Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch Volume 2
Now that Battler has Gretel on his side, he feels a renewed sense of power. But Gretel – or Ange – is about to face some facts about her family that she'd just as soon not know, to say nothing of getting an offer that may make her reconsider her role in the game between Battler and Beatrice. Meanwhile the events of early October 1986 begin to play out again, but with some very significant differences that could finally give Battler the ammunition he needs.
Warning: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes.
The fourth arc of Ryukishi07's Umineko When They Cry, Alliance of the Golden Witch distinguished itself from its brethren by reminding us of the existence of Battler's younger sister Ange, who never came to Rokkenjima because she had the flu. Ange grew up without the rest of her family, barring her aunt Eva, the survivor of the third arc, and in 1998 was offered the chance to reset time so that her family returned by Frederica Bernkastel, a character from the author's previous series, Higurashi: When They Cry. That series established the idea of “world fragments,” essentially parallel dimensions where events took a different turn. Bernkastel used this to tempt Ange into helping to defeat Beatrice, promising to find her the happiest possible fragment in return. But sometimes a good thing can seem too good to be true, and that leaves room for doubt. While we don't see too much of Ange in this book, there does arise a question of hope versus despair...and Ange has lived so long with the latter that it might be easy to convince her that the former doesn't really exist. With so much emotional manipulation being utilized by the witches, it is difficult to know who is telling Ange the truth, although experience with Higurashi may lead us to think one way...and given this series, that could be our downfall as armchair detectives as well. It's frustrating, but in a good way – the way that makes you want to keep reading.
Despite that, this volume has a bit of a Slow Start. Once again Yen Press has combined two original books into a single omnibus, and it is in what would have been the latter half of the first book that we finally get back to the island in October. Before that the author spends more time establishing Ange's previous despair and Maria's miserable home life. Both are very effective and really play into a later assertion about magic that just may be the key to proving Battler right. Where does the line between the imagined and the real get drawn? And is it possible that it can be redrawn depending on the moment? If nothing else, both Ange and Maria's pasts give us pictures of a family that is clearly riddled with mental illness, from Rosa's treatment and emotions about her daughter (which are truly horrible) to how Ange copes with her social isolation. We all remember having imaginary friends who felt more real than the people around us. This arc asks us just how real they might have been and what believing in their existence could do.
Once things get back to Rokkenjima, we immediately notice that there's a much different tenor to the Ushiromiya family gathering. This time Kirie, Battler's stepmother, plays a much bigger role, and her logic helps to humanize the rest of the family. That makes for a much more aware and less self-centered group when the sacrifices begin, and the survivors work together in way we haven't really seen before. Another noticeable difference is that some of the characters are clearly aware that this isn't their first rodeo, making us question some of the relationships we took at face value before. All of the younger Ushiromiyas play a much bigger role in this book, with the main focus (once flashbacks are over) being on Jessica and George, both of whom are revealed to have greater depths than we had been aware of. Unfortunately it is very tempting to allow this to lull us into a false sense of security about what Kinzou's compatriots are capable of doing – even on our fourth arc after being shown time and time again that no one is who they seem, the story moves along in such a way as to allow us to forget. That's always a costly mistake.
Soichiro gets to show off plenty of action scenes this time, and while some are more anatomically plausible than others, there's always a real sense of motion to the images. There's also plenty of gore as we see faces half-destroyed and the occasional pile of viscera slither out of an opened torso. The artist also proves a master of the surprise double-page spread, jarring readers out of the flow of the story with the turn of a page, something that works very well with the false sense of security it is easy to fall into.
Umineko When They Cry's eighth series volume (and second in the arc) whips things back up to fever pitch by the end of the book, but it takes some time for it to get there. There's a bit of a disjointed feel with the flashbacks that we don't get when the story just jumps between the space between worlds where Battler and Beatrice play and Rokkenjima, but it does feel like we get at least one major clue in the reality versus magic question that could be central to figuring out the rest of the story. The conclusion isn't forgone, of course, but more pieces of the puzzle are slotting into place. It will definitely be an interesting ride from here on out.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ What looks like a major clue is revealed, we get a better understanding of the mental issues in the family. Jessica and George are not quite who we thought they were.
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