Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Umineko When They Cry
Episode 8: Twilight of the Golden Witch
The final game is about to begin as Ange Ushiromiya is determined to find out the truth of who killed her family on Rokkenjima all those years ago. But can her brother Battler, now a game master himself, be trusted to give her the true accounting? What is he protecting her from? And are any of the other witches who offer Ange information to be trusted either?
As an author, Ryukishi07 has one particularly bad habit: he's entirely too enamored with his own schtick. That's hardly a sin unique to him as a creator, but it does make Umineko When They Cry a much less tightly-plotted series, and that's something that a mystery really does need. With this final story arc, Twilight of the Golden Witch, he has finally eschewed the trappings of fantasy and promised us a fair play mystery, but the lengths to which he goes to toy with the reader before getting down to business are in equal parts annoying and impressive. It's impressive in the sense that he's so committed to this witch nonsense that he's continuing to use it to troll readers even as he promises fair play, but for fans of classic, Golden Age-style mystery, enough really is enough.
This of course begs the question of why we might even expect a fair play mystery at this point. Perhaps it is an unreasonable request, but it's one that the author himself has facilitated. Previous story arcs, particularly the previous one, have gone to great lengths to bring up authors like Agatha Christie (in particular her classic locked room fair play story And Then There Were None, a clear inspiration for this series) and Ellery Queen. Queen (the pen name of two co-writing cousins) was particularly popular in Japan and is widely considered the premier example of a true fair play mystery – that is, a mystery in which all of the clues needed to solve the case are provided within the story. This omnibus even makes a reference to Queen's particular gimmick of pausing the narrative in order to allow the reader to put forth their solution to the crime, something that carried over from the novels to the radio shows and television films based on them. (The radio show even brought in a celebrity guest to try solving the crime before Ellery.) Ryukishi07 has also alluded to both Donald Knox's “Commandments” of the mystery novel, a list of ten rules true mystery authors must follow, and S.S. Van Dine's similar twenty-item list, all of which would seem to imply that we as readers are safe in thinking that perhaps he is at last going to pay tribute to the genre's heyday.
As you may have guessed, that is not necessarily the case for the greater part of this omnibus. Instead Ryukishi07 is up to his old tricks in terms of needlessly throwing supernatural characters in our faces while cheerily subverting his own plot. In fact, the first two volumes contained in the book have little-to-nothing to do with actually revealing the mystery – instead we get essentially two volumes of the author indulging in his characters' silliness as a means of distracting Ange from her quest. Eventually Bernkastel does show up to involve Battler and Beatrice in a fair play version of the series, presumably as a means of truly introducing the concept, but the distraction of Battler's rosy vision of the Ushiromiya family has already done the job of pulling us out of the story in an irritating way.
In all fairness, Battler's version of events for Ange does set up a few interesting concepts that may be useful going forward. He claims to be giving her a “truth,” but Ange ultimately rejects that, as he is clearly making up facts out of whole cloth. It's a study in how a seemingly solid concept like “truth” is in fact reliant upon the instability of human memories, and Battler's game is created in order to force Ange to question whether or not her recollections of the extended Ushiromiya family are based upon Eva's words, the gossip of armchair detectives, or her own actual memories. It's a good metaphor for sleuthing in the internet age, when facts have become particularly malleable and crime shows have given people unrealistic views of what's needed to find the truth. This also calls into question a few of the facts revealed during Battler's game, such as his true parentage and Eva's real feelings about the aftermath of the events of October 1986 – and since these are presented without witchly interference, the questioning is entirely up to Ange's own mind.
Likewise there is an actual effort made during Bernkastel's game with Battler and Beatrice to adhere to the rules of fair play mysteries – a list of ten rules that Bernkastel vows to follow is included, and that list is strikingly similar to both Knox's and Van Dine's commandments. The point of this game is seemingly to continue to plant seeds of doubt in Ange's mind as she prepares to find out what is being billed as the actual truth of the matter at the end of the omnibus – who, and what, can she actually trust? And can anyone who wasn't actually there really know what happened?
It's a doubt worth having as we prepare to actually head into the final arc in the next volume. If the author can keep his ego in check going forward, this stands to be a very interesting set of answers, and Ange's doubt is a good spice for the story. It may also be worth considering the meaning of her name, which is mentioned in the omnibus – “ange” is French for “angel,” an entirely different supernatural being than a witch. Angels are far more involved in judgement and the dead – and that may be something to keep in mind as we go forward.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B+
+ Better adherence to the rules Ryukishi07 has laid out for himself, interesting commentary on “truth”, effective art
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