Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch Volume 3
The final night is breaking on Rokkenjima and the end stages of Beatrice's game with Battler commence. As Battler works to solve all four games' mysteries, Ange grapples with her own understanding of magic and her family history. The Golden Witch herself begins to break down in the final stages, but since she's not the only witch on the playing board, what will that mean for the game? The Alliance of the Golden Witch episode comes to a close with both questions and answers as we reach the half-way point in this adaptation of Ryukishi07's original games.
What is the difference between magic and imagination? How much belief does it take to make something real? As children many of us had imaginary friends, not unlike Maria's Sakutarou, and most of us probably had rituals that we believed would make things better or at least give us something we wanted. If we believed that they worked, that the friend invisible to other eyes was really there, who is to say that it wasn't magic? As the fourth arc, or episode, in Ryukishi07's Umineko: When They Cry comes to its conclusion, those questions are at the forefront of what is really going on on Rokkenjima, just as much as the central murder mystery itself. After all, what is real to my eyes might be a mere fantasy in yours, giving us two very different views of what the truth may be.
This omnibus volume, combining two original Japanese books, jumps between three separate time lines – Ange in 1998, Battler in 1986, and the time-out-of-time of Beatrice's game space. For the most part both story and art keep this from being too confusing, although there is a little bizarre overlap to all three. Generally the black-edged pages of the game space keep us on track, but there's a definite sense of connection between both Battlers, which can lead to a bit of an issue, particularly since he has a breakdown at one point during the story. Whether or not he has just shoved the issue aside in order to continue the game isn't entirely clear, which does make it seem like either an authorial ploy to distract us or a red herring. While I doubt strongly that it is either, treating the reveal as a not-quite throwaway moment as we race to the denouement is a clumsy move.
The rest of the book, however, is as engaging as any other well-presented murder mystery. The final chapters offer some very solid answers as to how the crimes could have been committed solely by human hands in all four episodes, and Battler's use of the Blue in opposition to Beatrice's Red Truth reaches a plateau he hasn't achieved before. That Ange, his almost literal angel (and remember, “ange” is French for “angel”), successfully motivates him to find a way to make things work is a nice difference from previous arcs, and while her ending is unfortunate, her inclusion in the story allows us to put forth new theories about what is actually going on. It is Ange's tale in a 1998 where the mysteries are never solved that helps to give credence to the “magic = imagination” theory, with her use of it stemming from her own bullying and unhappiness. When she allows herself to remember it in this volume, she uses the Seven Sisters of Purgatory to give her emotional strength – the same way she used them when she was being targeted by other girls at school and the same way many children use imaginary friends. We already saw how Maria depended upon Sakutarou as a means of emotional support when her mother essentially abandoned her; this is essentially the same thing.
Viewing magic and imagination as being, if not one and the same, than at least inextricably entwined, also allows us to wonder if perhaps the witches in the story are simply manifestations of madness. We saw Eva's witch form take the shape of herself when she first began to show anger at the world; Virgilia also bears an uncanny resemblance to Rosa at the period when she was forsaking her child. Is this a Yellow Wallpaper situation, where the insanity, temporary or otherwise, physically manifests? That would work with Bernkastel, who looks like Rika from Higurashi: When They Cry at the age when she was forced to live out the same life endlessly, and certainly has some interesting implications for the Battler reveal from this volume.
Stepping away from the story, this Umineko omnibus maintains the usual level of quality for Yen Press, although one image suffers from tight binding, making a two-page spread warp and taking away from its impact. The spine resists creases, which is always a plus, and the translation reads fluidly. Soichiro's art works well, although he has definite issues with the pelvic region, most clearly seen when he draws the barely-there bottoms of the Seven Sisters, who look as if they are put together like Barbie dolls. Gore works well enough, particularly when you consider that this is more about the mystery than the shock value of how people die; that said, one scene of someone burning to death is pretty horrific.
Umineko: When They Cry has been getting better with every arc, and with the end of episode four, it has really become difficult to put down. It would be easy to take the simple way out and believe in witches and magic, but by the end of this volume, that feels like it would be giving up. With new and looming psychological implications for the story and some honest-to-goodness answers given, this book successfully wraps up the first half of the greater story...and leaves us ready for more.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Actual answers given (including for Maria's wail), some very interesting psychological theories raise their heads. Does a good job for the most part keeping the three time lines straight. Magical girl jokes are fun.
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