Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Mar 22nd 2014
Umineko WHEN THEY CRY Episode 3: Banquet of the Golden Witch
Welcome back to Rokkenjima and the Ushiromiya family gathering. This time the story looks to the past of Eva, Rosa, and Beatrice as the witch and Battler continue their game to prove how the murders could have been committed by either human or supernatural agents. Switching between the otherworld where Battler and Beatrice play and the island, Banquet of the Golden Witch gives us more information than we've ever had before in its attempt to stymie the skeptics among us.
While the previous two cycles of Ryukishi07's Umineko: When They Cry felt like a “two steps forward, one step back” situation, this third, titled “Banquet of the Golden Witch,” provides a lot of much-needed answers. Gone is the annoying condescension of the second arc; now we're getting some real information and a slew of interesting (and barely veiled) literary references and hints of mental illness that helps not only to move the story forward, but to keep our minds active as we wade through the massive tome.
One of the first things that stands out about this episode is that we spend much more time with Battler and Beatrice in their space beyond time. In some ways, this is very jarring, as it repeatedly takes us away from the actions on Rokkenjima and makes it a little difficult to keep track of how this cycle is different from the previous ones; on the other hand, given all of the clues popping up, it can serve as a signal that we need to pay better attention. While Battler remains mostly the same in terms of character – although we do see him marshal his wits as the volume goes on – Beatrice undergoes some interesting changes – both vocal and behavioral - that make us really question her relationship to Maria in the earlier arcs. This is further implied by what we learn about the so-called “golden witch” throughout the book, and how that title gets more use than we might have initially thought. This is certainly emphasized by the image on the cover and its related content in the book: that's Eva Ushiromiya and her younger self with whom she converses throughout the volume. Is Young Eva merely a part of her self that she split off due to emotional duress? Or is she an actual physical manifestation brought about by latent supernatural powers? This question lies at the crux of the mystery for this arc and brings about some related questions about Beatrice.
We see much more of the adult Ushiromiyas this time around, with (real life) Battler, Jessica, George, and Maria barely playing any part at all. As might be surmised from the cover, Eva is a major player in the volume, and she offers us a window into the tortured past of the Ushiromiya family. Anyone with an interest in gender equality will find it easy to sympathize with her, even if her later actions become much more suspect, depending upon how you choose to look at her younger manifestation. Most importantly, Eva's glimpse into the past shows us the unhealthy relationships fostered by Kinzou among his children, giving hints as to how this whole mess might have come to be in the first place. It also allows for Kyrie, Battler's step-mother, to gain more credibility as the voice of reason on the island, although perhaps that's also a cause for suspicion as well. Essentially, however, Kyrie on the island mirrors Battler in Beatrice's tearoom, maintaining her cool in the face of horror and trying to reason things out free of fear.
While it has been easy to see traces of Agatha Christie's work in previous installments of the Umineko series, this volume opens the door for other interesting literary references as well. While Christie is almost directly mentioned by the adults during a discussion, we also have a very clear line drawn between Battler and Dante in Inferno, with a new character casting herself as “Virgilia;” those who have read Dante's work will recognize this as a feminized version of the poet Virgil, who guides Dante through hell, apparently at the request of Beatrice, who will guide him through heaven. This certainly puts things in an interesting, albeit unsubtle, light, and suggests higher stakes for Battler's mental games with the witch. A more oblique reference may also be made to Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, with a location's name containing “dorian” in it and several comments made about the reflection of someone versus their reality. This could also pertain to the two Evas, which would fit nicely in with the heaven and hell theme suggested by the references to Dante.
Kei Natsumi, artist of the first arc of the series, returns as the artist for this third, and she does a fine job. There is less reliance on distorted faces, which actually increases the fear factor of the book, since only the words are scary coming out of a perfectly normal face. Younger versions of the adult characters are still recognizable for who they are, and Natsumi's light alteration of Beatrice's face can make her look either older than time or young and innocent with excellent fluidity. Anticipation is also used to good effect in the artwork, showing us the moment before something awful and then leaving the impact up to our imaginations before giving us an image of the aftermath.
With less authorial trolling and a rapid influx of information, Banquet of the Golden Witch is a much more engaging volume than its predecessor. The focus on new characters and the literary references help to keep minds engaged, and some hints at possible non-supernatural reasons for the tragedy are worth noting. The shifts between the two scenarios can be wearying and a bit confusing at times, and Ryukishi07 overdoes the science-based philosophy a bit much, but overall, this book pulls us back into the game and re-invests the reader in figuring out just who Beatrice is and just what happened in 1986 on Rokkenjima.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Literary references give some interesting potential insight, real answers seem to be coming. Focus on different characters gives new perspective. Art is good at implying.
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