Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch Volume 1
Tokyo, 1998. Twelve years ago, Ange Ushiromiya's family was killed in the “incident” on Rokkenjima, leaving her with only her mad Aunt Eva as a guardian. Bullied in school and tormented by Eva, Ange has never really accepted any of the answers people offered her about the deaths of her family. Now eighteen, Ange is ready to find out the truth – whether that has to do with witches, humans, or anything in between. So as the game between Battler and Beatrice begins anew, Battler has someone new on his side...even if he doesn't know who she is.
Warning: If you haven't read the previous volume of Umineko, you will find a major spoiler in this review!
Alliance of the Golden Witch, the fourth arc in Ryukishi07's Umineko: When They Cry mystery/horror series, is markedly different from its predecessors. The largest indicator of this is that it begins by picking up where the previous arc, Banquet of the Golden Witch, left off – in 1998, twelve years after the events of all the other Umineko arcs. In the end of the last arc, we learned of the existence of Battler Ushiromiya's younger sister Ange, who was left at home because she was sick. The result is that one more member of the family besides Eva (survivor the previous game) remained alive in the third iteration. But what can Ange do about 1986 from 1998? The answer, of course, must involve witches.
Most of the volume is about Ange and what brings her to the point where we met her in series volume six. In some ways, this is the saddest book in the series thus far. Previous to being orphaned, Ange enjoyed a very happy family life, something we know to be untrue of most Ushiromiya family groups. She loved her parents, was secure in their love for her, and absolutely adored her much older brother Battler. He didn't come by all that frequently, but it was clear that their bond was strong. To lose all of that – and to know that had she not been ill, she too would have died – makes Ange into a very lonely character. That she is abused (verbally, if not physically) by her aunt Eva and by her classmates as well makes the situation worse.
It is this mistreatment that gives Ryukishi07 an opening to introduce the theme of magic and witches again – as well as the possibility that both are simply made up fantasies for those who cannot cope with their real lives. One of the artifacts recovered from Rokkenjima was Maria's diary, which was given to Ange. In it Maria recorded her thoughts on magic and her supposed adventures and powers as a witch. To lonely, desperate Ange, it feels as though reading the diary allows her to communicate with Maria, who teaches her how to use her own innate magical powers. Now, we can certainly take this at face value and assume that Maria was, in fact, a witch who learned her skills from Golden Beatrice. But we can also look at it another way – what if Ange is so broken by her situation that she will seek solace from whatever she can find? She misses her family, so she imagines that Maria is talking to her as she reads the diary. She desperately wants the power to change the past, so she pretends that she has that ability. There are hints and clues to support both theories in the book. We are told that we tend to find facts to support what we want to believe in, so this equal distribution of potential answers seems to be deliberate. Happily it is not presented as a form of authorial trolling, and one hopes that Ryukishi07 is finished with that particular bit of obnoxiousness. Of course, that could just be what I want to believe and the answer could also be that the information is not being given by Beatrice...
Beatrice herself, along with Battler, does not put in an appearance until the book is almost done, making most of this volume set up for the fourth game. (This no doubt explains why this arc has three omnibus volumes instead of the usual two.) This gives the book a fresh feeling, as it does not simply rehash the previous story with some new twists and information, something that is a nice bit of mixing things up and may revive flagging interest. Ange's story serves as a glimpse of a “bad ending,” and the reappearance of Berkastel reinforces this idea, as does the presence of a character from the Higurashi: When They Cry world, Okonogi. This also indicates an interesting tie between the two that may bear keeping an eye on.
The art for this arc is provided by Soichiro, who also illustrates Ryukishi07's Rose Guns Days. His (?) art is clear and pleasant, and while we don't really get a feel for how he will draw horror, his treatment of Ange's creepy maternal aunt shows a deft touch with the distorted faces that are de rigeur in this series. Skirts tend towards the unrealistically short, but otherwise the art looks good. The color images are really quite beautiful, and it is too bad that all of the splash pages couldn't have been reproduced in color, as they look to be very striking.
Alliance of the Golden Witch's first volume spends a lot of time setting things up for the books to come. Ange, which as you may know means “angel” in French, is a worthy foe for Beatrice with her stoic determination and stock of anger. It will be interesting to see how she helps Battler in his game as she tries to find a better world for the both of them. And she might be able to do it – after all, who better than an angel to fight the devil's proof?
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ New format livens things up, Ange's interactions with Maria can be interpreted in two distinct ways. Attractive art, Dante references continue to be interesting.
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