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.
Hrm.. where to begin. If this was uncensored from the get go, it’d be one hell of a violent show. On the other hand, due to it being a visual novel, originally, A LOT was left out and that left me greatly disappointed. I will point out, based on what I read in the forums, not many liked the last episode. I, for one, enjoyed it quite a bit and hope an OVA series or another season is made since it left the ending very open.
When I first heard of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, I had high hopes. I was looking forward to an anime that would peak my intellectual interest by engulfing me in a baffling mystery. It was baffling alright, but not in the sense was hoping for. Alas what I stumbled upon was an anime with enough plot holes and twists to make even M. Night Shamalan go "WTF!".
Set in 1986 on the island of Rokkenjima the story starts with a strong, but cliche, premise. A wealthy family travels to their private island to discuss the inheritance of Kinzo Ushiromiya's fortune. Hours after landing on the island a typhoon hits, making it impossible to get back to, or contact the mainland (who would have guessed right?). Suddenly members of the family begin dying in seemingly inconceivable fashions.
Now this all seems simple enough however thats only about 1/4 of the story. Bear with me as I try to explain this without ruining the entire plot *takes a deep breath*. Kinzo Ushiromiya, is a dark sorcerer who summoned, obtained ten tonnes of gold from, and trapped Beatrice the Golden Witch within a human body. When the human body perished, Beatrice's soul was released unto the island. In order to regain her true form she must murder the Ushiromiya family in accordance to an epitaph and force them to accept that she is, in fact, a witch. However, if someone on the island were to solve the riddle of the epitaph they would be granted headship of the Ushiromiya family and the ten tonnes of gold that come with it.
Whew! Now this would all be fine and good except that one of the family members refuses to acknowledge Beatrice as a witch. This is our "Knight in Shining Armor", Battler, one of the grandchildren of Kinzo Ushiromiya. Since Beatrice apparently needs the whole family to concede to the fact that she is a witch (or because she is bored it is never throughly explained), she starts a game with Battler. The game is as follows: the murder of his family will be reenacted while Beatrice and Battler watch and drink tea. Each "round" the murders will occur in slightly different fashions, and each time Battler must explain how the murders could have been committed via human means, with out magic. Thereby denying Beatrice as a witch.
Whats interesting about the series is the fact that it's non-linear. By that I mean the show is more like a loop of witch the the same basic scenes are reenacted. However unlike The melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, this actually works. The problem that I had with the story was the vast amount of plot holes that plague the series. Many devices, especially near the end, seemed shoved in at the last second and given inadequate explanation. Not to mention the ending completely clashed with the beginning. The whole series leaves many questions forgotten, and fails to really pull itself together.
The Animation was mostly on par with what many expect of Anime nowadays. Nothing really stands out other than the lavish costumes and outrageous facial expressions. The animation was fluid and clean nowhere did I find myself saying "wtf!? did the animation budget suddenly cut out?". In fact the only reason I gave this a seven was because much of the blood and gore was censored. Some may like this, but I found this insulting, what am I, 2!? Apparently you can buy the unedited version and see the gore intact but who the hell wants to do that?
Now This was where this Anime really shined. The only gripe I have with the show's sound would be A) the intro/outro and B) Maria's whining "ooo, ooo" noise. As the other characters (i.e. her mother) found her whining obnoxious as well, i didn't count it against the show. The background music throughout the series is superb. It sets the mood with near flawless precision, and many of it's background music boasts originality and class. The Voice acting was also fantastic, the voices are well done and suited the characters fabulously. Not once did I come across a voice that annoyed the hell out of me Maria's "oooing" aside. If your looking for a reference on how to set the mood for your Youtube video your thinking of making, Umineko no Naku Koro ni might be for you.
The Characters in Umineko no Naku Koro ni can best be described as "meh". throughout the series I never really found myself caring whether many of them lived or died. Not only that, but during th final rounds each of the characters personalities seem to change randomly. In fact none of the protagonists personalities hit a cord with me. It was in fact the antagonists that really played there part well. I ended up hating them and wanting them to die in horrendous ways, not because I wanted good guys to win, but because I hated the villains so much. However there was little to no character development throughout the series.
Most will find this Anime more confusing than interesting. For those who are looking for a horror, fantasy and care more about gore and plot twists than a well put together plot, this anime may be just what you are looking for. However if you are looking for an above average anime with a coherent plot and strong characters you had best be on your way. I have also heard that if you read the manga it all makes more sense. However I feel that an anime needs to be able to stand on it's own without the help of the manga.
And for the record I don't understand why Battler never argued that he was just on one hell of and Acid trip in order to deny the witch.
So, maybe if you have seen already the sound novel this was like a sad animation. I bet Umineko lovers were expecting more and were disapointed again by Deen studios. But oh well it happens and maybe they didn't have the budget to cover every interesting detail or moment of the series.
The story of course its amazing, all thanks to Ryukishi - sama's mind. The opportunity to experience love, hate, sadness and gore with a possibility of a happy ending, all while playing with mistery and fantasy makes it really enjoyable. A complete story, that can't be solved with just a season, so I'm eager for Umineko Chiru.
The animation as I told was so so, the more intense battles in the game weren't so cool (Kinzo Vs Battler, Virgilia Vs Beato) or simply erradicated cuz there wasn't enough time for putting them (Virgilia & Siestas Vs Krauss and company). I must admit, some gorey ones were enjoyable but I was pissed they changed some clue dialogues and simply took out some scenes... again possibly explained by the little time. The Red and Blue Truth were interesting... but really... where was Eva-Beatrice's red web or the red sword for Beato's red truth...
At first the music was magnificent, they had the best of the game music recomposed and put on the animation... but as time passed the cool ones were forgotten... Maybe I'm wrong... but I didn't catch "Dream end discharger", which personally its my favorite. And even if I must confess, I hated Kinzo's whine for ending, I just loved the opening.
Characters are quite complex and very human and its what is more likeable from them... you can truly hate them, you can really love some of them. Like Rosa or Eva who were incredibly hateable women at some point but when you saw them as good mommys and a loving wife you couldn't stop feeling pity for them when her head exploded. Not mentioning Maria that starts as "THAT IMPOSSIBLE AND HATEABLE SPOILED BRAT" to " T0T Poor kid all alone in this world trying to fill it with happiness for her and her mom"
So even if I'm dissapointed I'll give it a nine, cuz I'm still having more hopes for next season... and I can even guarantee that people that liked Higurashi or the people which don't know the novel will love the series.
First off let me say that I am likely going to update this review at some point. I know one should usually try to keep an unbiased perspective when reviewing something, but I guess this was unavoidable. I watched all the Higurashi animations, and though I never played the games, I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. So of course, seeing as how Umineko no Naku Koro ni comes from the same line of storytelling, understandably I desperately wanted to like the series. In the end, this was not possible, and I don't know whether that's because I'm stupid and have a hard time wrapping my mind around some of the abstract concepts presented in the story, or if the actual method of storytelling was flawed, but I don't doubt that there were probably some things I missed on the first watch-through. As such, I'll probably watch the series again just to attempt to get a better understanding of it. Why am I giving it a 7 then? I don't want to give a low score and risk discouraging other viewers from watching the series and start questioning their intelligence like I am right now after having watched it. =p
Fair enough, but what can I say about the actual series even though I have little idea of what's going on? For one, the plot and story is very clearly similar in many respects to Higurashi. As usual, the series is divided into arcs, and every arc depicts some kind of mystery or murder that is to be solved. I should mention also, that the way the killings are portrayed in this series is FAR more gruesome than in Higurashi, to the point that several clips were actually censored on the version I was watching. I'd even say the gore is almost comparable to Elfen Lied, not so much in the detail as in the brutality of many of the killings. But anyway, it all ends there as far as similarities go.
Umineko adopts a vastly different style of storytelling than its predecessor. Why do I keep bringing it up? Because it's very likely that anyone who enjoyed Higurashi will flock to Umineko and expect the same style of storytelling. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The series starts off simple and linear enough, but after the first arc it adopts a very schizophrenic (for lack of a better term) style of storytelling featuring what could be called an "in-game" and "out-of-game" zone, where the game is the mystery and murders and everything is occurring. If anyone has seen the Jet Li movie Hero, I find it to be very similar to the story part with the different colors from various characters and such. By about halfway in, the series has made a habit of hopping between these two settings that it becomes hard to tell where the actual story is taking place. This was no problem to me, but might prove to be an annoyance for some viewers that prefer a more direct style of storytelling.
Sadly, this is all I am able to say with any amount of confidence at the moment. Perhaps when I've watched the series through a second time, I'll be able to better understand what is or isn't going on, and adjust my rating accordingly. Until then, I certainly encourage fans of Higurashi to have a go at it despite what you might have heard already from other people who've watched this.
EDIT: Okay, so after checking out the Wiki site, a lot of the stuff made more sense on the second watch-through. Even so, there are a few things that will still weird some people out. A couple things I said in my initial post remain the same; gore is still a factor, and the storytelling style is indeed different. The only thing that might be different is your understanding of the series once you've gone to the wiki site and done a bit of research. On the other hand, there will no doubt be those of you who wonder if a series that requires one to go to a wiki site in order to understand the story really is a good series. That's up for debate, but as far as my own rating goes, I'm bumping it up from a 7 to an 8.