Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry Episode 7
Requiem of the Golden Witch Volumes 2-3
As Claire continues to tell her story to Lion Ushiromiya and Will, the detective long missing from the story, we learn more about who Beatrice the so-called golden witch really is and the solutions to all of her games. But Bernkastel isn't done with Lion or Ange, and even after the presumed true culprits are revealed, Will alleges that there's more to the story. What's truly behind the events of those two October days in 1986? And are witches real or merely the invention of a tortured mind? We only have one remaining cycle to find out…
“The detective story,” wrote famed author S. S. Van Dine (real name Willard Huntington Wright), “is a game. It is more – it is a sporting event. And the author must play fair with the reader.” These words are part of Van Dine's introduction to his twenty laws for detective and mystery fiction, a follow up to Ronald Knox's so-called Ten Commandments of the genre, and they not only nicely encapsulate the appeal of reading a mystery, but also seem to describe the theory behind Ryukishi07's Umineko series. Each arc of the story has been presented as a game, with chess board imagery and two sides trying to outwit each other, with the outcome of the story itself and its genre at stake. In volume two of Yen Press' omnibus releases, two of the characters have a discussion about how if there is no viable solution found, the reader is forced to conclude that magic is involved, thus changing the genre from mystery to fantasy. That is the heart of the ongoing games between witch and sleuth, one that these two volumes do their best to elaborate upon.
That this is brought up via a discussion of Agatha Christie's 1939 novel And Then There Were None, which justifies all of the allusions to that title earlier in the series. The mystery of who killed the ten people on the island (Soldier Island in the most recent reprintings of the book; oddly Yen Press seems to be using the second wide-spread edition which calls it Indian Island) is solved because a bottle with a letter from the killer is found after the fact – something used in previous arcs of this story as well. The Beatrice of this cycle points out that if the bottle was never found, some investigators/readers would have been forced to conclude that an inhuman hand had something to do with the deaths, thereby switching the novel from mystery to fantasy. While seasoned mystery readers might not agree, it is part of what both Knox and Van Dine outline in their rules: the mystery must be solvable by the reader who is paying attention. (Despite Yasu in this book being unable to solve Christie's mystery, it is possible, with one particularly clever clue pointing directly to the killer.) But this doubt sows the seed of the witches' existence on Rokkenjima, despite what we know about the origins of the first Beatrice and the supposedly phantom gold, and these two volumes do give us the solid real-world answers to more of the series' mysteries.
Most striking here is that we get a plausible explanation for the Beatrice we've spent most of the series with. In an earlier arc, we got heavy implications that Maria's unhappiness had led her to create fantasy characters (i.e. imaginary friends) and fostered her belief in magic in general. Who is to say, then, that she's the only one who has done so? We know that there was an original Beatrice, but what if she morphed from Kinzou's obsession into a witch via someone needing to escape their own life? This leads us to a question raised by young Battler during the family meeting in 1980: why do so many mysteries focus on the “whodunit” and “howdunit” aspects of a tale without tackling the “whydunit?” Ostensibly, this is one of the major factors in understanding the acts of the murderer or other criminal, and one that Ellery Queen novels often focus on, making the mention of one of his titles in these books take on more significance. Ellery Queen (both as pseudononymous writer and fictional detective) was known for his “fair play” mysteries, meaning that all clues were absolutely provided in order for you to solve the case along with Ellery. (His schtick, in fact, was to pause the novel/TV episode/radio show to allow you to try to come up with the answer before it was revealed.) Queen's novels were very popular in Japan – an essay exploring that can be found in The Tragedy of Errors - and here Ryukishi07 may be attempting to indicate that he, too, is writing a fair play mystery, if only we can figure out his logic.
That, as it turns out, may be true after all. The events of volume three and the latter portion of volume two show that readers may have been allowing the gore and the use of violent language to distract them from the true meaning of Kinzou's epitaph. After all, if Beatrice is just a woman, why should someone who wants her forgiveness from his depredations want to stage a series of violent crimes? After all, if Kinzou wants to revive the woman, not the witch, his motives take on a very different meaning, one more linked to the reveal of Shannon's true feelings for Battler and George and the heartache of yearning than anything more nefarious. While Kinzou's actions are disturbing, it is on the reader, not the writer, as to how they interpret his words – and we as readers of the manga are not the only ones reading the epitaph; the characters in the books are reading and interpreting them as well.
Magic, these volumes suggest, is not so much its own existence as the creation of the human mind. We speak of the “magic” of love and other emotions, or the “dark magic” of obsession, and that's the kind of magic that's allowed in the mystery genre. Despite his judicious use of presumed witches, Ryukishi07 does seem to be much more inclined to follow genre conventions – we just have to look at the words and images in a different way. With only one arc left, Twilight of the Golden Witch, there's still time to figure out whether Bernkastel is lying to Lion and Will (or Battler to Ange) in the final pages of this arc. The real answers may be hidden in plain sight, in a bottle made of translucent glass that can easily be shattered if you drop it.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Art is a nice blend of attractive and gross, answers are really coming to light now
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