Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 3: Banquet of the Golden Witch Volume 2
Battler and Beatrice continue to go head-to-head in the game to determine whether or not a witch is responsible for the murders on Rokkenjima. But there's a new golden witch in town, and she's making things very difficult for Beatrice. Can she be trusted to play by the rules of the game? Can Beatrice?
Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
That might be the question on readers' minds as they progress through the end of the third arc of Umineko When They Cry. The previous tome – this one is also over 600 pages – introduced us to a new iteration of the titular Golden Witch: Eva Ushiromiya's younger self, ostensibly split off from her adult incarnation and now doing her best to carry out the prophecy of the epitaph. When the volume opens, several people are already dead, including Eva's sister Rosa and her niece Maria. Eva herself (the older version, that is) is bedridden with a migraine and the rest of the family is sequestered in the guesthouse, trying to ride out the storm. Meanwhile, in an alternate dimension, Battler Ushiromiya is engaged in a game of wits with Beatrice, trying to prove that only humans could be behind the murders in both this round and in those that came before.
The main focus this time is on the witches. Young Eva is unhinged, gleefully spilling as much blood as she can and delighting in the desecration of the bodies of her victims. Even Beatrice seems put off by this, although one exchange between she and Virgilia early in the book provides a hint as to the truth behind this reaction. Battler, while not precisely on the sidelines, certainly has less to do this time around, devoting nearly all of his pages, whether in the real world or the witch world, to trying to solve the mystery. This gets particularly exciting towards the end of the volume, when he is facing off against Young Eva and working around the ever-important red truth. We get much more mileage out of it as the arc comes to a close, and for the first time it begins to feel really possible to solve the mystery in a way that does not involve magic. (Mental illness is still very much on the table, though – at the risk of pushing this reviewer's favorite comparison too far, Eva has some definite ties to Vera in And Then There Were None.) Of course, the author's assertion that he will make us believe in the witches also makes it that much more important to disbelieve in their powers; while he is not as obnoxious here as he has been, Ryukishi07's commentary still feels like trolling.
Kei Natsumi makes much more use of horror imagery this time, with distorted faces twisting and grimacing in new and horrible ways through much of the volume. The standard black face with a crescent grin is also used to good effect, and gruesome injuries are implied rather than shown for the most part, which lets our own imaginations fill in the ghastly details. Young Eva's madness is chilling, and her gleeful smiles are some of the scariest images in the book. Natsumi also excels in showing sadness, however, and anger towards the end, with a wide range of emotions easily discernible across the characters' faces and body language. There are also several full page illustrations and two page spreads that have an impressive amount of power to them, enough to make you stop and just stare for a moment. This very nearly excuses some of the more fetishy or cutesy elements, such as the new helpers Young Eva calls in to help her – their playboy bunny influence feels out of place, as does their more technological manner of killing. The latter is mostly at fault because it takes us out of 1986, an issue Ryukishi07 has had before both here and in Higurashi: When They Cry.
With this volume's conclusion, we seem to have made major progress in the overall story. The arrival of a new character (easily figured out from clues earlier in the book) shakes things up, and this person's name feels almost certainly significant in the same way that Battler's is. More about each of the adult characters is revealed, giving us a fuller picture of the Ushiromiya family, and a few red truths feel like they will have a much longer reaching impact than this arc alone. This volume is really where Umineko hits its stride, and readers who were on the fence about it before may find that they are suddenly hooked. We still may not know what the deal is with Rokkenjima and its supposed history of witches, but now we can start to formulate more possible answers as, wracked by paranoia, the characters prepare to once again live through that night in 1986.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Improved use of the red truth actually begins to feel like it's giving us answers, new character has potential. Visceral art and plenty of suspicions raised.
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