When a series called Higurashi burst onto our screens in 2006, it changed the rules of anime. Instead of telling a linear story, a cycle of extreme violence repeated itself every six episodes and kept viewers on the edge of their seats, making the title an instant fan favorite. Now, three years later, the same animation studio and writers have given us Umineko no Koro ni - but does it live up to the high expectations its predecessor promised?
Set in the year 1986, the remote island of Rokkenjima plays host to a family gathering to decide the new head of the Ushiromiya clan. Eighteen people assemble and that day, a typhoon cuts off all communications from the mansion. Two days later, only one of these people walk away, causing a witch-hunt for the perpetrator. The story plays out like a closed room murder as the truth of the fateful night is revealed. After reading an epitaph in the main hall, it seems that the legendary Golden Witch has a hand in the fortune of the family. She now intends to use them as a sacrifice to facilitate her resurrection and panic ensues as the bodies start to stack up. However, the sorceress' plans are foiled by one of the grandchildren, Battler, who refuses to acknowledge the witches powers. The two go head to head in a game of detective, and the fateful night is relived over and over...
Sounds complicated? That’s because it most definitely is. The viewer needs a clear head and unbroken focus on this show, as the threads of plot are ever so intricately woven together. From a jump between gameplay on the “chessboard” to events in the outerworld, be prepared for the introduction of more devious witches and a complex timeline. Rules in the “game” are also somewhat bewildering: Beatrice will make certain statements about incidents on Rokkenjima in red text that are fact. Battler must in turn use these to disprove the use of magic on the night of bloodshed. If you thought the repetitive arcs of Higurashi were baffling, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
My view of the show after the first arc could be summed up in just three letters: WTF? The barrage of characters, their subsequent murders, the rules of the game, sudden resurrections – it is just too much to take in with no knowledge of the Umineko universe. I found information on a wiki site absolutely invaluable, as it gives an insight into what is happening. Suddenly making sense, the plot rattles by quickly and addictively, with the finale setting up for a second season. Fans of the VN complain that much of the story has been missed, and using the anime as a starting point I would tend to agree. However, I found this glimpse into the elaborate fantasy world irresistible and plan to embark on the original to have some mysteries explained.
Judging their past works, Studio Deen has a firm history in stunning artwork and they lend their penmanship to Umineko with a gorgeous flourish. CG is used sparingly throughout, but adapts well to the furore of onscreen magic. Angular faces with large, expressive eyes are framed beautifully by stylishly drawn outfits and delightfully detailed backgrounds. The characters, Maria in particular, lend themselves to moments of complete insanity, and the wide eyed maniacal look is successfully taken straight from Higurashi. Also borrowed from the sister show is the use of gore and violence, which was unfortunately censored on Japanese television. Perusing the original VN, the characters are dreadful, so it was amazing to see the striking transformation from schoolboy scribblings to professional animation.
Setting the tone for the dark Umineko, the opening track makes use of stirring vocals that blast out evocative Italian lyrics. The ED features a rapid cacophony of choral voices accompanying a twisted visual deluge, successfully giving the feeling of a descent into madness. A host of experienced seiyuu lend their talents to the cast, most noticeably Rie Kugimiya as the softly-spoken Shannon. Sadly, Beatrice doesn’t fare as well; her voice sounds too masculine to my ears and her evil laughter begins to grate from the first chapter. My major audio niggle, however, is the pronunciation of the Golden Witches’ name – to me, Bea-ter-rich just didn’t sound right...
The initial influx of almost twenty characters is extremely daunting; with so many faces and names to remember, most get filed away in the “do not care” part of my brain. As the story progresses, the main protagonists emerge as a headstrong and tenacious pair who are prepared to do anything to win the battle of minds. Initially, Battler is utterly feckless and annoying, making crude comments to each woman about how lovely her mammaries are. Strangely enough, the weird pervert becomes more endearing, and some of his later questionable one-liners are laugh out loud funny. Even if he is quite hot-headed and prone to shouting a lot, he is the perfect match for the resplendent Beatrice.
The Golden Witch is the ultimate player of mind games, and her manipulative tactics are well thought out. As much as you want to hate her, it is this despicable and underhanded side of Beatrice that makes her the perfect adversary you want to see go on. The lolicon’s dream girl, Maria seems extremely over the top at first with her demented demeanour. However as her backstory is unfolds, the viewer can build up a sense of empathy for her situation. Also, watch out for some brilliant parental tips from her mother, Rosa.
Umineko is difficult to score overall. My initial reaction to the first arc may be the same for the majority of viewers who are not prepared to read the manga or delve deeper into the legends of the witches. As a standalone series, therefore, I believe the anime is quite baffling and this will turn a lot of people off. However, after delving deeper into the accompanying material to help understand the mysteries, I would probably go so far as to rate it 8/10.
The premise sounded great, with 18 people trapped in an island and being picked off one by one by a witch claiming “interest” for services rendered to the incredibly rich head of the family that’s supposed to pass his heritance to his greedy offspring.
*SPOILER OF 2ND EPISODE*
By the second episode, there were already six people dead, and what made it cool was not knowing if it was really because of the witch and her supernatural abilities or if it was through normal human means.
Animation and character designs are very well done. Deaths are usually graphic and stick with you.
Opening and ending songs are awesome.
*SPOILER OF LIKE 5 EPISODES*
However, once the first story ends, the witch reveals herself, showing that it was indeed magic, but is stuck in Purgatory because a member of the family (Battler, a young man) refuses to believe that it was magic and challenges her that he can prove everything was done by a human or humans. The problem with that is, that he is being teleported to places and through time and talking to the witch and watching her summon demons and other witches pop up and he witnesses the deaths of his relatives over and over (4 different stories where they all meet their demise, for the most part) and he still refuses to acknowledge the witch’s power…what?!?!?!...How else would you explain it, dimwit!!
The PC game this is based on has the player constantly analyzing what’s shown and considering the facts in order to come up with the answer of how everything could have been done realistically without all the mystical cover-ups (however the game ended badly too). In the anime, they show it’s magic, without explaining things (like the demons, or some characters suddenly having magical powers, etc.) so the point is moot, because it’s too hard then to think of everything not being magical. Also, the story repeating itself in 4 different ways does the anime not good, because I know being 26 episodes in total, that I’m not going to have the resolution to the story until the very last damn episode and I will have to sit through more gory kills of the same characters, which are very disturbing by the way.
I liked the relationships between the family members, and the conversations were usually well thought-out, but the standoff between the witch and Battler is illogical and nonsensical and since it is the core of the story, it successfully saps away the interest of the viewer.
See, I was very interested in continuing this anime because I thought it would be like an Agatha Christie novel where everybody is getting killed and somebody is using the excuse of a supernatural presence and then at the end, it is revealed that everything was smoke and mirrors and the real evildoer is...Colonel Mustard or something. But no, they don't do that.
Everything is magic, and yes, there's a witch, and no, the main character refuses to admit it is magic and says he'll explain everything and never does and more magical stuff happens and people die, and die, and die, and die, and so on and so forth.
It also doesn't help that the computer game ended in a depressing way, so the source of this anime was also found lacking. Something like either it was really magic or it was all a dream, or hallucinations. That's the biggest of cop-outs and I can't believe anybody nowadays wants to end a story in such a way. What a waste of time.
In conclusion, this series had the animation, the premise, the characters, and the dialogue but the story went nowhere really fast and got stuck in a dumb cycle while pretending it was really smart.
Dafuq is going on here in this show.
Comepletley and utterly incoherent.
I do not know what to be keen about. I don't know what intrests me here in this show.
At ep 13 so far and I'm still forcefuly watching it. I just don't find anything of intrest in this anime.
Still, I am completley lost.
I understand the story, from what little sense one can make based on all this ruckus, but it's of no intrest to me.
I understand what a non-linear story is, I've watched Kara no Kyoukai, and it's basicaly the best anime ever made in my eyes, but this is just a "what the hell is the point of it all" anime.
Ofc, I shall force myself on to watching it 'till the end, having high hopes of all of it somehow turning in to an amazing overall experience.. (like hell if it's going to happen..).
Will edit this upon the finalisation of the series.
It's k, but like.. The only use of it for me in my life was that it was an example of training your mind to find something intresting in the field that is usualy of intrest to you(anime), but in the current given example is purely boring and incoherent(this anime).
Comment on the ending: That's an ending..?
THE STORY IS: Set in the year 1986 on the secluded island of Rokkenjima, the wealthy Ushiromiya family travels there to discuss the inheritance of Kinzo Ushiromiya's fortune. Some hours later, a typhoon hits the island cutting off all communication from the mainland. Out of nowhere, the 18 family members start being killed off in some pretty gory ways and being used as sacrifices according to an epitaph to revive a witch named Beatrice.
That is just the general premise and only 1/4 of the entire story. The background story includes this: Kinzo Ushiromiya summoned Beatrice the Golden Witch. Upon summoning Beatrice, Kinzo obtained ten tons of gold from her and entrapped her in a human body so he could keep her from going anywhere. When Beatrice's human body died, her soul was released on the island and in order to regain herself in true form, she is to follow the epitaph and use the Ushiromiya family as the sacrifices to bring herself back. However, if anyone were to solve the riddle of the epitaph, then they would inherit the headship of the family and the gold that comes with it.
NOW, that sounds like a simple enough concept for the most part, except 1 family member flat out refuses to believe in witches and magic. This is where is gets complicated. During the first run, everyone dies except Battler Ushiromiya because he won't believe in magic or witches and because of that, Beatrice is trapped in Purgatory and cannot be revived to her true form. So Beatrice decides to play a game with Battler to try and defy his logic. They sit and watch the same events happen, with different people getting killed in different ways and Battler is tasked with explaining how the killings were commited without the use of magic. Almost like a detective kind of process.
THE ONLY PROBLEM with Battler trying to explain the killings without the use of magic is that he CLEARLY watches the events play out and CLEARLY watches magic being used on every killing of every person. After watching his family members getting killed over and over and still denying that magic and witches do not exist, I'm sorry, is really pathetic. The whole anime is going through with Battler being thick headed and denying the existence no matter what when everything happens right in front of him.
I've read some reviews that compare the intellectual aspect of Umineko to animes like Deathnote or Steins;Gate. Frankly, I don't see it. Not one bit. It's actually kind of insulting and sad that you would compare those 2 animes with Umineko. This anime had so many plot holes. I was able to follow it just fine for the most part, until the last 6-7 episodes just started cramming shit in and had no real flow to it. The last episodes of Umineko were like channel surfing. None of it had any sort of relation to each other and was scattered everywhere and didn't make sense. They tried to make it make sense, but overall, I understood the general story and what was happening, it was just the last story arc that tried to twist your mind and ended up just downright being WTF worthy.
THE ANIMATION & SOUND were good for the most part. The animation was typical of it's time and didnt have any hiccups. You could also tell there wasn't a time where the budget got cut, it was pretty steady the whole way through. The only thing I didn't like about the animation was how they censored out the gore. We aren't 5 years old here! If you are going to make that kind of gore for an anime, then show it, why even bother making a censored version?! In that case you probably should've just done a more G-rated adaption instead. Amatuers. The sound was amazing. The background musical score fit amazingly with every scenario and episode. It was perfectly well rounded. The voice acting was good as well. There were a couple of things that annoyed me, but overall it wasn't detrimental to the series overall.
THE CHARACTERS...Just like in Higurashi When They Cry, there was no attachment to the characters. Why would you care about characters that die all the time and don't really develop past the point from start to death?! Unlike in Higurashi where a second season shed light on the otherwise confusing as f*** first season, Umineko does not. Characters were meh at best. There was no great character or "I love ____ most of all!!" kind of characters. They died too often and the story twisted and got so out of tune that it was hard to care about any one particular person. You become accustomed with some of the major character's backgrounds, but it's not enough to make development throughout.
OVERALL I really wouldn't recommend this anime in general. It was a great story at first, but then started to slip and slide all over the place making it not worth watching. It could've been great, but no such luck. I was looking forward to a nice anime to peak my intellectual senses, but got only confusion and disappointment. There is no way, by far, that this anime is comparable to Deathnote or Steins;Gate. Some reviews have also said that the psychological aspect of Umineko was on par with Paranoia Agent. The only problem I had with that is I hate Paranoia Agent. Thought it was useless. Regardless, Umineko no Naku Koro ni is just not that worth it to watch. It wasn't all bad, but if you're looking for something intellectual, not here, keep moving.
It is highly recommended that you watch Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni before watching this to understand Ryukishi's storytelling.
As a huge fan of Higurashi, I immediately jumped at the chance to watch this show and the plot does not fail to dissapoint at all.
The prestigious Ushiromiya family is gathering for their yearly retreat to the island of Rokkenjima where they stay with the head of the family, Kinzo Ushiromiya. We follow the journey of Battler Ushiromiya, who has not had any contact with his extended family for the past 6 years, but has decided to come this particular year. However, a storm blows in and the family are unable to leave the island. As we are introduced to a variety of characters from both the family and the household staff, we hear whispers of a supernatural being, a witch, who lives on the island. But that's all crazy island folk superstition! Until a series of gruesome events occur which leaves the entire family in horror and paranoia. The stage is set; either one of the family members is responsible, or there's an extra person stuck on the island with them.
This concept had me on the edge of my seat. This murder mystery has you arguing with yourself throughout, wondering whether it really was a family member or a servant who's doing all this, or is it in fact a witch. Unfortunately, the show does take a bit of an odd turn, diverting from the entire murder mystery concept to something quite different. It had a strong first few episodes, then kind of makes you tilt your head and question, "What on earth am I watching?" It's a shame really because the playing on people's paranoia when they know they're stuck in a large manshion with a psychopath would have been awesome, but that is not Ryukishi's style at all. All in all, in my opinion, the plot gets overly complicated for the sake of being complicated and I'll admit, I lost interest halfway through. HOWEVER, it is how Ryukishi tells stories that you just have to find out how it ends. You could be sitting there thinking "Oh this person is definitely the culprit" or "Yes, this is how it happened", but you're never 100% sure, so you'll come back to find out. And this is where the plot starts picking up some points. As similar with Higurashi, towards the end, everything kinda starts to fall into place and you feel yourself sucked in to find out how it ends. That, combined with the vast amount of emotion you'll feel for each individual character, the concept lacked but nevertheless was entertaining and kept me coming back. If you watched Higurashi, you will pick up on certain aspects and will understand things alot quicker than those who haven't.
Relatively standard animation quality. What was good is the amount of gore as should be expected from a When They Cry series (even though most of it is censored, but considering the circumstances it's understandable) and also the golden butterflies you see from time to time to indicate the possibility of the supernatural.
The opening is fantastic. It has a very epic and theatrical feel and the melody gives me goosebumps. I never really thought much about the effect the intro music has on an anime, but after watching both Higurashi and Umineko, the music prepares you for what you are about to watch. Perfectly chosen and executed.
Ryukishi has made some fascinating depth with his previous characters in Higurashi and that comes back into play in Umineko. Sort of. We do get some fleshing out and character development along with some emotional attachment, but most of them are just....unlikable. Not in the hate sort of sense, you'll get enough of that when you see Eva and Rosa. Characters like Jessica, George, Kanon and Shannon have the depth of a puddle compared to the ocean of Maria (who reminds me of Satoko from Higurashi, another well crafted character). That and Ryukishi's casual throwing in of extra characters without any hint of introduction, so we have a few strong characters surrounded by shallow, meaningless husks. However, this score is brought up because of the strong cast who may not always be enjoyable to watch, but are expressed in such detail and emotion that the story would have been fine with just the of them rather the ensemble cast we are given.
If you're looking for another Higurashi, Umineko is as close as you're gunna get to it. If you thought Higurashi was complicated and weird, Umineko takes it one step further. All in all, the show was enjoyable and after watching it till the end I didn't feel like I wasted my time. It's unneccasarily overcomplicated story takes away from what could have been a 10/10 to match Higurashi. This is a show that you must watch all the way to the end, but I personally do not think you will enjoy this unless you have watched Higurashi as the story devices makes the show jump around ALOT and Higurashi explains how this jumping around works. Enjoyable, entertaining, but not worth watching twice.