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.
I hate this show. I have watched 18 episodes of it before dropping it, and I still don't understand what is trying to be accomplished. At first, it felt like this family was competing to obtain their father's gold. That alone would have made a neat story. Everyone trapped on an island, in a big ol' mansion with people you can and can't trust, killing eachother as to leave a mystery and a feeling of tension for the audience. That plot has been done time and time again, but it still would have worked a lot better than what this show is.
Now, usually in a setup like this, the exciting part is "whodunnit?". Nope. This show kills everybody in the first few episodes and the annoying Maria girl lets everyone know it was Beatrice. And guess what? It was. She killed them all to open the gates to the golden land or some crap, they never really explained why she's killing all of them other than some old legend bullcrap.
So wouldn't this just be the end of the show? Nope! Right after everyone dies, they're all back alive, just like in Higurashi. The weird part is that they're all aware that they were killed. And they all REMEMBER being killed by Beatrice, and they thought it was pretty cool. Why are they alive? They don't tell ya, but Battler's upset. He's not upset over the fact that what just happened made no sense, he's upset because they thought MAGIC did it.
Dude your dumb ass just got RESSURECTED and you think it didn't happen? The only explaination for all this stuff otherwise is a bad acid trip and he denies that too. So Beatrice actually shows up and takes him to alternate timelines to prove she exists. Then you get to watch practically the same damn series of events happen multiple times while Battler argues with Beatrice every now and then. It plays out like he just got a checkmate on her every now and then, as if it was a reasonable arguement, but they never get anywhere with this crap.
What is this show? Are they fighting for money? Are they trying to perform a ritual? Is this a battle of wits between Battler and Beatrice over something that the answer is obvious to? I don't know, but the show keeps trying to be SPOOKY SCARY and deep, but it's not. It's pulled off so poorly it feels fake. It feels like the show is blatantly trying to say THIS IS A SCARY PART BE SCARED by slapping poorly done scary faces on people, and then put a bunch of blood and gore all over. It's honestly like a laugh track.
People die so often in this show that you just stop caring. I personally feel that if you want your audience to CARE when a person is murdered, you have to DEVELOP the character or establish their importance. Considering everyone but Beatrice and her gang dies every other episode, there's no character development (because they spend most of the time being dead) and there's no importance to their death (because they'll be alive again in a few episodes).
Seriously, I do not understand the appeal of this show. I LOVED the Higurashi series, that was done really well! So I was hoping this show would be of a similar caliber, but to my disappointment, was not. If I'm missing something or if this show really is just garbage, let me know, because I'd like to feel like watching 18 episodes of this wasn't an absolute waste of my time.
If you're a fan of anime that really f**ks with your head and makes you think outside the box, then you should watch this.
Of course there will be blood and gore, if there wasn't then how could it be made by the same people from Higurashi.
I won't go in detail giving anything away, you should watch 1-3 episodes to truly understand how this show goes.
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..?