Six Years of Theater-going and Theoretical Game boards : Concerning Classic Mysteries and Game boards (2nd Bottle)

more pieces that don’t make sense unless you’ve read everything up to this point.

Yes, there is matter of mysteries. What are they anyway? Who are these figures call ed detectives? What are these locked-rooms? These tricks. All of these. Though I would leave it to someone who has read dozens of them to address these topics better, I’m the only one here. As mentioned, in the beginning the long procedures aside from the solving didn’t appeal to me. Looking at things with an actual magnifying glass and wearing long coats and a pipe as advertised by the media, “this image” wasn’t my thing. It needed something else to get my attention. If not I needed to change them accordingly to what I would find interesting.

Why Solving Mysteries is Solving Problems

To deal with them as problems, logical problems to be tackled, cracked, and ultimately solved. I mention that the change from the casual problem solving wasn’t that different from mysteries. It is a problem with an answer after all. If it is a problem than it can be solved then it will be solved. I knew that before.

The thing with stressing the idea of “mystery” is that it has to be done in a certain way, follow a “proper procedure”, and such. Here, to be entirely straightforward, I did not know what proper procedure was other than whatever it might be considered common knowledge. I did not know about what secret classic techniques. All I knew was what I would personally do to solve a problem, whatever it may be by addressing the issue, possibilities, and ultimately solutions. I never believed that by reading these certain books one would immediately would become a master detective. Not that I had any formal intention of doing so. Of course, reading plenty of mysteries would facilitate this procedure. It’s the same as with any other topics. Naturally the more one reads about a certain topic the more the person is able to openly discuss it and learn from it as he picks up on details with less effort.

And so one notices that that person might have that motive, that alibi is not that strong, the time-frame isn’t correct, that trick was probably done with x-x-x-x method. “I missed that hint but in the next one I won’t” and they probably won’t, but any writer would make his or her mysteries more complicated and with a different solution the next time. It’s almost like math book problems. The difficulty varies, they can be solved, and the answer is in the last pages of the book but – “you only go that far when you haven’t found the answer yourself”.

To “The Detective” and the Idea of It

The story is strange, I mentioned previously. What I meant was that it is a story that asks the opposite of what it shows. After reading several golden age mysteries, these “detective stories”, I noticed how the setting was completely different from what Umineko, at its most positive, tried to portray. To the point that I intensely wondered what idea of “mystery” the author had in mind when he wrote it. It was surely not the same as the one I read. The mystery setting was there but the sort of compassion and emotion of it was nowhere to be seen. The one I read was intellectual but not a remotely joyous. It was playful, cynical, sneering, and a bit morbid.

– “That doesn’t sound like a good thing, does it?”

Not if they’re considered as “problems” to be solved. These mysteries are based solely on the detective acting his role, the characters are, in No Naku Koro Ni terms, game pieces of the game where other than the police officers, doctors, and characters close to the detective won’t appear again in the next story. The detective simply moves around and meets new people hardly mentioning other characters save past cases to use as reference for the current problem. That was the general pattern.

What is cynical about these classic mysteries is the world they are set in. I don’t mean it in a negative way as the term would imply, rather the intention behind them. I mean that one ought to not expect such mysteries to be moving tales in any way. Thrilling and engrossing, but not emotional. Nonetheless, I believe we’re forgetting about the most crucial part – most of these mysteries revolve around death and deception. There is little room to be happy about anything from the beginning. The detective and the police do their work, or whoever is in charge of solving the problem, does his or her thing. That is the story. That is “the world” they are set in.

The detectives of these stories are highly intelligent, perceptive, competent, detached, cynical, but with a strange sense of being constantly delighted when they shouldn’t. Perhaps they shouldn’t however that is still the case. They care about and often solely for the crimes they solve. The moments they act sociable is because of the case. They don’t needlessly provoke the suspects either. There is no need to do so in the first place anyhow. I didn’t find any of them to be profoundly touched or angered by the culprit’s doing either. That is beside the detective’s point. It’s as if claiming that none of the culprit’s actions in a way would affect the detective’s role. In actually they don’t.

The detectives are like situated in a “different plane”, perhaps this is where Umineko rings true the most in its portrayal. They are never gloomy; at best they are momentarily upset when they are distressed because they can’t put their finger on a detail. When they express grief for such tragedies they are overly-dramatic or their actions are passed as sarcastic remarks so any concerns don’t appear that real. Yet the detectives is ever so blissful and only gets overly upset over things normal people would think of as trivial.

“Don’t think you think such thing is strange? We’re talking about gruesome details, aren’t we?”

What are these figures, anyway? Maybe seeing the same scenes made them that way. Maybe they were always like that. Their curious attitude is never addressed as if they didn’t exist outside of these enigmatic solving creatures they embody. They are always quirky, difficult characters to the core. You’ll have trouble finding a detective in these stories that gets truthfully angry with a culprit because that is not his role. The sole role is to solve crimes.

The contrast between classic mysteries, this logical world, and Umineko’s world intensified ever more the more Umineko tried to illustrate emotion in a genre where originally wasn’t much to start with. Truthfully speaking, I doubt many would get along with these characters in reality. I doubt you reader would either.. Yet here we are talking about “the heart” and strong emotions based on a play that originally had little.

A Reminder that All Boards Need Pieces

In which case, a talk about the main actors is in order. One refers to the main characters of the play. They are all invaluable regardless of their rank for the story would not make sense without all of them in place. They are all necessary for the game execution. In the same way that an official game of chess cannot start without all the pieces set in place. In the same way that even in an informal one the game can drastically be changed by even a missing pawn or one of the knight pieces missing. A game needs to be started with a full set of pieces. It wouldn’t be a story without characters. Umineko is no different. It needs characters, it has characters. Many of them, in fact.

One would describe the characters as “alive”, I’d say. The characters felt alive, which is something I can’t say for all the stories I’ve read where it is difficult to think of them as more than fictional creations from the authors as a way for the story to progress. At first the idea of reading pages and pages about their actions and lives may appear dull but that is not the case for most cases. The human side is troubled by their situations, the magic side are conflicted by their omnipotence which render them miserable at the same time. All characters are powerless in their own way, trying to reach a conclusion fitting to them while others simply act the part because they are bounded by their roles.

It is the same for the magic side. As the Witch’s position is to prove she exists. They all exist in a world where no human exist and aren’t normally seen by humans. One could say they don’t exist to anyone else other than the person they meet. The furniture is the same, they exist in an alternate world regardless of what they are in reality. The witches’ dilemma is that they are part of a game whether or not they are actually playing. They can’t escape it, even if they wanted to. Even if they did they would come back to it. They’re the masters who also have to play. Once again, it is not terror Umineko delivers, it is poignant play of tragedies.

The Distrustfulness Dilemma and Uncertainties

As individuals with their very own history, bias, and preferences everyone leads different lives therefore everyone is different, no one is the same. Because one doesn’t everyone’s past one only knows what sort of person they are “now”. Likewise, one only knows who anyone is based on our interpretation of them from the moment two individuals meet until the present time.

Can anyone really say they know anybody? You know yourself because you are you. Nevertheless, you don’t know who anyone is. You know your best friend but that is because you have spent a reasonable amount of time with him or her, however you don’t know how that person life has been in the past. We know less the people we only encounter periodically. You only truly know yourself out of everyone. And many only know who they are until years later. We create the “idea” we have of others based on thoughts and judgments because that is how we function. Whether they are truthful or not is another matter.

“But isn’t it rather excessive?” One immediately retorts? It is, isn’t it? Such is the frequent case in the news one hears testimonies from the neighbors and acquaints of the culprit saying, how that person didn’t seem the type as they express their astonishment at the recent news. Not everything is as it seems. The expected result is not always what one expects. There is a chance that an event with low probability to occur and what didn’t expect, what didn’t seem to be, occurs.

Distrustfulness and uncertainties are elements that will always be present as they are concepts rooted to existing. If an individual doesn’t trust others than he’ll find them suspicious. If the individuals are not honest then he’ll do so as well. If the situation presents itself where it is possible to be suspicious of others then distrustfulness will present itself, as if it was dormant, whether the situation is true or “fiction.”

When an individual feels he or she is in danger they do everything they can to live on. There are limits, of course, of what they can and what they should do. However, many situations may escalate into tragedies without anyone wishing for it. Accidents occur. Tragedies occur. Sometimes multiple times. Sometimes over and over. Like in a time-loop one might say. Who should they trust or distrust is the question in such stories, wouldn’t one say? But it’s natural that anyone ought to be suspicious and scared. A dangerous homicidal criminal is on the loose and worse yet near them and because they don’t know “who” that person is they can’t feel safe. No, they can’t feel safe until that person they distrust is far away from them. So they separate them from the group, so they accuse them until the culprit is caught. They feel bad for doing yet they still do it regardless.

Therefore There Must be a culprit

So there must be someone responsible, such is the rule of cause and effect.

So this is the universal dilemma in all stories and whenever such uncertainties arise. Not everyone can help themselves. It is their right to be suspicious and be scared because their lives are in danger so they hurt each other so they distrust each other, so they play into the culprit’s hand. Transform that principle into a play of group of strangers or individuals who distrust each other and you have a tale of difficulties. Then There Were None is perfect example of it, Umineko and Higurashi are prime example of mass distrustfulness and doubt because of the elements in it. Despite being friends and family they distrusted each other because they never really trusted each other in the first place such as in Umineko’s case. Despite being friends they stopped trusting in each other like in Higurashi’s case. Contemplate the concept of uncertainty and distrustfulness, skepticism at its final stage due to – open problems – without solutions.

The skepticism, the recurring doubts. One comes to the inevitable conclusion that there ought to be a culprit, someone responsible, for everything that happens. That is surely the expected result one always reaches. When a light bulb is lit then someone must have pressed the switch. When something stops functioning then it was either not made properly, stopped working, or someone broke it. When an accident happens someone is at fault. If someone is responsible for an event that occurred then one needs to know who is responsible. That is why it felt so unsatisfactory when one wasn’t revealed. It made little sense from a logical standpoint.

Similar but Quite the Opposite : Concerning Mysteries, Horror, and Why They Cry

Perhaps the most gripping non-action section of Umineko is the terror. Umineko is not, as it is not its intent, but Umineko *can* be terrifying. The contrast between normal family moments and brutal scenes are properly mystically shocking to witness.

For those who experienced Higurashi first, Umineko was supposed to be as gory as Higurashi if not more. But both works turned out to be different yet also somewhat similar. Back in the day Higurashi’s world felt mad to me. It still does, actually. The way the world is wrapped, where anything happens, and it makes little sense. It is quite “raw”. Despite obvious differences between the adaptation and the original material; however, some rules still applied. Umineko is different. It tries to “make sense” of the world whereas in the former the players themselves were in most part in the dark. There is fair play between the two main players, which was near non-existent in Higurashi, at least, compared to Umineko.

In Higurashi we see a tragedy but don’t understand it. We can also do nothing about it other than to stare at it in confusion. There is no one trying to solve the mystery in the beginning. Even those who do try are killed sooner or later. Worse yet, we cannot trust their findings because of POV and the syndrome. They are all simply too close to the mystery, namely they are technically pieces inside the game board, unable to see it from a further, broader perspective that only an “outside player” can.

I believe that the true terror in Umineko comes from a deeper psychological level rather than physical one. While in Higurashi the mutilations, bizarre deaths, and insanity were the symbols of horror, in Umineko we skip to the events after the grotesque deaths launching us to the world of the pitch black unknown. What exactly happened and for what reason? Who to trust and who one shouldn’t?

You know what is really terrifying? The unexpected. The unknown. Volatile behavior. A sudden reaction that has no reason behind it whatsoever. It’s like walking down the street and a derailed train comes at you out of nowhere. It’s the idea of a stranger stabbing someone out of nowhere. It does not have to make sense because it doesn’t. It just happens. Higurashi in that respect is similar. Higurashi in a way (as the syndrome) is volatile. We witness how the culprit is slowly driven insane and the “before” so the murderer for that chapter is often clear. The reaction is still horror but it is more tangible.

Alternatively, Umineko and its theoretical culprit(s) is a different beast. It is unclear and elusive. It never directly reveals the culprit’s identity. It hides behind magic, illusions, logic, and what the reader wants to see, hear and read. It does the opposite Higurashi did, by trying to clear the suspects from guilt with counter arguments, appealing to emotions at times. Instead of a human culprit or curse one is presented the idea of a “witch”. The one pulling the string is a figure referred to as a witch who controls the gameboard, that is, the metaphorical world, a play before and after death as it repeats and the plethora of “what ifs”.

Aren’t tragedies commonly referred to as recurring incidents sometimes? A certain tragedy is a standalone experience for an individual but it is also the same for others. They happen once then repeat again as long as there is the possibility of it. If so, one deals with a “same tragedy” that “repeats” itself over a long period of time. Rokkenjima is a tragedy that can be repeated – in theory – endlessly. The horror in Umineko is rooted in the idea behind the “game”. It is supposed to be a fair play battle of wits between two – by the rules – “equal players” so eventually one tends to amuse there is a level of “civility”.

It’s a massive contrast to Higurashi where the main characters were game pieces unable to realize they were game pieces and not the main players no matter how important they were to the game board. However, Umineko soon and often drops the pretense of civility in a witch game several times. Such as when Battler loses and is brutally humiliated by the end of Turn of the Golden Witch, no matter how casual the relationship between the two seemed to appear. The spectacle is shocking the first time one reads it. By far the best two examples are End and Dawn of the Golden Witch when the brutality returns to the game, provided by the two voyagers who were in cahoots all along to see how miserably Beatrice could be disgraced in the worst possible manner because they wanted to take over that gameboard.

For me Dawn marked the true horror in Umineko because it was the highest mixture of insanity and cruelty that could be written in the series. The closed-room scene where the novice Game Master is imprisoned combines both the epitome of a locked room concept from the human mystery genre and somehow Umineko makes its own perverse version of it elevating to the witch plane. The room becomes an actual prison. The windows are locked and cannot be opened, just like in a locked-room. The lock is a chain imprisoning the person to a death that is “to be alive only in concept”, to be dead inside. The room is a tomb. The scene is horror.

The next thing one knows and realizes (if not remembers) is that witches are never to be taken lightly and death or something even worse is not a vague threat. One can only be stunned by the scene the first time one reads it. I think the “idea of fear” created in Umineko comes heavily from this. The Player (in theory) who is safe as long as he doesn’t lose unlike the game pieces that can be brutally abused endlessly in the merciless mysteries the Game Master creates. But the reality is that the player can admit defeat, lose, be tricked, can fall into a maddening logic error then.. then oblivion or a gruesome death only awaits whoever loses.

The story may seem civil at first sight but it is only because it is a “different type of horror” which is exactly why such scenes have more impact. It has its own way to present and provides the doses of horror at the drop of a hat. If one is to be metaphorical then horror-wise Umineko is a well dressed refined killer who acts well behaved to keep perfect appearances, Higurashi is like an openly dangerous one who cares not for appearances. Deep down, the both of them are not so different.

As one might imagine, the reason I mention horror is because horror is an unmistakably prominent element in 07th Expansion works which also handles remarkably psychological elements but the core and message of both stories is not it. Both search and tread a deeper philosophical path through misfortune and existing – struggling against fate and struggling to understand and be what they cannot or die miserably in the process. Such are these fragments.

Based on assumptions and expectations one expects Umineko to be like Higurashi. If so, you expect horror in some vivid graphic way. But it’s not terror it delivers, it is a poignant drama. A sort of cyclic tragedy that is referred to as existing. But this is all rather bizarre. It is quite strange, isn’t it? Cruel, cackling, giggling witches and demons coming out of every place imaginable and the reader is expected to deal with the situation like they don’t exist. To deny what is there. It asks for understanding and gentleness while it shows lack of understanding and malice. But they do exist in their stories. And there is a whole game where fates are decided. That is the game. Supernatural forces meddling, deciding people’s fates like it is a game of sorts. If this sounds contradictory is because the story has always been a huge contradiction enough to cause cognitive dissonance.

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