Umineko no Naku Koro Ni – First move : Mid-game Critique

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Like it or not, Umineko is presenting as the successor of the popular horror-mystery When they cry.  I think that can be one the biggest problem for me as When Seagulls cry isn’t fully presenting itself as neither of them right now.  For one thing is obvious that the horror factor in the new series was vastly toned down but that isn’t all. Currently, the plot that Umineko is following isn’t exactly what I was expecting from a Higurashi successor. Sure, we have murders, mysteries, and time loops but Umineko is lacking some things that made me love Higurashi. Not that I don’t like Umineko but I think that I’ll like it even more if certain things were better done. Here is a list of five things that Umineko tv lacks or needs to work on in my opinion:

1) Element of surprise:

We all know that the eerie atmosphere that Higurashi had was crucial to the show. It was so creepy at times that T\the most simple things in the show made me feel that there was always someone with a secret agenda in Hinamizawa. This murderously intent that we perceived in every passing moment made Higurashi an intense anime to watch each week. We didn’t know who or when but someone was going to get killed. It may be an underground, in plain sight, at your friend’s house or in front of your eyes but I was sure that someone is going to get brutally murdered.  It shocked me. It surprised. It’s like I had this thread in front of us with holes for my eyes. I could see what was happening in front of us but I couldn’t see to the sides. It’s this very state of uncertainty where Higurashi selling point was.We just do not know what is happening or what is going to. I want Umineko to show me a bit more of that Higurashi experience. I don’t want to see the show reduced to just a showdown between Battler and Beatrice where the rest are just there fill the rest of the twenty five minutes. It needs more twists.

2) Impact:

In Umineko there is someone in control of everything and even that very someone’s identity is fully revealed to us as Beatrice the golden witch. In Umineko, all the killings are credited to her and her minions who with the help of magic are able to commit the crimes. Regrettably, I found that a great majority of the deaths weren’t as shocking as I thought they were going because most of the victims die rather quick (magic) compared to those in Umineko’s sadistic older brother Higurashi. Lastly, the impact of the deaths were further reduced by how little attached I feel to some characters. See character development.

3) Horror:

Without a doubt Umineko’s horror is different than Higurashi too. Unquestionably, the killings in Higurashi were one the biggest highlights of the show. They were cruel, brutal, and sometimes well orchestrated and others just out of rage. It was intriguing and creepy to see that everyone in Hinamizawa could become a deranged criminal under extreme stress or other certain circumstances. No one could predict what was going to happen in the show even after so many arcs. That’s something I really liked about the Higurashi. It managed to always leave me in complete awe. Regrettably, the horror is noticeably toned down in Umineko, in great part because Umineko is more mystery oriented.

This time around there aren’t mentally deranged underage kids running amok butchering people up, instead the killings are committed using “magic”. What I’ve also noticed that a big number of the deaths in Umineko have felt hollow for two reasons. The first reason is that meta-Battler is the only who is able to witness and remembers everything that takes place so for everyone what happens is irrelevant since they aren’t aware of their situation. The second reason is that since Beatrice can do as she wishes she can resurrect everyone as many times as she wants. I think in a way that that god-like position of hers greatly cheapens their deaths since as long as they keep the game going everything will repeat again no matter what. I suppose that must be the real reason why we cannot have more Higurashi seasons. Not only because we have already solved the mystery behind the killings and the time loops but because the show would become too predictable sooner or later. Wasn’t that REI’s main premise?  If we mess up this time, there won’t be a next time”? The way I see it as long Beatrice allows it there will always be a next time. They should put some restrictions on the numbers of times that Battler can fail and, of course, a great punishment if he doesn’t like succeed like permanently “removing a character from play” (dead for real).

4) Character development:

That’s one department that Umineko really needs to work on. Let’s take Shannon x George and Kannon x Jessica for example. It maybe just me but I don’t find any of these couples stories interesting. The second arc spent so much time on their stories to have a fairly weak ending in the end. Even in the first game where George and Shannon’s relationship was better explored I never felt that their stories was interesting enough. In a great part I think that this is because I feel that the  anime could focus on other more interesting characters seeing that there are just so many in Umineko.

Another example of how the anime lost some impact: Let’s take Gohda,  an opportunistic guy who sees the other servants as obstacles to gain the favor of the masters. The sound novel made Gohda to be a detestable character and it did just that. I hated him. The anime on the other hand never bothered to animate any of the parts where he is a jerk to Shannon or the others if they did it was fairly forgettable. In conclusion, he became just another servant without real character who suffered a bad fate at the hands of the witch.

Similarly, I was very saddened to see Natsuhi’s screen time got cut off so badly in the first arc. Natsuhi was my favorite character of Umineko in the first game and it greatly angered me that Studio DEEN did not make her proper justice.  In the game, Eva hated Natsuhi with a passion; I could even feel the tension between them. Once again this wasn’t very much explored in the anime.

Although not all of them are crucial main characters (don’t quote me on that), they are a clear example of how little and not so little things in the game can give you a different experience compared to the anime. I know that the cast of Umineko is without a doubt larger than Higurashi’s but it’ll be nice if the anime reachs a fair balance because that is currently proving to be one of the weakest points of the anime version right now.

What I did like to see was that in latest episodes characters such as Battler, Maria and Rosa has undergo a bit of a transformation for the best. Still, I have to wonder how all of this will turn out considering that everything resets and they all forget what happens to them in each arc?  How crucial are the character developments going to be to the story when they only have five or so episodes to live?

5) The mystery

As much as I like mysteries and playing detective, sometimes Umineko’s premise isn’t completely as captivating as I wanted it to. Beatrice’s objective is to make Battler accept her existence by rending him unable to explain how the murders were committed. I understand Battler’s point that magic might not exist and that the murders could have been done by someone else. I get his point since in the first arcs we do not see who and how exactly the murders are done. Although, it was hard to explain how Beatrice (or someone else) did it, there was a still a possibility that someone could’ve done them without using magic. Nevertheless, that possibility almost completely disappears in the second arc where we witnessed exactly how the killings are done and who the culprit is so what gives?

Moreover, I’m having even greater problems following Battler’s reasoning. Sometimes he makes sense and sometimes his thinking seems just flawed. How does he explain the meta-world, people coming back to life, Beatrice’s magic, and a bunch of things that are normally impossible otherwise? So far he’s been only denying everything without actually coming up with a real objection. It just seems easier to prove how Battler could be wrong than to how he might be right. How is Battler supposed to prove that something that does exist doesn’t? I mean.. I’m looking right at it with my very two eyes.

The way I’m seeing it right now is that if you deny the existence of something then you must accept the possibility something else. It seems to me that Battler wants to take the easy way out by denying the possibility that magic didn’t do it and that no family member did it either. Who could have done it then? Battler doesn’t know it either. We certainly saw the witch killed the family members with magic and the rest didn’t just committed suicide in both arcs. Yes, I know that’s the idea, but everything seems so absolute that is almost too difficult to imagine that Battler might be actually wright about that. I mean right.

Like I said before, there are many characters and events that haven’t been introduced and events that we haven’t seen yet so everything is subject to change. I know it’s too early to post a real critique on Umineko I have no intentions of doing that right now but I figured that it was time to get some things out of the way right now anyway. Reason why? I decided to write something  because it was bothering me is that it is after 11 episodes Umineko is finally starting to really show some of that Higurashi experience that I’ve grown so accustomed to.

I’d also like to see Studio Deen try harder to make the anime version as closer to the original source as possible. I understand that since Umineko might be trickier than Higurashi, the studio might be having troubles animating it right. Still I’m sure it isn’t impossible to make it work. I, for one, would like to see Umineko step up its game.  It goes without saying that I’m expecting the next arcs to provide us with new developments as well as memorable scenes that will keep us on the edge of our seats. As stated by Bernaskel, the first two games were too one-sided and there weren’t many risks that Beatrice had to take. Lastly, I’m expecting Umineko TV to reach a balance or a formula that will impress us until the very end. As mentioned before I’d like to them to step up the game and take it to even higher stakes. As a Higurashi fan I expect that Studio Deen will be able to accomplish that in the end.

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6 thoughts on “Umineko no Naku Koro Ni – First move : Mid-game Critique

  1. I take that you play the game but not yet finish the whole 4 Episodes of the games yet.

    To be blunt, I don’t think comparing Umineko with Higurashi is ok. Sure, they share the same title “When they cry” but Umineko is definitely not successor to Higurashi. It’s more like they share the same universe, as in the case of Kara no Kyoukai, Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night. The premise of the stories are different. Higurashi is more about trust, friendship, and breaking free of fate.

    Umineko, on the other hand, is a challenge from the author directly to us, readers or viewers. Horror is not the main element here, it’s more about can you really believe that it is human that did the crime until the end. I don’t know that you have read the author’s note about the story yet, but let me quote it here (translated by Witch-hunt, taken from this url:http://witch-hunt.com/hist.html):

    The genre of this work is probably a serial murder mystery.

    However, that does not guarantee that reasoning and guesswork are possible.

    Those who enjoy stupid puzzles that are made to be solved can leave now.

    Umineko no Naku Koro ni is the worst kind of tale, created without any intention of letting all of you solve it.

    However, to all of the worst kinds of people, who hear that and just want to challenge it more, welcome.

    I am myself sending out this tale to make these worst kinds of people surrender.

    No matter what kinds of strange events occur, all of you will try to explain it with humans and tricks, and deny all mysteries, as the worst kind of human supremacists.

    Please, try to explain each one of the many baffling cases with humans and tricks as best you can.

    I want to see how far I can penetrate everyone’s human supremacy.

    The culprit is a witch. All alibis and tricks are magic.
    This is not a mystery, but fantasy!

    I want to see you surrender and say that while crying bitter tears.

    I do not expect a line of reasoning leading to the truth to appear.

    I want to find out just how many people can deny the witch until the very end and maintain a ‘human culprit theory’.

    In short, this is a tale of a battle between humans and witches.

    Serial Murder Illusions, “Umineko no Naku koro ni”

    This is a sound novel without choices, where you search for the truth yourself.
    Is guesswork possible, or impossible?
    Will you surrender to the witch, or stand up and face her?
    How you enjoy it is up to you.

    So I think it’s up to us to take on the challenge or not. And we still only finish the second game board, we still have two more to go. We only scratch at the surface of the mystery, and still have a lot of time to develop other characters. And for Battler, he dose not even know the rule or how to fight yet. He maybe stubborn, but can we really say what we see is “truth”. Only time can tell.

    And yeah, I agree that anime could do a better job. However, considering that they have a very limit time and maybe budget too, it’s quite hard to adapt the VN this massive into anime. Well, if we want a better one, we may need to fund it…

    • I opted for watching the anime after my laptop where I had the game installed died and my desktop still had trouble installing the game (AppLocale isn’t doing the trick). So you’re right I’m basing my critique on the anime version. I do plan to get back in the game once I figure out how the fix the problem. Watching the anime made me play the game even more.

      Playing the first game gave me a rough idea of how different the anime and the game were so I’m glad that I picked up the game. It was shocking to see how fast paced the first arc was compared to the game but I suppose that they do need to cut several scenes to fit everything in those 25 minutes. Still, I always feel that the anime episodes should go longer than they do, like 10 or 15 minutes longer but I guess that isn’t possible after all. I don’t see regular shows go over 25m unless they’re OVAs.

      It’s hard not to compare it Higurahi when I see 07th Expansion and horror I think of Higurashi even though I know I shouldn’t. I’m sure that this is true to some others too seeing how powerful and memorable the show was. I do get what Umineko is trying to do here though. Thanks for the Ryukishi07’s quote, I never read it before. It answers a few questions. I liked this part of the quote:

      “However, that does not guarantee that reasoning and guesswork are possible.
      Those who enjoy stupid puzzles that are made to be solved can leave now.
      Umineko no Naku Koro ni is the worst kind of tale, created without any intention of letting all of you solve it. However, to all of the worst kinds of people, who hear that and just want to challenge it more, welcome.”

      I find the part where he says that it isn’t a mystery but fantasy intriguing. Also the part where he says that he does not expect a line of reasoning leading to the truth to appear but rather how many people can deny the witch until the very end and maintain a ‘human culprit theory’.

      Like the author mentioned I’d like to think that the criminal is human after all but the way it is portrayed says otherwise… I think I might be about to lose the game according to Ryukishi07 thinking this way.

      I’m sure that Umineko will grow on me even more in the next arcs, after all there is no doubt that Ryukishi07 is a genius. So I’ll be having plenty of fun attempting to figure out this new big mystery that 07th Expansion is bringing us.

  2. When you say that “all the killings are commited using magic” you already surrendered to the Golden Witch! I think that all of the magical battles, the goat-butlers, the Stakes etc. are supposed to be allegoric.
    The “unreliable narrator” technique was already used in Higurashi. Remember when Keiichi thought that Rena and Mion were assaulting him with a syringe?
    Early in Higurashi the deaths were supposed to be due to the curse of Oyashiro-sama. Only during the answer arcs we discovered that they were all the work of Takano and her minions.
    I think Umineko is similar. The supernatural exists (Hanyuu in Higurashi, Beato in Umineko) but it is NOT the culprit of the murders.

    • I accept that not all the murders should be credited to the witch because I’m not so sure about the first group of deaths who were killed in the closed room (shed, chapel) since someone else could’ve done it. I don’t know how but it’s still possible that it wasn’t Beatrice nonetheless.

      Hmm, I see the first group of deaths to something equivalent to the ones in Watanagashi. Let’s see we have 2 groups of deaths in the first two arcs with a few variations. I don’t know about this third arc. Err… someone is faking his/her death. Who knows? I’m not about to discard that theory.

      I’m curios what kind of tricks Beatrice (someone else) used to fool us into believing such things. Higurashi used the Hinamizawa syndrome and paranoia to distort everything in the show. It was always hard to tell what was real and not. Maybe something similar to that is happening in Umineko? That would mean that most of the cast would be under a spell or something. I suppose the witches are the only ones who know the real truth if there is one.

  3. I agree with most points here, personally I think two of the ideas presented are the core of what makes the show less than great for me: non-engaging characters and character drama, and poorly presented story. I’ve thought a couple times about dropping the series, but the opening is so damn good I keep watching!

    Anyway, let me just say that (spoilers below) the story is one of the major issues for me. I mean, I think we are headed somewhere cool – its just how we are getting there sucks. This is how I see it:

    1 – The first arc presents itself as a mystery but contains some unknown element of magic. The element of magic basically prevents it from being a mystery, because you can’t even attempt to solve it at all.

    2 – Beato appears and Battler challenges her existence. Now I thought we would be getting somewhere, but uh, Battler never makes any real attacks and eventually submits.

    3 – Bernie appears to ‘watch’, though we all aren’t surprised when she decides to interfere. Battler is renewed after watching whats-her-name resist Beato, and now we start again with Witch vs. Witch through Battler.

    Ok, so finally, if its the Witch of Impossibilities (or whatever) Bernie and Beato the Endless Witch throwing down through Battler and the situation – this might get interesting in a way thats actually watchable. Its just we took a long time to get here and I bet we lost a lot of viewer along the way who weren’t as mesmerized by the OP as me.

    • Don’t drop it! :( I’ve also seen a few people not show much interesting for Umineko either after the first arc. I think the theme of the story works great in the game but not so great in the anime. Like you mentioned it also bugged me that although we’re heading somewhere cool it does kinda suck how we’re getting there.

      Some may appreciate it and others will walk away after seeing that it isn’t exactly what they were expecting. Summer 09 was full of good shows (imo) so I suppose that some might’ve dropped Umineko and go watch something else they found more fast-paced and appealing to them instead. Then there’s the believe that anime version cannot be as good as the game, which is partly true because in most cases what the author tries to create cannot be fully explained in the limited time the anime has. Personally, as long as it is 07Th Expansion, I think that it is worth my time. From here on I expect Umi to get even better and fix all the things that it is lacking. Btw, the new OP is even better :D

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