Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 6: Dawn of the Golden Witch Volume 2
The games are beginning anew – George, Jessica, Beatrice, and their lovers must compete in a battle to decide which “forbidden” couple has the right to be together, with the added bonus of kicking off the chain of murders that will rock the island and the Ushiromiya family. Meanwhile Erika seeks to beat Battler this time fair and square – which means giving up her Detective's Privilege. Can cold logic beat out magic? It worked for Battler once, but now that the board is flipped, will Erika fare as well?
Sometimes having the shoe on the other foot can work wonders. Other times, it can make us complacent. That seems to be the major factor at play here in the middle volume of Umineko: When They Cry's sixth arc, Dawn of the Golden Witch - with Battler having switched sides to become the game master in alliance with the new, meek, Beatrice, detective Erika must now put herself in his role of magic denier. But while that's always been her part to play (the detective never believes in supernatural forces in a classic golden age mystery, something we can forget in the surge of paranormal detective fiction of the 2010s), Battler now is acting in a completely opposite role. No longer the skeptic, he's now in charge of the witches' side. This means that he's aware of what it means to play against himself, but now that he's concentrating on the opposition, will he be able to maintain his focus? Given that there's also his budding relationship with Beatrice and his own security in having taken so many cycles of the game to beat the former Beatrice, there's plenty of opportunity for him to make mistakes.
But before any of this can come to pass, some people have to die. This brings us back to the game set up by the newest (annoying) supernatural beings, Zepar and Furfur. In a bid to outwit the detective and score for the witches' side, they have declared that the three potential forbidden lovers will have to prove whose love is strongest – by killing someone. Last book George offered to go first, and now he's ready to carry out the first of the murders…by killing his mother. This actually reveals quite a lot about George himself: a perpetually hangdog kind of character, seemingly burdened by his family history and his own meek personality, George has zeroed in on Eva as the root of his problem. If Eva had been a kinder, more understanding mother, perhaps George would have had a happier, more balanced childhood. Without the Ushiromiya family pressure, maybe he could have been his own person. Of course, this doesn't take into account that while Eva may have set him up to be who he is today, he could have fought back at any time – she set the rules, but George is the one who diligently followed them. That he is only now rebelling says a lot about him as a character and the culture of blame Eva has indoctrinated him into. Eva, as we know, became a witch based on her own feelings of jealousy and the sense of inadequacy her father gave her. Unwittingly she has given the same poisoned gift to her son, and it will cost her her life as it perpetuates the cycle of misery begun by Kinzo Ushiromiya.
Jealousy and tainted or warped love forms the backbone of this volume. Although the “game” drags on too long (the entire first volume of this two-volume omnibus), it does give us a lot more background information about Kyrie and Battler, as well as casting Rosa and Natsuhi in slightly different lights. The question of Battler's origins – an Ushiromiya but not his father's son – become wrapped up in the saga of Kyrie's relationship with Rudolf. He apparently got both she and another woman, Asumu, pregnant at the same time, but Asumu convinced him to marry her, and she gave birth to Battler while Kyrie's child was stillborn. This directly contradicts the earlier assumption that Battler may have been the infant Natsuhi tried to kill, but also raises some serious questions about both Kyrie and Asumu – clearly one of them was not telling the truth about the father of her child.
Meanwhile we learn more about Erika's past and why she's such a harsh, conflicted person. Given the theme of this arc, it makes perfect sense that a ruined love is the root, and it gives her a vulnerability that she has not previously exhibited – fallibility, yes, but not weakness. Of course, being who she is, she's not above milking her vulnerability for what it can give her, and while we see her largely behaving in a less irritating manner than previously, she's still out to win and will use any means at her disposal. That's the key to the second half of the book – Erika's subtle manipulation of Battler. (Although her actions are anything but, the intent behind them is surprisingly understated.) This is a trick of female detectives, both golden age and more contemporary, who are not above using wiles to get them what detectives' privilege cannot, and it's a trick Erika has not previously employed. (Examples include Phryne Fisher in Kerry Greenwood's novels and Baroness d'Orczy's Lady Mary.) It plays on Battler's inexperience, particularly as he manipulates his real-world self while also giving Erika a new tool in her kit that may prove difficult for a lovestruck Battler to work around.
With the murders finally underway, this arc of Umineko feels like it is finally making headway. The first omnibus' philosophical tone set a stage that the first part of this volume doesn't quite fulfill, largely because the scenes taking place off the gameboard feel stretched and like they're distracting from the actual mystery. They're clearly intended to enhance the story, and parts of them do, but there's also a real feeling of stalling, as if Ryukishi07 is trying to drag the story out just a little bit longer with scenes of new Beatrice feeling insecure, Zepar and Furfur being annoying, and the other witches just sort of hanging around. Featherine and Ange have one good scene, but otherwise just appear to be thrown in so that we don't forget them, although their reminder to look at the story from all angles is a good one.
Umineko: When They Cry feels like it's struggling a little bit in this middle omnibus. It's taken a bit too long to get the actual mystery going and appears to waste time on witchly rivalries that don't contribute to the story. But it also seeds enough clues and adds enough new information to still make this interesting. With Battler's origins called into even more question and everyone on the verge of breaking, things are set to come to a head when the Dawn of the Golden Witch arc comes to a close in volume fifteen.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Good new information, Erika is changing her tactics. Battler's vulnerabilities becoming more clear. Some good visceral scenes.
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