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Umineko no Naku Koro ni Review

January 16, 2010

story 6.5/10

Umineko no Naku Koro ni screenshot

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.

animation 8/10

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.

sound 6/10

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...

characters 7/10

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.

overall 6/10

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.

Anime Info

In the year 1986, eighteen members of the Ushiromiya family head to Rokken Island where Kinzo, the elderly head of the household, will soon choose one of them as his successor. A portrait of the Golden Witch Beatrice greets them as they arrive at the family mansion, along with a disturbing epitaph: she will be resurrected on the ninth twilight after a number of bloody sacrifices. Unfortunately for the group, the statements come true, and soon the carnage begins. Will anybody walk away from the ominous island, or are their destinies due to be forever ruled by Beatrice?


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About the Author

KiraRin's avatar

KiraRin

As a not-so-closet perv, I love watching anything involving panty-shots, handfuls of cleavage and an innuendo fuelled plot. Although most of my reviews will err on the risque, I also love the obscure, the twisted and things that make you think - drop me a line if you want to discuss any of them!

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comments

Kokabiel avatar Kokabiel
Mar 15, 2012

I'm pretty much willing to watch any anime that grabs my interest, and I'm not particularly discerning. Very rarely will I choose to simply refuse to watch a show on principle, but I just can't watch this anime. I have played all 8 of the Umineko VNs, and just love the series. And whenever I start to consider watching it, I remember how much I disliked the original Higurashi anime, and simply can't get up the courage to see how well they adapted this one. From your review, and everything I'm hearing, it sounds like I'm making the right decision.

PseudoIntellectual avatar PseudoIntellectual
Nov 16, 2011

I must disagree with this review on several points. First of all, the art style is "atrocious" in the VN? It's certainly not great, but I fail to see what's atrocious about it. You can tell the characters apart with each having a unique design, the the effects are always eye-catching and interesting, and the backgrounds are all uniquely and individually designed. While the details are weak, overall the art is adequate to tell the story. And if anything, it's better than the art for Higurashi, which toed the line between mediocre and painful to look at. To me, it feels incredibly unfair to make a judgment call regarding the art of a VN by simply sampling a few screenshots, and not, you know, playing the VN.

Meanwhile, the graphics for the anime are mediocre at best. The detail work in the anime falls apart the moment you give it the slightest bit of scrutiny. The character designs are adequate, but I fail to see how on Earth you could use the phrase "glorious florish". The lack of CG is nice, but the effects themselves are nothing to write home about. I'll also note that when you were discussing the character designs, you didn't comment on the copious amount of fanservice- practically EVERY CHARACTER in the series is well-endowed except Bernkastel. Even Ryukishi07, a man partial to fanservice himself, didn't go that far. 

And I don't see how on Earth you could consider Studio Deen cribbing from Higurashi's effects a positive. In fact, the stealing of effects seems almost random. WHY does Maria have Higurashi eyes? Aside from being creepy, she has absolutely nothing in common with the sufferers of Hinamizawa Syndrome. The two series themselves are completely different. It just felt like Studio Deen executives said- "Well, this effect worked for Higurashi, let's add it to our show!"

The music was fine. Not great, but it worked. I'll agree with that part of your review, although overall I didn't particularly like the VAs except for Kanon's seiyuu.

Now for the crux of your review- the plot and characterization. Let's start with the plot: If you have to utilize an outside source to figure out what is going on in a story, that story has failed. An important part of writing is the ability to inform the reader/viewer what is happening, and Umineko's writer failed to do so spectacularly. I actually think that part of the problem is that Deen underestimated how long Umineko would need to be in order to be successful- they thought that since Higurashi required a 26 episode series, Umineko would too. But there are so many more factors, characters, and complicated plot developments in Umineko, that a 26 episode series just doesn't work.

That said, I am glad that you are interested in viewing the Visual Novel series after watching the anime, because it truly is marvelous. If Umineko could succeed in one respect, I'm glad that it could be that one.

And now the characters. It feels like you don't put enough emphasis on the fact that aside from Battler, Beatrice, Ange, and Eva (I think there's a character I'm missing in there, but they slip my mind at the moment), none of the characters are given any depth. And Ange doesn't appear until relatively late in the series. You barely even mention it, when as a murder mystery, you need to care about the victims. The entire story revolves around Rokkenjima and the murders that occur there- yet the characters tend to be so flat that you can almost not care about the people being slaughtered. And if you can't care about the people being slaughtered, how can you get yourself invested in Battler and Beato's logic battle?

I am actually interested in what you liked about Battler. Why he grew on you. Because personally, I found him just as annoying at the end of the series as at the beginning. Sure, he had one or two clever lines cribbed from the VN, but overall, I didn't find him particularly endearing- and I think this is because of the massive plot hole that you didn't mention.

There are two things that Battler denies- that magic doesn't exist, and that the Rokkenjima murders were committed by a human, instead of the Golden Witch Beatrice. The problem is that he immediately gets caught in a logic loop, and never really gets out of it. "I deny that the murderer is one of the 18 guests on Rokkenjima, because that would mean that one of my loved ones is a killer. That means that there's a 19th person. However, the only 19th person that would logically be present on the island is Beatrice, which I deny because the Golden Witch could not have committed these murders. Thus the murderer has to have been one of the 18 guests, but I deny that..." And so on.

Finally, you have the issue of Battler denying magic. That requires such a massive amount of cognitive dissonance that I'm shocked his brain didn't explode. After the Rokkenjima murders, at times, Battler's consciousness is separated from his body at will. Beatrice can make Red Text that makes absolute truths appear out of nowhere. Beatrice can summon demons to do her bidding. Beatrice is able to create an endless time loop. Yet, unlike in the VN, Battler doesn't even note how rediculous this is. In the VN, he switches his argument to: Magic was not responsible for the ROKKENJIMA MURDERS, a far more reasonable argument that doesn't make him seem completely irrational.

I may seem far more angry than I mean to in this comment, and for that I apologize. However, it feels like in this review you gloss over several flaws in the series, over emphasize the positives, and make assertions that you don't really support clearly enough. I would love to discuss this matter with you.

default avatar Doggiedoodle
Sep 11, 2011

I absolutely hated Umineko. Don't get me wrong, I adore its predecessor Higurashi When They Cry. However, Umineko was total crap. I completely loathed Battler, because he was such an idiot. He refused to believe in magic, and that the villainess Beatrice was a witch, even though he watches his family members get murdered repeatedly. I also hated this show, because the characters hardly had any development. The only three that I remembered that at least had some development, was Battler, Beatrice, and Maria. I also personally believed that the anime would've done better if the family members psychologically murdered each other for the endless sums of gold. And I also believe that all the magic and witches didn't contribute anything grand to the plot, and seemed to be there only for addition. That, and how they potray the women characters is heinous. But I do love the show's songs. The song Katayoku no Tori, in my opinion, is the most powerful opening theme in any anime. And the character Beatrice is also a very good antagonist. She's number two in my Top 11 Greatest Anime Villains list. But this show wasn't worth the watch. Therefore, I give this show 1.5/5. Do... not... watch... it.

default avatar mcglothern
Mar 21, 2011

while it is true the japanese don't have a tr sound in their language, there was a point in the story where characters finally just neded up calling her "be-a-to", which was a little less obnoxious.  perhaps they should have just said "be-a-to-ri-su".  It didn't bug me as much as I can tell it bugged the author of this article though

SadisticTendencies avatar SadisticTendencies
Mar 18, 2011

Does anyone know when the Manga will get a release in the UK or U.S?

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