Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 7: Requiem of the Golden Witch Volume 1
Beatrice is dead and gone, and the family now gathers for her funeral. But just because the Golden Witch has left the stage doesn't mean that the rest of the coven is ready to bow out – Bernkastel is now running her own game. To play the role of detective she brings in Willard Huntington Wright, an outside investigator. Will is tasked with joining forces with Jessica Ushiromiya's older sibling Lion to solve the mysteries of Beatrice and the Rokkenjima murders once and for all – but who is Lion? Why have they never been in the story before? Are the witches playing fast and loose with the rules of the game after all?
The scene begins at Beatrice's funeral. That's not really a surprise – the previous arc of Ryukishi07's mystery series Umineko: When They Cry had Battler running his own game after the loss of the Golden Witch, so picking up again after her death is logical. But don't let that little detail fool you – this arc, Requiem of the Golden Witch, is less interested in what theories Battler and his companions came up with over the course of the previous games and more invested in our fully piecing together the clues and hints that we ourselves, as armchair detectives, were able to pull out. At long last Umineko is truly digging into its mystery roots, and Ryukishi07 is now committed to showing us where we wandered from the path, distracted by emotions more brilliant than gold.
Part of the more satisfactory nature of this volume, an omnibus compilation of three of the Japanese releases, comes from the fact that Ryukishi07 shifts his focus from Ronald Knox's Ten Commandments of the mystery novel to S.S. Van Dine's. While Van Dine's rules are no less restrictive (although the length is doubled), they also are more in line with the form of the mystery that Ryukishi07 has been establishing, and therefore are simply better suited for the big reveal. Not that any of these so-called rules are immutable; Agatha Christie herself broke a few of them in some of her best-known works, but they do prevent the story from being unsolvable. While many readers will no doubt already be familiar with Van Dine's list, a quick glance at it will immediately remind us that one fact that Ryukishi07 has been practically beating us over the head with for the entire series is actually one that we can safely label a red (or gold) herring: the epitaph under Beatrice's portrait falls under Van Dine's rule 20j: “To use …the cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality.” This is not to say that Ryukishi07 is the be all and end all of mystery manga writers, but given his familiarity with the genre and both Van Dine and Knox, being reminded of this particular rule suddenly makes the epitaph stand out as an attempt to distract both the armchair and regular detectives away from the truth of the murders.
Perhaps this is why Bernkastel brings in a completely new investigator this time around. Previous detective figures, such as Battler and Erika, have gotten themselves emotionally mired in the witches' machinations in previous arcs, and even Dlanor, the embodiment of Knox's Commandments, could not keep things on track. This time Bernkastel, the only witch on the scene, invites Willard Wright to Rokkenjima's closed world. Much as “Dlanor” is a reconfiguration of the name “Ronald,” “Will” is a reference to the real name of S.S. Van Dine, Willard Huntington Wright. This telegraphs the shift in the set of rules that the story will follow, which is important knowledge for the armchair detective. Then the plot begins to sort out the wheat from the chaff of the previous arcs, slowly revealing what was actually learned versus what Battler and Erika just thought they figured out.
On the whole, this makes for a much more satisfying reading experience. Several of the major theories that I at least had espoused are therefore touched upon in either a reaffirming or a dismissive way, while still leaving some questions to be sorted out later on in the arc's plot. Foremost among those is the existence of multiple Beatrices, as well as the fact that she shares a name with Dante's famous heroine from The Divine Comedy. That name, it should be noted, is pronounced “bey-ah-tree-che,” and as such can be used to distinguish which Beatrice is being discussed. But perhaps more important is the idea that at least one member of the Ushiromiya family is suffering from some sort of cognitive or emotional impairment. At this point it seems much more likely that the family is causing the disorders through abuse rather than it being a genetic issue, and that makes the plot feel that much more tangled while simultaneously offering up an answer for why there are so many potential villains among them. Kinzou was emotionally abused as a young man, and the trauma of his wartime experiences may have simply pushed him over the edge as far as his actions went. This in turn may have led to his treatment of his daughter Rosa, which then caused her to abuse her daughter Maria—who may suffer cognitively because of physical abuse. (Although emotional abuse definitely plays a part as well.) All three of these Ushiromiya family members are integral to the idea of there being multiple Beatrices, and each of them is actively involved with someone bearing that name. The question then becomes whether or not their treatment of the women named Beatrice ultimately caused the slaughter – and whether or not they're capable of seeing their own culpability in it.
The fact that Battler is replaced by Jessica's previously unknown older sibling Lion in this arc is also significant. Lion's introduction is not quite the rule-breaking move it at first appears; they have been mentioned in several of the previous story arcs, albeit not by name. Lion's inclusion is therefore one of the best signs of the technique being employed this time around – clues are being culled from all of the previous arcs and are now being slotted into place. Will's role is to help piece them together and to guide the reader in that action. For the first time, it truly feels as if we are being given the opportunity to solve the mystery alongside the detective.
There are still plenty of mysteries for the remainder of the omnibuses in the arc to play with. We still need to clear up the mystery of Battler's parentage and how the killings actually took place, to say nothing of the question of whether or not witches and magic are real. (We do get a large hint on that front this time.) But what's important is that these questions have taken on a renewed sense of importance now that the story is once again following the basics of its genre rather than attempting a metafictional representation thereof. The game's finally back on track.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Van Dine's rules work better for the story than Knox's, story is fun to solve again
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