Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 5: End of the Golden Witch Volume 1
Beatrice has been defeated, but the game is not over yet. However, without his opponent of four cycles, Battler has lost his inclination to fight. Witches Lambdadelta and Bernkastel take over the gameboard, with the former playing for Beatrice and the latter for Battler. The two have a different play style than our previous gamers, and Bernkastel even puts a new pawn on the board. Will their game help Battler move closer to the true solution to the mystery, or will he sink into mental oblivion alongside the Golden Witch?
Episode five in Ryukishi07's Umineko: When They Cry mystery series (or perhaps “serial” would be the better term) is the first to truly move the story solidly into the realm of mysteries, specifically those written during the so-called “Golden Age” of mystery. (Roughly 1920 – 1930, although some extend it to the start of WWII.) This is mostly accomplished by shifting the focus from Battler and Beatrice's game of wits to one between Bernkastel and Lambdadelta. The two have grown tired of Battler's failure to solve the mystery of the massacre(s) on Rokkenjima, and so now are presenting the case in a different light, showing us – and Battler – different angles and explicitly stating that the mystery must conform to Ronald Knox's Ten Commandments of the genre. These are worth familiarizing yourself with before reading the book; luckily Yen Press has included them in the translation notes. This would seem to indicate that the witches themselves do not actually play a part in the mystery, as one of the rules is that there must be no supernatural solution, which says that perhaps Battler was right all along...if he can only figure out the trick of it. This goes for readers as well, since another of Knox's rules is that the reader must be presented with all necessary clues to solve the mystery themselves. This, of course, rests on Ryukishi07 living up to his end of that particular bargain.
It seems safe to say that that may be the case, however. This episode, more than the previous ones, introduces the concept of insanity as a driving factor. The character in whom we see it this time is Natsuhi, wife of the eldest Ushiromiya son, Krauss, and mother of Jessica. It has always been striking that Natsuhi seemed more devoted to the Ushiromiya family name than any of the actual Ushiromiyas, and in this episode we start to get a slight inkling of why that might be. She seems to have an obsessive personality, one which is fully absorbed in fitting in and maintaining the status quo, and this has led to her taking on a great deal of stress. She and Krauss appear to honestly love each other (something that up to this point felt like it was in some doubt), and her view of Kinzou is much rosier than any we've seen before, also doubtless contributing to her need to keep things as they should be. Towards the middle of the omnibus (this volume contains two original books) she and Krauss mention that she gets terrible headaches; this could either be indicative of the stress she's under or a sign of a much more ominous issue. One small scene towards the end seems to lean towards the latter explanation, fitting in with Bernkastel and Battler's theory of why it is that she seems to be having a conversation with Beatrice. This also, along with the indications of mental instability dotting the other volumes and episodes of the series, could lend credence to the theory that Lambdadelta jokingly puts forth at one point, a Rokkenjima Syndrome, although that's more likely just a Higurashi: When They Cry joke.
This arc, unfortunately, is not off to an especially smooth start. While the new format with the two other witches taking Beatrice and Battler's places does mix things up, it also creates a bit of a drag, and the conceit of having Battler come in partway through their game makes us viewers rather than participants in the story. There's also a jerky feel to the narration, with shifts between the island and the out-of-time world of the witches; while this is hardly new to the series, it is simply not done as well here. Also not quite succeeding is the new character introduced by Bernkastel to play a detective's role. Erika conforms to Knox's Commandments and at first appears to be sort of a moe Hercule Poirot, and at one point Erika even makes a Poirot reference, but she's soon revealed to have a darker side. This seems a bit at odds with Knox, and also with the more in-depth list of rules written by S.S. Van Dine. (It's worth noting that Ryukishi07 definitely doesn't follow this second set of commandments.) She's the pseudo-Beatrice in this story, sharing many of the Golden Witch's personality traits, and although Bernkastel tells us that she's a detective, it's hard not to feel that there's more going on with her than is being revealed.
Art this time is provided by Akitaka, who has also created a four panel series about cat-girls. As might be expected from that last part, the art is much cuter and softer than we've seen before in the series, with a gentler take on most of the characters. This does work in the art's favor in terms of anatomy (no more balloon boobs and bubble butts), though it suffers in distorted faces and other scary elements. It's lucky that so far this is the least gruesome arc, because I'm not entirely sure that Akitaka's art is up to the task of blood and guts.
With the deliberate shift to Golden Age mystery, Umineko is working towards opening up the mystery for both Battler and the readers. Now that we have a set of rules to work within, hints and clues begin to take on a different shape and we can begin to rethink how we saw things in the previous four arcs in terms of what we are now told. The mystery hasn't been solved yet, but we're adding tools to our detective's kit, and this arc looks like once it gets going it will give us some of the best clues yet to solve the mystery of Rokkenjima and its family.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Use of Golden Age rules help to guide our detecting, switching from Beatrice and Battler to Lambdadelta and Bernkastel gives a new perspective. Things starting to come together.
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