Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 5: End of the Golden Witch Volume 3
The murders accomplished and the cast assembled, it is now time for Natsuhi's trial to commence. On one side is Beatrice, defending Natsuhi while attempting to prove her own existence and power; on the other is Bernkastel's pawn Erika, determined that logic and Knox's Commandments will win the day. Battler appears to be relegated to the sidelines as the battle over truth wages – but which truth is the real one? And can there be more than one when perspective is taken into account?
Ryukishi07 has established an authorial habit in this fifth arc of his Umineko: When They Cry mystery series that has the unfortunate side effect of taking away from his own story's efficacy and enjoyability: trolling the reader. This really came to a head in volume eleven, and while it does continue to an extent in this final volume in the End of the Golden Witch arc, he seems to have successfully reined it in, making for a conclusion that still suffers from authorial superiority but is on the whole a much better read. Largely this is done by taking the character of Erika to task for both her snide sense of supremacy due to her position as the detective and the ridiculous abilities granted to the detective by Knox's Commandments, a set of ten rules Donald Knox established for the mystery genre in its golden age. In the previous volume, Ryukishi07, via Erika and Dlanor, the moe embodiment of the Commandments, gave them too much weight; now he allows that there are faults in adhering to them too strictly.
Most of the volume takes place outside of time, in the illusory courtroom convened by Bernkastel and Lambdadelta. Erika and Beatrice are the main players, serving as lawyers prosecuting and defending Natsuhi, the supposed murderer of this arc. While Beatrice does her best to take down Erika's suppositions (often translated into facts by use of the red truth), we are guided to look at the role of the detective in a classic murder mystery novel in a way that we aren't used to – that is, to see the inherent absurdity of the genre as a serial form of literature. When we have a story that relies on a specific private detective, who generally is not a member of an agency or a police force and therefore has no reason to continually encounter murders, the genre requires as much suspension of disbelief as any fantasy or science fiction story. (For a reference, I'd point you to the 1980s television show Murder, She Wrote, in which an elderly woman encounters murders pretty much everywhere she goes.) Therefore, as Erika says, the recognized detective must assume that anywhere she goes a murder will be committed. This is the only way to definitively establish a case, and Ryukishi07 does an excellent job at showing us just how patently ridiculous that has to be – the lengths Erika goes to in order to secure alibis is, as Battler notices, utterly creepy and makes her look almost like a criminal herself. Is it the act of a good guest to scale walls and listen at doors? Generally not, but because Erika is metafictionally aware of her position as the detective, she gets away with these things. If you think about other murder mysteries, you'll find that in the pursuit of adherence to Knox's Commandments, many (if not most) serial detectives act similarly. This is a far more effective use of the character than we've seen previously, and it enables a discussion of the murder mystery genre within the story in a much more interesting way than earlier volumes' use of the “club the reader over the head” technique.
What's also interesting is that the crime this game never feels fully solved. That's doubtless part of the point – to make Battler fully understand how Beatrice's games work and to make both him and us more uncertain about everything ascertained thus far. Natsuhi maintains her innocence throughout and Battler raises the possibility of him being the murderer, refuting a lack of foreshadowing by referencing previous games. As a metafictional gambit, it's a bit risky but ultimately pays off, particularly if you haven't been looking at the mystery as one continuous story. The idea of supernatural/otherworldly influence remains up in the air, but more solid evidence of mental instability is offered – and if one character can be shown to believe her own hallucinations and fantasies, why shouldn't that apply to all of them?
End of the Golden Witch is still the weakest arc thus far in the overall Umineko: When They Cry series. This volume manages to rectify some of the sins of the previous book by giving readers a little more to work with and getting to the point that the author was trying to make all along – that the murder mystery is absurd when you take a step back and really look at it. Hopefully the next story arc will stick with this more measured approach and the author can restrain himself – when we're allowed to make our own assumptions and inferences, mystery, no matter how strange, is more fun on the whole.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Less authorial trolling, Erika finally makes sense in the larger context. Entertainingly metafictional about the mystery genre.
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