Umineko – Legend of the Golden Witch – Conclusion

Is like ten lines of “SQUEEEEEEEE” not an appropriate conclusion post? No? Damn.

I think at this point it’s probably useful to think of Umineko relative to Higurashi, considering we’re at the beginning and I thought it was pretty clear R07 wrote this with a reader who’d just come from Higurashi in mind.

 

There’s a few really interesting way Umineko differs from Higurashi right off the bat, some of which I’ve touched on before and some of which I haven’t, so let’s look at the major points all in one fell swoop:

1. Umineko has a massive main cast

Higurashi’s story really revolved around a small number of people — the four girls, Keiichi, and Takano –with a smattering of side characters, many of whom didn’t even get sprites. But Umineko immediately introduced a cast of 18 people — soon at least 20, if we include Bernkastel — all of whom feel like major characters. I was kind of worried about this going in, both because I thought it might be hard for me to keep track, and because I definitely worry about any author keeping track of a cast this large. But I was worrying for nothing, because I felt like I got to know everyone personally very quickly, and that’s a credit to how well the writing keeps track of everyone. (You can actually see me slowly move away from nicknames to help me know everyone, to their real names, and then back to more familiar nicknames, throughout the posts.) It’s so easy to feel like someone is truly extraneous in a story that’s this crowded, but the brilliance of Umineko’s characterization is that everyone immediately served a purpose. This is also important from a technical standpoint, as it ensures no one violates Conservation of Characters and becomes unduly suspicious as a result. The whodunit nature of Umineko means that not paying attention to Conservation could be fatal, but here everyone is accounted for.

2. Umineko is a closed room

Umineko’s larger thesis as a mystery seems to be, “How can a killer escape from a locked room?” and putting aside the question of magic, this is very different from Higurashi, which was focused on a variety of settings across a large geographic area, and in which the theme of a village coming together was critical. Umineko’s scale is both smaller and larger — smaller because it takes place in one, isolated space, but larger because that means the space is scrutinized much more closely. Higurashi also has a lot of extra scenes and throwaway details. Umineko, at least so far, is very tight.

3. Higurashi was about an idyllic setting being destroyed

The central premise of Higurashi was, “What if there’s something sinister lurking being an idyllic setting full of happy people?” A huge part of the character conflict came from not wanting to believe that these happy, seemingly innocent character we loved could be the cause of horrible things. Umineko is the complete and utter opposite. Right off the bat, the setting is a ticking time bomb populated by awful people who hate each other, and the tension comes from seeing how it’s going to explode, because that it is is inevitable.

4. Umineko lays its supernatural cards on the table

One of the huge questions throughout at least the first 6 arcs of Higurashi was: are ghosts real? Are there supernatural elements here, or can it all be explained? Higurashi held its cards to its chest for as long as possible, and a huge component of the mystery was just how willing the reader was to believe it was all paranormal. Umineko, on the other hand, tells us by the end of the first route: Beatrice is real, she’s watching, and she’s powerful. The question then becomes just how involved she is, but we see her butterflies multiple times, Battler and Maria see her in person at the end of the route, and then we chat with her and Bernkastel in the wrapup. There is a witch called Beatrice. Higurashi asked, “Is there something supernatural going on?” Umineko asks, “Knowing there’s something supernatural, what’s going on?”

5. Umineko is a more traditional mystery

One really interesting thing about Umineko so far is that it very purposefully wants the reader to know certain things and draw certain conclusions, and then move forward from there. It doesn’t want you getting caught up on minor hints and solutions. In this way, it’s a much more traditional mystery story than Higurashi. This ‘catching up’ where the protagonist sits down and says ‘here’s what we know and what it likely means’ is also very Christie. This kind of thing was absent in Higurashi, which had a more horror atmosphere of knowing nothing than Umineko.

I think that covers the big ones, though I know that as soon as this goes live I’ll realize more that I wanted to bring up.

I think one of the most fascinating things about Umineko so far has been how it plays on expectations. This is a very different kind of story than Higurashi, but it’s also very similar in a lot of ways (playing the timeline over and over to reveal more each time; a small, isolated community fraught with superstition; young children who know more than they let on; Bernkastel; etc.). It’s just similar enough that when it deviates, it throws the balance of things a little bit, and this is frankly brilliant. I think having not done Higurashi first would produce a very different Umineko experience, and likely for the worse, because a big part of the thrill here is on the meta level.

Umineko also isn’t hiding that it’s a big homage to Agatha Christie, particularly And Then There Were None, which you should go read if you haven’t yet because it will be talked about a lot in this LP, I imagine. This puts everything that happens in an extra light, where you’re mulling over the question of mistaken identity even when technically there’s no real reason for it, because this parallels are so clear.

When Higurashi turned to the camera and asked the reader to literally put the pieces together, I said it was one of the most brilliant integrations of fourth wall and story I’d ever seen, which is true. But this takes things a step further, and plays not just on the reader’s experiences, but the reader’s assumed knowledge of completely different stories, which is phenomenal. These aren’t just allusions to other works; Umineko seems to have been purposefully designed to be consumed in a unique way by readers who come to it having done their R07 homework. It’s assuming a kind of genre-savviness in the reader I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I’ve talked a bit in the past about how self-reference is a huge genre convention in detective fiction, but this takes it a step further, making the self-reference an integral part of the setup.

All this means in the long run, though, is — paradoxically — that the expectations we’re assumed to carry and the knowledge we’re assumed to have are actually worthless in the long run, because the very fact that R07 knows we likely have these expectations means the story has to deviate wildly from them. In a way, knowing the basis on which the story was written means it’s going to be more shocking where it goes than knowing nothing about it. Which is insane.

And just in case you’re for some reason still being lazy about reading And Then There Were None, here’s a handy PDF for you. If you don’t want to play Higurashi (like a LOSER), there’s a LP here.

I also found it interesting to read The Inugami Clan by Seishi Yokomizu (basically Japan’s Christie), as R07 cited Yokomizu as a major influence for Higurashi. Unfortunately Yokomizu’s The Honjin Murder Case, his premier work and a locked-room mystery, was never translated.

And for another fun take on And Then There Were None, check out The Last Word, a little rpgmaker game.

And with that, we close out the first route of Umineko. There won’t be any break between routes — we dive right back in next week. Enjoy.

26 Comments

  1. illhousen says:

    You forgot the most important difference: unlike Keiichi, Battler has sprites.

    Also, on unrelated note, did you try to “execute” Beatrice in tips? It produces a funny message.




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  2. Hey, my second favorite thing to see. Let’s go at it without spoilers:

    1. Umineko has a massive main cast

    ahaha.wav

    2. Umineko is a closed room

    It’s a true mystery, complete with clues and herrings, that becomes completely solvable at some point. All the hows and whos and whys can be found out by reasoning before the ending.

    3. Higurashi was about an idyllic setting being destroyed

    And Rokkenjima should be idyllic too. A giant mansion filled with servants on a private island owned by filthy rich dudes is supposed to be a place of luxury and happiness for richie rich. The moral of the story is obviously not be rich if you wanna be happy.

    4. Umineko lays its supernatural cards on the table

    I had a whole bunch of things to say about this but then decided to ahaha.wav instead.

    5. Umineko is a more traditional mystery

    You could plonk one of the famed detectives (Sherlock, Poirot, etc) into this story as a guest/visitor and they’d fit right in (maybe even stopping the everybody dies ending too). R07 did his homework well.

    because a big part of the thrill here is on the meta level.

    ahaha.wav

    All this means in the long run, though, is — paradoxically — that the expectations we’re assumed to carry and the knowledge we’re assumed to have are actually worthless in the long run, because the very fact that R07 knows we likely have these expectations means the story has to deviate wildly from them.

    Though you can’t yet know for sure that the solution isn’t identical to And Then There Were None, which would be one of the biggest possible twists because seacats’s so obviously cribbing from it and the avid mystery reader would never expect that to happen. OTOH a reader savvy not just in mysteries but also modern and/or postmodern literary weirdness can totally see that happening, in which case not doing it can become just as big a twist if R07 pretends to do it at first.

    And Then They All Went Cross Eyed




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    1. illhousen says:

      1. Umineko has a massive main cast

      ahaha.wav

      This is funny in at least two separate ways.




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  3. Keltena says:

    Is like ten lines of “SQUEEEEEEEE” not an appropriate conclusion post?

    In this case it totally is. But then we wouldn’t have gotten all the rest of this analysis, so I appreciate the restraint. :D

    Comparing Higurashi and Umineko never stops being fun. I’ll be interested to see what else you make of the parallels and differences between them as you get further in.

    Also, I kind of love your summary of the key similarities. “You’ve got your time loops, your creepy insular communities, small children running around knowing way too much, Bernkastel is there…” Yep, that’s When They Cry all right, give or take a couple other elements. (I wish Bernkastel would write us some seacats poems too, though. Her poems are so good!)

    Umineko, on the other hand, tells us by the end of the first route: Beatrice is real, she’s watching, and she’s powerful. The question then becomes just how involved she is

    Speaking of, you’ve mentioned this a few times now—how the real mystery isn’t whether there’s magic, but how much of it is magic. Do you have any thoughts or hunches on what the answer to that’s going to look like? Like​, are you picturing a sort of Higurashi-type setup where magic is real, but 90% of what gets attributed to it turns out to actually be people’s own damn fault? Or do you figure Beatrice obviously murdered everyone, and the more interesting question is something else?




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  4. Falconix says:
    Beatrice is real, she’s watching, and she’s powerful. The question then becomes just how involved she is

    If we are to believe Beatrice, she’s behind everything: the wicked witch come to collect an old debt, and against whom the Ushiromiyas need join forces or die.

    If we are to believe Beatrice. But she’s there (for a given value of “there” that allows a place outside the story “proper”), telling us she did it all. What sort of obstinate fool would argue with that?




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  5. Aumanor says:
    So did you check if it’s possible to make that spoilers discussion post? Cause I MIGHT really need to write a whole lot of spoilers right now. And also possibly scream.



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    1. illhousen says:

      Snape killed Kinzo.

      Vader is Battler’s real father.

      Beatrice is a sled.




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  6. Act says:

    Hey all — I originally planned to go right into the next arc (I have about 3 weeks of posts queued), but I haven’t been doing well and haven’t been able to write for a couple of weeks, so I’m going to push things out until I’m well enough to finish up this arc, since I’d rather a delay between arcs than in the middle of one. <3

    (I got discharged from outpatient at the end of August and was like FUCK YEAH EVERYTHING’S BACK TO NORMAL and it was for like two weeks until not having an entire team of doctors keeping me functioning set in…)




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    1. Socordya says:

      Thank you for the notice. Get well.




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    2. Keltena says:

      Take care of yourself! The Ushiromiyas will still be dead when you get back.




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      1. Hyatt says:
        You can’t be sure of that, they might’ve all been revived in the Golden Land. Sure, the extras say that Beatrice rescinded her invitation and killed them all, but she also said directly that she’s fickle and can bring them back endlessly.



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    3. illhousen says:

      Take care!

      I’ve heard that green fairy and black magic are good for your health. Owning your own island also helps.




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      1. CrazyEd says:
        Isn’t the green fairy and black magic literally the cause of Kinzo’s impending (and then actual) death? Are you sure you’ve been reading the same arc that we have, dude?



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        1. illhousen says:

          He still outlived most of his children, didn’t he?




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          1. CrazyEd says:
            Only because he went crazy thanks to the green fairy and killed them to fuel black magic!



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            1. Keltena says:

              Well, I for one support Act in any of her black magic endeavors. It’s not like she knows where we live.




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            2. Act says:

              I have IP addresses. I know where everyone lives.




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            3. What if we’re using proxies? Can your magic see beyond the servers?




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            4. illhousen says:

              “LONG DISTANCE SPELL BLOCKING
              Power: minor
              Effed:This effect is automatic and unconscious. Whenever someone tries to use magick on you from a great distance-ritual, channel, spell or whatever-they might target your proxy instead. The chance of them getting a targeting lock on you, and not a proxy, is equal to 100% divided by the number of proxies you’re involved with. For the purpose of this calculation, you’re considered one proxy. So if you have one proxy (plus yourself), the chance of an accurate reading is 50% (10012). If you have three proxies (plus yourself), the attempt has only a 25% chance of reading you (10014). If the roll fails, the attempt works on a random proxy connected to you instead.

              This cannot be used against spells cast in your presence. If some gutter-adept is flinging blast spells at you from across the room, your proxy won’t protect you. However, if he’s using long-distance blasts (see p. 115) then he might hit your proxy by mistake.”

              So, it helps, but doesn’t guarantee safety.




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            5. CrazyEd says:
              I have IP addresses. I know where everyone lives.

              Well, I feel significantally less awkward about knowing what your face looks like and the general details of the town in which you went to high school like a decade ago now.




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      2. Act says:

        If I’ve learned anything it’s that I need to get loaded on absinthe in order to live a long life.




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        1. SpoonyViking says:

          Aw, I was gonna make that joke, possibly with a Kylie Minogue video.




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    4. SpoonyViking says:

      I’m sorry, Act, and thanks for letting us know!




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    5. CrazyEd says:
      Hey, no big deal. We’ve got the return of Farla’s Dresden Files posts to look forward to, eh?



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