[Note: this liveblog was originally published in the forum, starting in July 2009.]
Tonight, the anime version of Umineko No Naku Koro Ni will start being broadcasted. In anticipation for that, I've started looking into the original visual novel. Fortunately, it is quite easy to import, and the (unofficial, but authorized) English fantranslation project has recently caught up completely with the Japanese version.
So hey, perfect fodder for a Liveblogging thread.
Except it's not exactly "live". I've already started this on another forum a couple of weeks ago, so I'll be slightly reformating my initial comments. It'll still follow the spirit : each comment was written with no knowledge of what would come next.
I've gone into this relatively blind. I've (mostly) avoided any kind of spoilers. I know it's a supernatural murder mystery with a bunch of people trapped on a remote island, but not much else. I've already watched Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni, so I expect each chapter will be a different version of the same basic scenario, with more clues to the whole explanation. There will probably be some Kill 'Em All versions, and at least some gruesome murders. I certainly doubt the answer will be the same.
This thread should be spoiler-free for Higurashi (if I do go into that direction, I'll mark them clearly). Anyway, I don't expect many obvious link to Higurashi beyond thematic resonances. The few common characters to both series seem to use obscure codenames (I know there's someone called Bernkastel running around in the background or something, for example), so there shouldn't be much risk of unintentional spoilerage.
In your comments, try keeping spoilers to the minimum, especially on parts I've not watched yet.
I'm currently starting episode 3, but I certainly have no idea what the heck is really going on.
[Edited to add : I'm now done with episode 6. I should start watching Ep 7 soon.]
Okay, let's start.
This is the annual reunion of the rich Ushiromiya family on their private island of Rokkenjima, in 1986.
The head of the family, Kinzo Ushiromiya (hereafter called "Grampa") doesn't have much time left to live, but certainly is taking his sweet time. His four children are squabbling over the inheritance. Their respective spouses (minus one, for some reason) and one child each are also there. Add to this five servants and the family physician, and you get a total of 18 people.
There's a weird rumor that Grampa's got tons of gold stashed somewhere, and that he's used it to build the family fortune. He's supposed to have obtained it from a "witch" called Beatrice. He worships her and has been supposedly dabbling in black magic. Anyway, he now lives as a recluse in his study, barely allowing anyone inside. (There's been various ghostly sightings of Beatrice among the staff over the years, who assuredly live in fear of her.)
The weather is very bad, making the island completely isolated. And then people start dying...
This is a Visual Novel in the truest sense of the words : at least the first chapter is completely uninteractive. Your only action is to control the flow of the scrolling text. Behind the text (which takes the whole screen), you can see a background scenery of the room/place the scene happens, and usually some basic sprites of the people talking.
The When They Cry series are often called "sound novels", and it's accurate. The soundtrack is very well done, with appropriate sound effects, and average-to-quite-good music.
Also of note is the "Tips" menu : instead of random bits of background info presented as deleted scenes (like in the Higurashi VNs), it's just a collection of the various important (but cryptic) documents appearing in the plot. This way, you can go back to them at any time to give them another look.
There's also a diagram of the cast of characters, with short profiles, as a reference of who's who. It gets updated everytime someone dies or disappears.
By order of appearance, mostly. I'll add my initial impressions on their possible degree of culpability.
Warning : Grampa is in love of occidental culture (he made his fortune in the post-war occupation), and decided to give weirdly western-sounding names to his children, and the tradition has carried over to the grandchildren.
- Kinzo Ushiromiya : Grampa. See the premise for more details.
Obviously he's a key player. On the other hand, it would be far too simple for him to be orchestrating everything. Other agents are probably around to screw his plans.
- Doctor Nanjo : The family physician, and longtime friend of Grampa.
I wouldn't exclude him being in league with Grampa or whoever else, but it has a low probability. Maybe he's just there for the "character with medical knowledge" quota.
- Genji : Head servant of the Ushiromiya home, and Grampa's right hand man. The "reserved butler" archetype.
If he's involved, it's obviously by following Grampa's orders.
- Battler Ushiromiya : Our protagonist/POV character, at least for the first chapter. Son of the third child of Grampa. 18 years old, in high school. Thoroughly despises his father, who apparently remarried only instants after the death of his first wife, six years ago. Battler has been living with his maternal grandparents ever since, and is only coming back into the fold now that they're dead.
Battler is rash, outspoken, prone to bad jokes, but very far from stupid. There's been a mention of him having a little sister, but she's not here.
An ideal POV character : involved enough to remember various bits of backstory, but his long absence means he's completely out of touch with most recent events (as well as everything he was too young to be really aware of).
I really doubt he's an active conspirator for the murders. Maybe he'll pull a Keiichi and kill some people out of paranoid delusion, but some of the events are too well-planned to be just that. And we get too much into his head for him to be deceiving us.
- George Ushiromiya : The son of the second child of Grampa. Oldest of the "child" generation. 23 years old, already working as an apprentice. The ideal son, calm, soothing. Deeply respected by Battler.
I doubt he's involved much, but who knows ?
- Eva Ushiromiya : The second child of Grampa, George's mother. A sneaky bitch with a serpent tongue. Somehow, she's managed to keep her position in the family despite her marriage (We'll get more details later).
I wouldn't put it past her to be involved in some way, or to be plotting something.
- Hideyoshi Ushiromiya : Eva's husband and George's father. A cunning businessman who built his business from scratch. Affable, pleasant, and certainly far less stupid than his (fake) accent lets on.
I don't know. He'd obviously be following Eva if she was involved, but I don't see him as the instigator.
- Kyrie Ushiromiya : Battler's stepmother. Interestingly, he has a very healthy and pleasant relationship with her, considering her a Cool Big Sis.
Again, I don't know. She's very nice, but that doesn't mean anything in When They Cry. Also, she seems to have a very sharp mind.
- Rudolf Ushiromiya : Battler's father, and the third child of Grampa. A former (?) womanizer (it's implied his relationship with Kyrie predates his first wife's death), and overall not a very pleasant person (we're not told in what branch of business he works, but it seems a bit shady). The object of Battler's scorn, though he doesn't seem to mind that much.
Possible suspect, but nothing definite.
- Rosa Ushiromiya : The last child of Grampa. She seems to be quite nice and fading in the background, but her relationship with her daughter looks quite strained. Her husband is the only spouse absent to the reunion, with the implication that he left her a while ago.
You know what they say about sleeping water. Very high in my suspect list.
- Maria Ushiromiya : Rosa's daughter, 9 years old. A gothic lolita if I've ever seen one. Interested in black magic. Her childlish speech patterns get annoying very quickly (she aims for cute, and misses the mark), and not just to the reader (it's one of the reasons her mother Rosa is displeased with her).
Again, high on the suspect list, though maybe manipulated by someone else.
- Jessica Ushiromiya : Daughter of the first child of Grampa, and thus the heir of the family. She really doesn't care for it, though, and acts like a tomboy (though her speech patterns don't translate well).
I really doubt she's involved, but who knows ? Maybe she'll pull a Shion at some point.
- Kumasawa : The old family servant, and token gossip hen.
I'd be laughing extremely hard if she was the mastermind behind everything. Maybe she's an accessory, but I even doubt that.
- Gohda : The cook. Very professional, but distrusted by most of the staff : while they were all hired by Grampa, he's Krauss' man (the first son).
Maybe as an helper to Krauss, but that's it.
- Kanon : A young male servant. Orphan, and around 16 if I'm not mistaken. Very sullen, he barely talks at all and seems to have low self-esteem.
Following Grampa's orders, probably.
- Shannon : A young female servant, around Battler's age. A bit clumsy under pressure. It's not her real name : all those young orphan servants take one of those "xxxon" names while working.
- Natsuhi Ushiromiya : Wife of the first child of Grampa, and Jessica's mother. She seems to be in charge of the island mansion (since neither Grampa or her husband can be bothered). She has a perpetual headache, and obviously doesn't like her awkward position in the family.
Maybe as a support to Krauss, but I doubt it. She's too impulsive for this.
- Krauss Ushiromiya
Very high suspect, of course.
Next part : the first day of Episode 1, setting the stage for the tragedy.