Umineko: Based and Red-Truthed
By Max-Vader and Andrew Erickson
He just told a really funny joke. Everyone laughs.
It’s hard to know where to begin with Umineko, an eight-part murder mystery visual novel series that dwarfs War and Peace. Featuring a core cast of over thirty characters, and dozens more who are constantly introduced throughout the series and stick to the plot in a Homestuckian ball of increasingly convoluted narrative twists, it can be hard to follow even without any murders to solve. So here’s a list of things you can expect to find should you, for whatever reason, undertake the daunting task of reading Umineko.
Umineko is about: inheritance disputes, Schrödinger’s cat, duct tape, genital mutilation, boat rides, furniture, imaginary friends, small bombs, abuse of the Italian language, family, chopsticks, incest, wordplay that only works in Japanese, the Divine Comedy, demonology, DESIRE, witches, whores, gold futures, rape (metaphorical), real estate, fake boobs, the moon, rabbits, moon rabbits, rape (literal), Halloween parties, child abuse, Nazi gold, traps, detective fiction, saying things with such conviction that they are visibly true, traps, and large bombs.
Umineko is not about: satisfying endings. And author Ryukishi07 claims it’s about love, but we’ll see about that. Anyway, let’s jump straight into a basic synopsis – out of necessity, given how much there is to compress here.
“Basic Synopsis” and “Umineko” fit together about as well as oil and water given the aforementioned convoluted nature of the story but I’ll give it the old college try anyway. The series revolves around an annual family conference, specifically the one where the main character, Battler Ushiromiya, finally returns after six years of absence due to being too busy hating his douchebag dad. There, he is reunited with the whole family, including but not limited to his two cousins, George and Jessica, who can best be described as “a less homicidal Elliot Rodger” and “a thirsty thot giving out fiercer fistings than even the most feminist lesbian.” Both of them also have in common that they are in love with a servant – those being Shannon, the clumsy maid stereotype with big boobs and Kanon, who is effectively Sasuke Uchiha with autism. Battler used to be in a relationship with Shannon himself when they were kids, but doesn’t remember much of anything about it which gets him relentlessly teased for his cheesy lines and vows of returning on a white horse for her in the past. He also almost gropes her during their reunion.
This is important.
The youngest child on the island is Maria, a nine-year old girl who redefines the word “obnoxious”. She is very insistent on witches being real and constantly throws temper tantrums, especially when challenged on her little fantasy. Her catchphrase is “UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU~” which is somehow even more annoying than it sounds and doesn’t get any less infuriating once you find out the meaning behind it.
Pictured: Battler about to demonstrate the proper application of the Shocker to a very eager Maria.
As for the adults, there are the four main children of the family patriarch jockeying for control of the inheritance once he kicks the bucket:
Krauss, who is the oldest son and technically in control of some of the assets already. His business competence is so stunning that he got scammed several times and funded a start-up for moon tourism. His wife Natsuhi is stuck-up, a giant bitch and a horrible person. Then again, that last thing applies to effectively everyone in this story. She suffers pretty badly later on. Jessica is their daughter. They try to groom her into being a dignified and quiet family head/wife and fail spectacularly every single time.
Eva is the eldest daughter and… I know this point will get beaten like a dead horse, but she is also an awful person. She is smart, but also smug, bitchy and controlling. Because Jessica is such a failure, she tries to get her son George to succeed the headship by relentlessly pressuring him for perfect conduct and grades, which he delivers (absolutely autistic behavior towards women notwithstanding). Her husband Hideyoshi is a fat guy running a restaurant which was actually semi-successful and he is one of the better people in this story, for what little that is worth.
Rudolf, the second son, is Battler’s father. The reason his son hates him so much is that after impregnating Battler’s mother, he ditched her for his current wife, Kyrie. (He also has a daughter with her, Ange, but she got sick and is still a toddler so she couldn’t make the trip. This will also be important later.) At the very least, this is what we are initially told. The truth is vastly more stupid, convoluted and makes everyone involved look like an asshole. Speaking of, Rudolf is also in financial debt, but as a bonus he is, and has always been, a scam artist, working together with Kyrie to get people’s money.
As for her, she is a sociopath who treats murder the same way other people would taking out the trash, though with much more enthusiasm.
Lastly there is Rosa, the youngest child and the winner of the Best Mother of the Year award now and forever. Much like the audience, she hates her daughter Maria. Unlike the audience, she physically and emotionally abuses her with such disturbing regularity that it becomes no big mystery as to why Maria is so completely fucked in the head.
Now, let’s talk about the head of the family, Kinzo. Where does one even begin with him? Well, he hates all his children because he thinks that they are stupid lazy assholes and vultures only interested in his inheritance, practically salivating at the prospect of his death.
He is completely right.
Not to say Kinzo is the only sane man. He might be, if not for his obsession with Beatrice, a witch rumored to live on his private island. He even had a giant portrait made of her and placed in the mansion’s main hall, along with an epitaph about serial murders, because Kinzo is an extremely well-adjusted man. He’s not wrong, though, since Beatrice does turn up, followed swiftly by a spate of murders. Shockingly, the family fails to come together and solve the mystery, instead falling apart in a spiral of paranoia that leaves everyone dead. So ends part 1. It might seem like there wouldn’t be much left for the other seven parts with the entire cast disposed of, but this is actually where Umineko begins for real. Because Beatrice then extends an offer to Battler to figure everything out. There’s just one problem: Battler is an idiot.
Tragically, he only looks like Phoenix Wright.
The red isn’t just for show: Beatrice establishes some rules to aid Battler in his investigation, the most important of which is red text. If a character says something in red, it’s absolute truth. Are readers expected to keep track of hundreds of red statements to suss out the truth by identifying minor technicalities? Maybe. Am I going to reveal the solution, ruining the big twist for anyone who hasn’t already read the series? I don’t know, why would you read an article about a twelve-year-old visual novel without knowing anything about the source material?
To make a very long story short, Umineko’s story takes place on two levels across several time periods, with all the parts featuring Battler (i.e. the bulk of the story) serving as an extended flashback. The story’s present is a dozen years later, when his sister Ange travels to the former site of the family mansion to learn what really happened. Part 7 is split between an alternate timeline and the past, making all outstanding questions perfectly explicit for anyone who hadn’t already put the pieces together. Layered on top of all this is a split between the mundane world and the meta world, where the supernatural is real and witches set up detective games to amuse each other. This would give the lie to Battler’s protests that magic doesn’t exist, but he’s as stubborn as he is dumb, so it all works out.
Over the course of the next five episodes, Battler solves the mystery, becomes a sorcerer, kills Beatrice, regrets killing Beatrice, tries to revive Beatrice, gets married, gets locked in a room by a cat and a corpse, thinks his way out of said room, and learns a very valuable lesson about the meaning of love. At no point does he share the solution with anyone.
It’s all good, because the story proposes two different solutions that might even work in parallel. One is that Battler’s psychotic parents shot everyone. The other is a bit more involved. During World War II, Kinzo was a Japanese soldier stationed on the island where he would eventually build his mansion. After the fall of Italy’s fascist government, a submarine arrived loaded with the country’s gold reserve. Entrusted with the awesome responsibility of safeguarding his wartime ally’s only financial assets, Kinzo proceeded to massacre everyone except exiled Italian noblewoman Beatrice Castiglioni. Despite being married, Kinzo had an affair with her, only for Beatrice to die in childbirth. Their daughter, also named Beatrice, was raised in Kinzo’s secret backup mansion on the island. The mansion he bought by using the ten tons of stolen gold as collateral for loans to start his business. To guarantee he would spend the money wisely, Kinzo removed all the explosives from the Italian submarine, put them under his gold vault, and would arm the timed detonator whenever he needed to come up with new ideas. Anyway, he later raped Beatrice II and (fully aware that there wasn’t a single competent successor in sight) forced Natsuhi to adopt the resultant son/grandson. [Footnote 1] Beatrice II fell off a cliff and died shortly after meeting Rosa, while Natsuhi, showing the proactive streak sorely missing from her sister-in-law, disposed of her adoptive child by throwing him off a cliff. Tragically lacking both guardrails and Beatrices, Kinzo fell into despair. Little did he know that the boy survived and was raised by the servants, who hoped to provide a less homicidal environment for the unfortunate young heir. Years later, Kinzo reconnected with his lost child Sayo, who solved the riddle of the epitaph, thus earning access to the gold – and, by extension, the bombs. Understandably pissed off at the entire family, and with the servants on his side, he disguised himself as both Shannon and Kanon and killed as many visitors to the family gathering as possible, leaving the bomb to finish off any survivors. Battler escaped with amnesia-inducing brain damage, while Eva made it out scot-free, so it almost worked.
Whatever the culprit’s identity, Eva went on to raise an incredibly resentful Ange and took the truth to her grave. Meaning that Ange’s entire quest to find the truth could have been averted if she and her aunt were slightly better people.
Please feel sympathy for this character.
What makes this even more hilarious (and infuriating from a reader standpoint, as we are supposed to pity these characters) is that Eva’s actions completely contradict each other. We are told that young Ange blamed her aunt for the death of her parents, along with literally everyone else in society. (Given that the whole family sans Eva all died in a mysterious explosion and Eva came out of it not only alive but with an insane amount of money, it’s not exactly much of a leap.) This made her snap and mistreat her adoptive daughter, sending her to Evil Bully Private Academy for the Rich and Scummy, throw things at her and at one point fantasize about how wonderful it would be if her limbs got chopped off and she got raped over and over again until she dies many years later – in graphic detail and out loud right in front of her. Eva then leaves her all her money (and the baggage that comes with it) before succumbing to a mysterious plot disease, taking the secret of what happened on this island to her grave. All of this is explicitly done to torment Ange.
It’s completely nonsensical because if Eva wanted to spare Ange from suffering, she wouldn’t treat her like this, but if she wanted her to suffer, there would be no more perfect way than to just reveal the truth of what happened, especially as it exonerates her in the public eye (because the public suspicion ate at her for years). You couldn’t even argue that hiding it makes the suffering worse, because from Ange’s perspective the truth is more awful than even her darkest nightmares and when she does find out (in the meta world, that is) it completely breaks her.
Beatrice shares some wisdom.
Before we get further into any of this or the actual ending however, we need to talk about a few more characters that got introduced in the later episodes. Foremost among these is Erika, the blue-haired smug anime girl detective who is personally responsible for a large chunk of the memes this series has spawned. She is introduced to the game board (i.e. the various murder scenarios set up by Beatrice) by Bernkastel, half of a pair of lesbian witches who fuck with everyone because they are bored. Bernkastel may or may not be a character from Higurashi, another series from the same author. The other witch is called Lambdadelta, for anyone who cares.
Anyway, Erika. Narratively speaking, she is meant to clash and contrast with Battler, as both are the detective of the story; Erika being designated as such by the witches and playing detective in the actual scenario while Battler is one by virtue of trying to figure all this nonsense out and also by being the protagonist. The biggest difference between the two is how they approach the actual mystery. Battler is quite emotional about the whole thing (not that anyone can blame him, given that he has to watch his family die again and again in horrific ways), personally invested in the people concerned to the point that initially he can’t even bring himself to suspect anyone and tries to understand the motives and feelings of the culprit. Erika on the other hand does not give a single fuck about the people involved or anyone’s feelings. The only thing that matters to her is exposing the truth, no matter how painful or pointless it might be to do such a thing. At one point she argues with a literal child (Maria) about how witches can’t possibly exist, explaining how her “magic” was nothing but cheap sleight of hand and totally destroying a child’s fantasy with FACTS and LOGIC. I could bring up other examples of the dickish things she does over the series, but I’m sure you’ve already grasped that we are not supposed to like her (not that it stopped the readers). Erika is an incredibly petty person who gets joy out of exposing people’s secrets and watching them squirm. She even describes herself proudly as an “intellectual rapist” at several points.
I’m sure this is what intellectual rape looks like.
I’m sure the astute reader has already picked up on it, but Erika is a metaphor for people who read murder mysteries without any investment in the story or characters and treat them as a mere intellectual puzzle (ironically, the stance held by mystery author Willard Wright/S. S. Van Dine, who was written into Umineko as a hero). To further hammer this home, she is accompanied by Dlanor A. Knox, who is Knox’s Decalogue personified as a little girl with strange fashion sense. Erika uses the ten commandments of detective fiction as a cudgel in order to reject Battler’s alternate explanations for the mystery as unacceptable. In fact, each of the (somewhat modified) commandments is inherently elevated to the status of Red Truth. Dlanor later becomes an ally of Battler, who uses her commandments to great effect. The story makes the point that these rules are meant to aid the reader with their thinking, as they guarantee that the mystery is actually solvable. You have to be able to solve a mystery for it to actually work. This is conveyed to us by a clumsy metaphor that attempts to tie this back into the overarching theme of love by likening the reader and author to a young couple who can’t manage to confess to each other. As if to prove that these rules are more guidelines, Ryukishi07 then proceeds to violate his own version of them. (According to Knox’s Decalogue: Umineko Edition, it’s not allowed for hidden passages to exist, yet Kinzo’s Batcave certainly would qualify.) The same goes for Van Dine’s 20 commandments that are introduced later. (The Umineko version of Rule 11: “It is forbidden for a servant to be the culprit!”) The biggest irony can be found in Van Dine’s Rule 3, which is: “There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.”
Umineko has more smug little girls than a slice of life anime set in an English boarding school.
All of this along with some other shenanigans involving Ange and Ryukishi07’s MILF Mary Sue/self-insert very clearly show us what kind of person he wants reading his story. The “correct” way to read the story is to be invested in the story and characters rather than treating the mystery as a mere intellectual exercise. He is also of the opinion that not knowing the solution to something is more interesting/better than knowing, which is why he wants his readers to make up their own minds [Footnote 2] and has nothing but contempt for those who want to be told the answer (ironically enough the detective explaining everything at the end is one of the pillars of mystery).
Speaking of being told the answer, the end of episode 7 finally reveals what is heavily implied to be what actually happened on the island. In his trademark sophistry that pervades so much of Umineko, the author doesn’t outright state that it is the solution/the contents of Eva’s diary, but it makes by far the most sense. As it turns out, the relatives all solved the epitaph really easily and found the gold, thereby defeating Sayo before he even got to do anything. This apparently gave him crippling depression, so he explained the entire murder plot along with the presence of the bomb, told them they won and just sat down and awaited developments. We are told that he had legitimately given up and admitted defeat, which is of course utter bullshit as someone who doesn’t care what happens anymore would not be inclined to tell people about a bomb that might go off in a few minutes while tensions are running high in a room he stocked with ten tons of gold and several loaded guns.
The predictable result happens and Natsuhi accidentally gets her head blown off. Rudolf and Kyrie decide that when life gives you lemons you might as well shoot everyone in the face and blow up the island to get away scot-free. Battler may or may not have helped them and laughed while everyone else was getting shot in the face. Funnily enough, episode 8 is partially a giant bitch-fit about everyone who accepts the Battler/Rudolf/Kyrie culprit theory. Anyway, thanks to authorial fiat Eva has the powers of God and Anime on her side and manages to out-Bronson the two, fleeing the island with Sayo’s super credit card. When she got home Ange blamed her for the death of her parents and the general public saw her as an evil cunt, which broke her. Therefore, we are now obligated to feel bad for the woman who (in another scenario) strangles children to death. A-bloo-bloo-bloo.
Incidentally, psycho-Kyrie going nuts with a Winchester and shooting everyone in the face so she can have all the gold is my second-favorite thing to masturbate to in Umineko. [Footnote 3]
Bang Bang Bang, pull my Devil Trigger.
So, with the mystery solved and everyone dead for real (conveniently confirmed with the Red Truth, no less), what could the eighth episode possibly be about? What is there left to say? Mostly how the author isn’t out of touch, it’s the readers who are wrong. Starting with episode 6, the phrase “Without love, it cannot be seen” is repeated constantly, being expounded on in the final installment: in trying to discover the culprit, speculators (both within the story and outside of it) are ignoring the characters’ positive qualities and twisting the truth. (How you can twist the truth by pointing out things that are also acknowledged as truth is anyone’s guess, especially as the narrative later hypocritically claims there is no single truth as the truth can be interpreted differently by different people.) People who don’t look at the story through this lens are characterized as demonic goats and cannon fodder for the protagonists while Battler tries to prove to Ange there were no bad people. Stupid and petty, maybe, but not to the point they’d kill each other for grandpa’s blood money.
The main premise of episode 8 is that Battler starts one final game for the sake of Ange (in her little girl self this time) in order to get her to abandon her quest for the truth. Said game has no murders or anything else, at least until Bernkastel starts fucking everything up. The way Batter wants to convince Ange is by showing her the whole family having a happy get-together during Christmas. It is so transparently phony and sickeningly saccharine that even she calls him out on presenting her utter fictitious bullshit. His response is on the same level of intellectual honesty as most of the mysteries in this series, which is to say it is a pathetic attempt to twist words. He readily admits that the scenario never happened, but says that pieces (i.e. people on the “game board”) can’t act out of character, which is true. In other words, he is trying to smooth over the previous events by painting them in a positive light and getting Ange (and by extension the audience) to see them that way too. It is about as convincing as a kid with his pants around his ankles trying to convince his mother he simply caught a computer virus from Roblox. “No Ange, Rudolf and Kyrie aren’t psychopaths who shot everyone in the face, they got scared by Krauss sitting on a whoopie cushion and then their fingers got caught on the trigger… 97 times in a row. You gotta believe me!”
Joking aside, this is also where that whole “without love it can’t be seen” theme comes in again. What Ryukishi07 is trying to tell us is that by focusing on the murders, we are overlooking the characters’ human qualities and doing them a grave injustice, being no better than intellectual rapists.
Of course, this is completely retarded. As mentioned earlier, pieces can’t act out of character – that is to say everything the characters did in all other “games” they are capable of doing. In other words, we are shown for seven whole installments that these people are petty, greedy, unscrupulous, have zero loyalty, hover like vultures over their inheritance even before their father was in the grave and are willing to go along with murderous plots, killing people and both their own and other people’s children at a drop of a hat, just to protect themselves from insolvency for a few more years, but now we are supposed to like and feel sorry for them because they threw a nice Christmas party that one time, and even that is fictional within the context of the story. This is supposed to be enough to get us to love and root for them when they suddenly pretend they are good people who care about each other and fight off the evil army of goats, aka. whatever pathetic strawmen Ryukishi07 cooked up. It smacks of that one joke where the man who murdered his own parents asks the jury for sympathy because he is an orphan. One of my favorite parts in the entire sequence (aside from Erika suddenly donning a pirate hat for no reason whatsoever) is Rosa acting like a protective and caring mother to Maria – the same woman who even if you pretend everything on Rokkenjima never happened abuses her so severely it would make John Wayne Gacy cringe. This analogy works on multiple levels as there is a Rosa culprit theory with over five hours of Youtube videos dedicated to it and if you believe that shit you are officially a clown.
It seems the author is fundamentally incapable of grasping the idea that anyone could read his story, understand the characters and find them contemptible. This is all the more strange as it is not exactly a far-fetched or baseless opinion. The constant emphasis on also considering the good parts along with the bad carries with it the unspoken implication that one makes up for the other – which it of course doesn’t. There are also some things that can’t be excused no matter how far you stretch the truth, unless we’re to believe Kinzo raped his own daughter by accident. Though to be fair, given how mendacious Battler’s (and by extension the author’s) little spiel was, I half-expected him to include Daughtertrice in it and have a wacky flashback where Grandpa and her tell Ange about that one time she tripped, fell and landed on his dick.
Battler my boy, this piece of ass is what all true Ushiromiyas strive for!
This rhetorical sleight of hand also disguises the fact that it’s entirely possible to be a warm, loving person at times and also do horrible things. Nobody is all good or all bad, and there are plenty of murderers who at least some people would call sympathetic, or insist had perfectly valid reasons for their actions. And how fitting, since there’s no murder mystery without a motive.
The idiotic idea of “love excuses everything” is also highly relevant to the culprit and their motive. It’s all the more infuriating as the material for perfectly reasonable motives is right there. Put yourself in Yasu’s heels for a moment. Your grandfather is also your father because he raped your mother. Your family is full of nothing of money-grubbing assholes, morons and scam-artists and their children with room temperature IQs. One of them got you tossed off a cliff as a child. All the servants kept the truth from you for over a decade and your penis doesn’t work because you accidentally made like your mother and fell off a cliff, leading to the most botched circumcision probably ever. You find out about all this once you figure out your grandfather’s idiotic train station-based riddle for the inheritance, upon which the servants make you wear your mom’s most erotic silk pantyhose so your grandfather can apologize to her ghost, jizz in his pants in ecstasy and die. [Footnote 4] And then his idiot children swarm all over your mansion bickering about what they’re going to do with your money while also verbally abusing you. And worst of all, you’re engaged to George. Plus there was that one time Jessica had you attend her school festival to show you off as her boytoy and made you listen to her excruciatingly bad Marisa impression while she sang Tsurupettan. All of these are perfectly valid reasons for an over-complicated murder-suicide plot.
You thought I was kidding.
Instead, Yasu’s actual motive is… well, remember Battler? Because Kinzo wanted his “love”child closer to him, he had Yasu put in the orphanage he runs and then brought over as a servant, hoping that one day they would show that they are the true heir by solving his little epitaph riddle. During this time, Yasu had the identity of Shannon. “She” and Battler bonded over their mutual love of mystery novels while George sat silently crying and masturbating in the shrubbery trying to console himself by repeating that he is the perfect and supreme gentleman compared to Battler and that bitch Shannon just doesn’t see it yet. Battler being Battler (and also being a literal child) promises to return for Shannon on a white horse and eventually marry her or some sappy nonsense. Shannon being a fucking retard actually believes this and waits years for Battler to return and make good on his promise. Which he doesn’t because he was too busy being mad at Rudolf to return to the island for the next several years. Shannon tries to console herself with George instead, which is sort of like trying to win a prize at the carnival, failing and then deciding to shoot up on heroin as consolation. Being the two-timing gender-ambiguous slut that she is, she assumes a male disguise – that being Kanon – and woos Jessica at the same time. This goes almost as poorly as with George – see the previous mention of Marisa impressions and school festivals. But then, like a dolt out of the blue, Battler finally returns… and doesn’t remember shit! He does almost blow the lid on the whole plan though by trying to grope Shannon, who opted for a transition any% run rather than a boob-job.
It’s pointed out that Battler’s return was the worst timing possible – too late to salvage their relationship enough for there not to be murders, but too early for Yasu to have moved on from him. George, being the worthless idiot who ruins everything that he is, adds the last bit of incentive by proposing to marry Shannon, which is horrifying enough to convince anyone to start killing people just to stop it. But seriously, Shannon is incredibly conflicted because she doesn’t have the equipment to bear children, which is kind of a problem since George thinks he is gonna marry an actual woman he can start a family with. He manages to unintentionally resolve her inner conflict by spouting some bullshit about how a marriage is already consummated and complete just through love once you slip the ring on your partner’s finger. As a bonus, him declaring to the whole family that he will marry Shannon like he plans to would result in everyone finding out about her true nature. Jessica hasn’t made any hare-brained proposals, but her blatant thirst for Kanon’s fictitious dick certainly didn’t help either.
The killings weren’t entirely spur of the moment of course, after all Yasu had written several murder scenarios beforehand where Beatrice kills everyone. These get stuffed into bottles and sent out to sea right before the conference in order to confuse the public, and it is those stories we are presented in the first four installments (it’s just like the ending of And Then There Were None, you see, except instead of being a revelation of the truth motivated by guilt, it’s the exact opposite). In other words, Yasu wrote several self-insert fanfictions. Specifically, self-insert fanfictions where he is a cute waifu that torments Battler and kills everyone in the most sadistic way possible. This also explains why Kinzo is depicted as a borderline raving lunatic.
With all that out of the way, I think it’s about time we talk about the ending proper. In the real world, Eva’s diary has found its way into the hands of Toya Hachijo, a spoiled rich girl and prolific author of Umineko fanfiction.
No, I’m not kidding.
Yasu’s little stunt with the bottles along with the whole mystery surrounding the island and what really happened there has spawned a whole community of fans/enthusiasts around the Rokkenjima incident. They call themselves the Witch Hunt, a somewhat cute nod to the IRL Umineko fan community/translation group. It becomes much less cute once you get to the part where Ryukishi07 outright shits on them (and by extension all the other Umineko readers) by indirectly calling them heartless vultures only interested in their own entertainment, willing to defame and make up things about the dead for their sick kicks. In the meta-world, they (and the readers) are personified by the tide of evil and stupid, yet inexplicably buff, goat monsters literally devouring the world.
We’re getting to the infuriating bits, so here is a picture of Erika in a pirate hat.
Toya proceeds to create quite a stir by announcing that she will reveal the contents of Eva’s diary at a press conference. (Remember that she is Ryukishi07’s MILF Mary Sue.) Ultimately, she shows up at the conference, declares that she has changed her mind and that nobody will get to find out what’s in the diary, neener neener. This is all one big metaphor with all the subtlety of Battler’s lecherous aunt fantasies, telling you, the stupid reader: “I have the answers, but I’m not going to give them to you. Figure them out on your own, you voyeuristic piece of shit. How dare you try to entertain yourself with my work rather than crying rivers out of pity for these poor, innocent characters. Better make sure you get the answers I’m not giving you right though, or else you are an awful human being that doesn’t understand love, you intellectual rapist. Go fuck yourself.” Maybe he’d deserve the benefit of the doubt, but he ended his previous eight-part murder mystery series by invoking a goddess to resolve everything because he can’t put together an ending to save his life. So having an actual solution would have been nice. Or at least something with a touch of subtlety and grace, if he wanted to avoid a more explicit revelation.
It’s not a very generous interpretation of what he tried to say, but he already effectively gave out the answers in the last part, albeit in an annoyingly cryptic form. So his contempt for readers who want to just be “told” the answer is intensely hypocritical, especially since the story itself acknowledges and even celebrates the tradition and necessity of the detective to explain everything at the end. Toya’s meta-world counterpart, the most powerful witch in the entire series, even says that while she figures out mysteries on her own, she enjoys being able to check if she was right. But apparently readers who want to do the same or want confirmation of the answers for a variety of other reasons are just not allowed the same courtesy. Besides, less than two years later the manga just outright gave the correct answers anyway.
From the perspective of Umineko’s “real world” this is equally idiotic and arrogant. Toya decides that since only she treats the real people involved in her fanfictions with enough respect and only she is big-brained enough to understand the deep and complex mysteries of Rick and Morty the Rokkenjima incident, all the other stupid and evil plebeians can just go to hell. Why she thinks she is the one who has the right to withhold the truth from both the general public as well as the victims (Ange and the family members of those who were killed) would be anyone’s guess, except we transparently know why: because she is the author’s self-insert. In order to make this seem like the right choice even though it is not, Ryukishi07 then tries to convince us that doing this is what killed interest in Rokkenjima and made people ashamed of their voyeuristic interest in it. Anyone who doesn’t ride the short bus though will immediately realize that publically telling everyone that you have a diary that contains the true events of something everyone has puzzled over for years and then not revealing it would ignite a firestorm of renewed interest. If you wanted to sell the contents of the diary as some sort of book perhaps for maximum profit, this is exactly what you would do.
You may be wondering at the wild disparities in art quality. For whatever reason, every new Umineko release features completely redone art assets that get increasingly good in an objective sense while not being anywhere near as funny.
It bears repeating that Toya is a forger, that is to say she writes her own versions of the Yasu’s letters detailing the murders committed by the witch. In other words, she has written and published multiple stories featuring real people who died tragically being brutally murdered in elaborate ways by a witch. This is the person trying to morally grandstand to everyone else for being too interested in the incident or too stupid to understand it or the people involved for her taste.
There is an elaborate showdown going on in the meta-world at the same time, but it doesn’t really matter. At the very end, Battler and Beatrice give Ange (and by extension the reader) a choice – the first and only choice in the entire series, in fact. Beatrice performs a sleight of hand trick in order to make some candy appear in her hand. The question is this: Was that a trick or magic?
If you choose trick, it cuts to Ange on the boat just before she arrives at Rokkenjima. She deduces that her bodyguard and the captain of the boat want to kill her via a line of reasoning that is ambiguously correct. So in order to not be killed, she kills them first by taking a page out of her parent’s (and brother’s) book and shooting them in the face. After she is done using Erika’s catchphrase, we suddenly hear a “Good!” and there stands Erika next to her. That’s the ending. It’s implied that she is in some way Ange’s meta-world counterpart, which also explains their mutual thirst for Battler’s dick.
The magic ending is… a fucking mess. Ange “dies” by giving up the family fortune, while the public loses interest in solving the mystery. She then changes her name, becomes a famous novelist, and years later meets Battler, who looks like Kinzo now (seriously, they drew new clothes onto the art of young Kinzo). It turns out he survived, but lost his memories and therefore died according to the story’s vague and contradictory definition of death. He eventually got over his amnesia anyway, making their reunion something like a slightly more incestuous version of Beatrice’s apparent resurrection before Kinzo. The story slams home the parallelism by having Battler visit Ange’s recreation of part of the family mansion, complete with a portrait of Beatrice. This causes Battler to have a vision of his family, and then most of the rest of the cast, resolving that “We’ll be together for eternity.” Of course, he discreetly neglects to say anything to whichever one of them murdered all the rest. This is a happy ending, of the variety that isn’t really all that happy if you start thinking about it.
At the end of the day, what are we ultimately given? Everyone except Ange and Battler died, and even then the latter is semi-dead given his identity and brain damage troubles, Ange herself wrote some shitty novels about Maria’s equally shitty stuffed animal for decades, her only comfort being that her family “is always with her”. If you have ever experienced someone close to you dying, you know how worthless and pathetic a substitute this is and how hollow the “magic” here rings; this is even shown in the narrative at a previous point when Ange was still being bullied to a psychotic degree and her only friends were delusions of Maria and some of the minor characters, courtesy of the latter’s diary. After being humiliated, harassed and mistreated for literal hours by the entire class and effectively being forced to write an apology letter for existing, Ange snaps and commands her magical friends to kill everyone. Of course, they can’t do that. Since magic is ultimately an embellishment to mundane things, it can only do what it’s user can accomplish himself. Thus, Ange finally realizes that help can only come in reality and discards her imaginary friends. [Footnote 5]
This was supposed to be a bad thing.
It’s really kind of revolting, especially if you look at it from the perspective of trying to use this sort of “magic” as a substitute or comfort for the death of loved ones. Apparently trying to learn the truth about what happened is bad because it might make you sad, so why not make like Maria and dream up a happy fantasy world to escape your depressing reality? As long as you indulge in fantasy, there are no abusive mothers or dead parents and everyone is smiling. We are being told that just because all of this is fake and reality sucks it didn’t mean Maria wasn’t happy, but so are some hopelessly insane people and heroin addicts. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It is one thing to let children believe in magic or Santa Claus or let people have their comforting thoughts but it is quite another to try and numb real pain and suffering though outright deluding yourself. Perhaps believing in the presence of your dead loved ones or imaginary friends makes you happy, but ultimately you are like a man in the desert who is dying of thirst so he imagines himself swimming in an oasis. From any perspective other than yours your whole existence is insane, pitiful and somewhat disgusting.
Welcome to the real witches world.
“All people can use magic to create their future and find a fragment of happiness.” So says Ange at the very end. If Ryukishi07 wanted love to be the true theme, fine. If he wanted to shift tracks and have a happy ending, fine. If he wanted to include a message about coping with loss, fine. But Ange’s happy ending is completely unearned. She waits for years and has all the answers handed to her, then is told they don’t matter anyway. She’s a prop, a framing device for Battler’s story, and for his character development to happen off-screen so he can tell her to just will herself into happiness is bizarre, especially when the takeaway is supposed to be that the characters mattered more than the mystery all along. It’s hollow.
This is the most grating flaw of Umineko. The author tries to play a rhetorical shell game by which seven episodes of logic puzzles and word games lead to the conclusion that none of this really matters. It’s an extraordinarily long-running version of The Aristocrats with the added distinction of waving its hands and protesting, “well, it wasn’t really all that bad. Come on, have a heart.” Any last-minute twist or reversal needs to recontextualize the story in an interesting way, and Ange daydreaming about her dead family doesn’t.
On top of that, the ending doesn’t work no matter how you feel about the overall story. If you like the characters, then you probably wanted Battler to find some way to defy the odds and predictions of the villains and save everyone, or at least his immediate family (aside from Ange, since she didn’t need saving). In that case, you would have to have not only a high tolerance for being shat on by the writer almost to the point of masochism but also either be stupid or have a strange enough taste to buy that this ending is a happy one. All the pretty in-universe hallucinations of the Golden Land can’t change the fact that everyone died horribly in a pointless tragedy that, as it turns out, couldn’t be prevented in the first place and everything the main character struggled for was for nothing, leaving him as a physically and mentally broken man who lost even his very identity. If you wanted the ending to actually be tragic like it was promised over and over again, you most likely didn’t appreciate the clumsy attempts to interpret and depict it as happy rather than just playing it straight or even going further (like having Ange actually die as it was promised in Red rather than slipping out of it via another pathetic word game). And if you didn’t like the characters – perhaps because they are horrible people – then you either don’t want a happy ending for them (regardless of how clumsy and empty it is) or you just don’t care at all.
So in summary, is Umineko worth reading? Yes. It’s flawed and severely stumbles at the end, but there are more than enough reasons to give it a shot, like the music, its large cast of varied and well-textured characters (when the narrative isn’t trying to depict them as saints, that is), story, a premise that manages to be novel while paying homage to the golden age of detective fiction, murder mysteries (over-reliance on cheap tricks and disingenuous use of words not withstanding) and most of all, the utterly hilarious art.
- The writing is deliberately ambiguous about whether the character in question is male or female, but for clarity’s sake I’m going with “he.” It’s the most likely option anyway.
- Unless of course the conclusions you draw aren’t the “correct” ones that he expects from his readers, in which case fuck you.
- The first one is Beatrice because Kinzo is my spirit animal.
- Yes, this means Kinzo was already dead for about two years before the murders take place. There’s a whole sub-plot with Krauss and Natsuhi about it, but it’s not necessary to go into it here.
- It’s also a probably intentional inversion of the ending of Higurashi, in which the mystery is resolved by divine intervention on behalf of the protagonists.
What do you think, everyone?