thread about this topic and claimed that these books have billions of views?

What? Nah. I was the same person starting such a thread claiming that this is a modern day genius barely anyone is aware of due to his unusual choice of a medium and the somewhat off-putting visuals.

But sure, mock my enthusiasm. Why not.

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3 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

No tha's MikeR. And forgive his paranoia, there was a guy who uh, oversold some bad Korean online fanfic.

Korean webcomics and Chinese webnovels* 

On topic, it seems interesting, but I'm rather put off by the medium. Are the visuals necessary or is it just an extra like regular novels that come with illustrations? Can I turn the background off if I get it?

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1 hour ago, Proudfeet said:

On topic, it seems interesting, but I'm rather put off by the medium. Are the visuals necessary or is it just an extra like regular novels that come with illustrations? Can I turn the background off if I get it?

Not really, I'm afraid. The only option I am aware of is switching between the old sprites and the new ones. Personally I prefer the Manga, actually, with the exception of the last two episodes (the manga straight out tells you who Beatrice is in these episodes, something that goes against the message of the narrative that her mystery should remain in a state like Schroedinger's cat, so that only those who have truly put their mind to it can get the answer).

If you want to see how both mediums fare in comparison, here is one scene as Manga and as VN:

Manga: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gn4dBvk1tn8


VN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVXJvrQ0-J0

Please note that this is the PS3-version you can patch upon the original PC version that you can get from the Witch Hunt link I provided. It is not that weird ass looking Steam version. Apparently there were licensing problems during the Steam release and they gave the VN to idiots who were actually just responsible for a freaking pachinko machine. This is the reason why everyone looks so bizarre there.

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I might be interested if they ever release it in text or maybe get the steam version if it goes cheap enough. Even though the patch fixes the art, I'm not too keen on watching a book. It's so slow. I could probably read twice as fast at least. I caught a small part on youtube that lasted 20 minutes. 

Is the manga available digitally? I could take a look at that I guess.

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1 minute ago, Proudfeet said:

Is the manga available digitally? I could take a look at that I guess.

Yeah, they are. The same way most Manga are due to the slow release of the official translation. Most of the sites with the fan-translations haven't pulled them off yet. *cough* *cough*

Though again, don't worry too much about the odd art style of the first issue and Battler's godawful introduction. It's like Ryukishi does his very best to irritate newcomers... It's going to get far better very soon.

There actually are novelizations written by Ryukishi himself according to Wikipedia, but those were never translated, so... too bad, I guess.

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I am interested in it, but currently I don't have time to watch. But I have read that it has similarities with Utena, which I liked.

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