Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Jul 21st 2013
Umineko WHEN THEY CRY Episode 2: Turn of the Golden Witch
The clock has been turned back and the game board set up once again as Beatrice and Battler recommence their battle of wits. This time we begin before Battler's arrival on Rokkenjima, with Shannon's encounter with Beatrice and the witch's offer to help facilitate her love. Shannon is willing to do anything not to be seen as “furniture,” but her fellow servant Kanon isn't sure that Beatrice can be trusted. As the fateful night of the game's beginning approaches, which of the siblings will be proven right? Happy early Halloween, Ushiromiya family...
Ryukishi07 wants to challenge you. He proclaims in the afterward to the first of the three volumes collected here that 99.9% of the readers will end this arc, the series' second, by giving in to the idea that there is a supernatural force behind the murders on Rokkenjima Island. Perhaps that's true - The Turn of the Golden Witch does make Beatrice a very real-seeming and powerful force. For at least this stubborn reader, however, Ryukishi07's certainty simply serves to make every possibly magical explanation an elaborate trap, a puzzle that must be solved. With this in mind, the four hundred-plus pages that make up Yen Press' omnibus edition become an intense read, and one that mystery fans can really sink their teeth into.
We open the story some time before the arrival of Battler and the rest of the Ushiromiya clan at the ancestral manse. Shannon, one of the family maids, is happily involved with George, one of the Ushiromiya grandsons. How did such a thing come to be in the rigidly proud and archaic family? According to Shannon, she made a deal with Beatrice. As a servant, Shannon has been taught to see herself as sub-human, merely a moving, breathing piece of furniture, like a less respected Rosie the Robot. As such she does not believe that she has the right to fall in love. Beatrice, on the other hand, tells her that love is what separates furniture and humans, and that should a piece of furniture give in to love, she would become a person. There's a double enticement in her words – not only would Shannon gain the object of her affections, but she would also climb above her pathetic status. It sounds too good to be true.
As far as her brother Kanon is concerned, if it sounds too good, it likely isn't true. Kanon can also see Beatrice (not everyone can, which becomes important later), but he rejects her offer to set him up with Jessica, the grandchild who lives at the family mansion. Kanon maintains that he has no right to seek humanity and that Beatrice is working to somehow trap his sister. These opposing viewpoints of the witch's seeming kindness set up the two sides that the other characters will take as the story moves on, questioning Beatrice's very existence at the same time that others eagerly attribute every strange occurrence to her supernatural powers, with Maria and Battler leading opposing teams.
As might be expected by readers familiar with Ryukishi07's style of storytelling, this second arc gives us different viewpoints of events we read about previously. Unlike his Higurashi: When They Cry series, in this book we get the action from the point of view of multiple characters – Shannon, Kanon, Rosa, and Jessica all get the narrator's role at different moments, giving us a better grasp on parts of the story Battler is not present for. Also worth mentioning is that this arc takes a much more metafictional approach than its predecessors, at least in these early stages of the game. Battler and Beatrice both play two roles – actor and observer. It is difficult to know if the actors are aware of their counterparts in a space out of time, but it definitely adds a layer to the story and aids Ryukishi07's goal of trying to force the readers to believe in Beatrice.
Observant readers may recognize the artist, Jiro Suzuki, as the same mangaka who provided the art for the Curse Killing Arc in Higurashi. Her interpretations of the characters of Umineko When They Cry is much sweeter than her predecessor's, with Shannon looking almost winsome in many cases, and she is very good at the snake-like faces of the angry or possessed. Her Maria is far creepier than Kei Natsumi's, and the redesign Beatrice gets is striking.
Overall this new arc of the Umineko story does a lot to make us look at the story in a different light. Clan patriarch Kinzou is now a gibbering old man, obsessed by that which he cannot have, Kanon is far more bitter, and Rosa can be downright terrifying. The author's stated goal of forcing us as readers to reject the Agatha Christie-like setup of the first arc in favor of a much more fantasy based one is very much in evidence here, and one can't help but think that Ryukishi07 might have shot himself in the foot by making his intentions known, because to the stubborn or the mystery fiend, he essentially just waved a red flag in front of a bull. But then again, perhaps that's what he wanted to do. After all, it's hard to want to solve a mystery you care nothing about, and with this omnibus, we find ourselves caring a lot more about what happens, not just in terms of the story, but to the characters as well.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Multiple perspectives add interest and give some needed information, Beatrice's redesign is visually interesting. A lot to think about when it comes to solving the mystery.
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