Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 5: End of the Golden Witch Volume 2
As the mystery of Rokkenjima progresses in its fifth game, the detective Erika Furude seems to be having some difficulties both asserting her role and defeating her foes, particularly once Battler enters the fray seriously. Meanwhile a new piece is placed on the gameboard in the form of the physical embodiment of Knox's Commandments. Will logic from the Golden Age of mystery rule the day?
It's time to ask yourself, are you reading Umineko: When They Cry because you like the story and Ryukishi07's style of telling it, or are you reading it because you have a deep investment in the philosophical discussion of mystery novels, from the Golden Age between the world wars to the present, cozier and more paranormal versions of the genre? Because if you're not reading it for the latter reason, or if you find that kind of dull, then you are in for a rude shock with this volume. Yen Press' latest omnibus release of Ryukishi07's semi-follow up to Higurashi: When They Cry, which is the second in the fifth arc, End of the Golden Witch, has thrown all subtlety out the third floor window as it pits the Battler/Beatrice/Lamda Delta team against Bernkastel and Erika, who ostensibly speaks for the real Battler, that is, the one playing the game in Beatrice's out-of-time tea room. Where previous books focused on solving the mystery via clues and new information revealed as different characters finally got to tell their roles in the overall story, this volume is much more keen on looking at the mystery genre in a historical and literary context. If you're into that, or perhaps currently studying the evolution of the genre, it's pretty interesting, but even then it gets to be a bit much as the author makes use of his favorite too-obvious symbolism.
Perhaps the first clue we get that this is going to be literary analysis rather than a mystery narrative is when Erika, the obnoxious teen detective Bernkastel has inserted into the story, begins to crow about third-rate mystery novels and begins reeling off names of well-known classic books featuring serial killers. On the one hand, it is nice to see Ryukishi07 finally acknowledge the source I've been accusing him of relying on the entire time, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but it also serves as a warning that things are about to get metafictional on Rokkenjima. That fear is confirmed when a new character is introduced, Dlanor A. Knox. Canny readers will have noticed that this is a sad rearrangement of the letters of English priest Ronald Knox, who created the ten rules that all (Golden Age) murder mysteries must follow. Continuing the parallel, Dlanor is garbed like a severely under-dressed clergyman, with keys making up a cross design on her cap, and is declared an Inquisitor, a punisher of witches. While we can see that Ryukishi07 is attempting to dramatize what is basically a debate about how mysteries ought to run and be told, his attempt to fetishize Knox's Commandments as a cute loli with a useless ruffle on her crotch just smacks of pandering.
When you come down to it, with this episode, the story has become less about we the readers solving the mystery and more about debating whether Knox's Commandments still have a place in mystery fiction. The argument, which is centered around the total rejection of the supernatural that Knox advocated (for, it should be mentioned, the ease of armchair detectives to solve the case along with the hero), which has crept back into popular mystery fiction with the advent of cozies and other light forms of the genre. When we realize this, the volume takes on the air of an anthropromorphized discussion, with each character representing an argumentative point or a specific theory – a little like a mascot-based representation of literary criticism. That's interesting, yes, but it also doesn't make for thrilling reading, and the actual story takes a very back seat to the characters' attempts at outsmarting each other; in fact, there's very little of what is ostensibly Natsuhi's motives and backstory given beyond the first chapter. If you're reading this for the plot, this makes it a very disappointing and frustrating read.
Crotch ruffle aside, artist Akitaka does a nice job trying to keep everything moving visually, with plenty of shots fired and battle tactics employed while the characters yell differing philosophies at each other. The characters have a leaner, harsher look to them in his hands, and it works with the mid-1980s setting better than some of the other artists' work has. While Erika continues to be annoying, her posture and facial expressions help to mitigate that, making us feel almost sorry at some points for the frustrated detective...in fact, in this book, she's really the only character who we get a feel for. Given how irritating she can be, this is a triumph in an otherwise far too heavy-handed volume.
Umineko: When They Cry could bounce back from this arc, and hopefully it will. When it focuses on the story, on allowing us to solve the mystery alongside Battler, it's a fun example of the mystery genre. However, when Ryukishi07 gets too caught up in discussing that genre, as he does here, it begins to feel like a chore to read. If you're invested in the series, this isn't likely to stop you from reading further, but for readers at the end of their rope, this just might sound the death knell for this particular series.
Overall : C-
Story : C-
Art : B+
+ Art is nice and tries hard to balance the talkiness of the volume. What clues we get about the overall story are good. Translation reads especially well.
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