Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko WHEN THEY CRY Episode 2: Turn of the Golden Witch
Battler's game with the witch Beatrice continues as the remaining members of the Ushiromiya family and their servants struggle to solve the mystery on Rokkenjima. Will Rosa's paranoia be the death of them all? Is Beatrice really a witch? And if she is, what's that old superstition about witches being aligned with the devil...?
The bodies of almost all of the adult Ushiromiyas have been found in the locked chapel, which not only leaves the highly unstable Rosa, mother of the equally unstable Maria, in charge of things since Kinzo, the patriarch, has locked himself away. Meanwhile Battler observes as well as participates in the events, locked in a battle of wits with Beatrice, the self-proclaimed golden witch. That's a lot of locking, and the word is repeated here on purpose. Beatrice, at one point in her discussion with Battler, claims that he isn't really trying to solve any “locked room” mysteries – he's only made the crimes into that because of his inability to see anything beyond his expectations.
While this second omnibus in the second cycle of Ryukishi07's mystery series Umineko When They Cry still does seem to hold the possibility of authorial trolling, Beatrice's words also serve as an interesting possibility into how the story will eventually unfold. Are the rooms all really locked, is the island really isolated, or do we only think so because of the information we have on the page before us? Certainly this iteration of the story does give us new information, mostly concerning Shannon and Kanon, two of the family servants. How that might influence whatever the eventual outcome is remains to be seen, but if nothing else it is a reminder that just because something is stated to be a certain way does not mean that it really is so.
This omnibus is a collection of three volumes, so it is fairly hefty, although the flexible spine keeps things easy in the hands. The last quarter of the book is made up of what are essentially epilogues to the actions of the rest of the book – more tea parties with Beatrice and other witches, as well as a sort of wrap-up to the main plot. Coming right after the thrill of the mystery and the horror of the conclusion, this is a definite let-down, though it does speak very well for Yen Press' decision to release Umineko in omnibus format. While these epilogues no doubt provide information that will prove important once the mysteries are all solved, they at this point simply drag down the rest of the book, which in general is not quite as absorbing as its predecessors. One major factor in this the the way that Beatrice offers little to no explanation for her actions. Granted, this is her “turn” - the cycle is titled “The Turn of the Golden Witch” - but given the length of the book, understanding more about magic blades that spring from peoples' hands or ram-headed servants would be infinitely preferable to more shots of Beatrice laughing maniacally or Rosa being crazy. Through Beatrice Ryukishi07 is trying very hard to convince both the reader and Battler that there is a real possibility of magic being the only answer to the puzzle...and that's where the sensation that we are being trolled comes in. The magical displays are almost too unexplained, too prominent for us to fully believe in them – it feels as if there is no other possibility being offered, and while once again that fits with the cycle's title, it also grows grating with too much repetition.
Jiro Suzuki remains a capable artist, at his best when doing a two-page spread of someone's hideously distorted face or a shocking moment of violence or cruelty. He has a fair hand with the stomach-churner as well, and this volume's scene of someone lovingly exploring their deep wound with their fingers in an almost sexual way is certainly enough to make you wish you hadn't eaten before reading. Rosa, Beatrice, and Maria win for the scary faces this time, although only Rosa manages to remain non-irritating during her descent into paranoid madness. Shannon is really the standout character here, both for the fact that her breasts actually fit on her frame when drawn by Suzuki, but also in terms of her strength and character development. Where we see Battler and Jessica decline from the previous arc, Shannon begins to come into her own. Whether or not this makes you more willing to believe in the possibility of magic is up to you, but when Shannon starts bringing out the metaphoric big guns, it is easier to get pulled into the possibilities.
Turn of the Golden Witch's conclusion is neither as strong nor as shocking as its predecessor, and Ryukishi07 is going to have to step up his game in the third arc if he wants to retain the sort of breathless fanbase his previous series Higurashi When They Cry inspires. This is still, however, a solid locked room mystery series with a hero determined to right the wrongs done his family no matter what the cost. If this arc isn't the strongest, well, it still is easy to get pulled into until the excessive epiloguing. Umineko's no Higurashi, but it remains an interesting mystery and the promise of an eventual solution is enough to keep us reading...for now.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Great scary faces, watching Rosa's descent into paranoid madness is fascinating. Shannon really comes into her own.
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