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Umineko is one of those VN's you can't miss hearing about if you are even the slightly aware of the medium, so of course I decided to check it out eventually to see what all the fuss was about. And for the most part, I could see where the praise was coming from.
Umineko's biggest strength is by far it's main cast sans Battler. It provides a nice mix of both sympathetic and deplorable traits with just a dash of just the right kind of crazy thrown in for good measure. Characters you maybe hated early on become lovable while seemingly spotless ones become more questionable as the story goes on. Some parts of their personal struggles seriously left me struck dumb. The villains also provide a nice range of flavors to satisfy those who prefer those kind of characters.
One thing that is notable about the novel is it's attempt as a sort of meta narrative regarding the mystery and fantasy genres and presents some interesting ideas with liberal use of the Unreliable Narrator. How successful it is with this however varies a lot from scene to scene with even the author seemingly getting lost in all the back and forth on occasion. One of the problems that arise from this is that it becomes harder and harder to sympathize with characters when everything becomes more and more vague and hard to trust, which becomes an especially big problem later on in the novel.
And while the novel has some slight issues with the pacing and ends up dragging on occasion, it still proves to be quite an interesting read. And while the second half isn't quite as good as the first half of the series it still has some interesting segments even if not up to the same standard.
....and then Episode 8 happens. To be bluntly honest, this part almost came across as the author having some sort of hissy fit at the audience and giving them the middle finger and seems to throw out all of the themes previously set up out the window and tries to shoehorn new ones in that doesn't even make sense and that have some questionable implications behind them. All this while the story seemingly goes more and more oblivious to it's own hypocrisy. And just to rub salt on the wound, it offers no real conclusion to many of the still hanging plot-threads of the story which can leave the reader feeling cheated. This whole part just comes across as a case of Torch the Franchise and Run, at least, that was the impression I got from reading it.
So in conclusion I would say to at least read the first half for a pretty good VN experience, but to approach the second half with caution and tempered expectations.
Mystery stories are, at their core, just one big puzzle. An author writes a story, gives you hints, and typically tells you all you need to know before the story's conclusion so that you have a fair chance at figuring it out if you're perceptive enough. Good mystery authors make it possible to figure out the killer long before they are revealed in the story. But it has gotten to the point that many people either don't try and figure it out, or if they do, their guesses are far more lukewarm, because they know the story will reveal everything at the end of the story and wrap everything up in a nice little bow. Umineko does not do this. It lays out clues for you and tells you to figure it out yourself, not directly revealing the answer to a majority of its individual mysteries, and, while giving you more hints to its biggest mysteries, never outright stating the answer. What makes the story even more difficult to solve is the constant questioning of whether what you're seeing is true or false, and whether or not the murders are truly being done by magic, not helped by the constant seemingly impossible closed room murders. Can you figure out the truth? That's up to your observational skills.
A murder mystery, however, would be nothing if it's characters weren't compelling, so how does Umineko fare here? Well, fear not, for a majority of the characters are wonderfully written. While some characters sadly get very little focus, the focus on the rest of the characters more than makes up for it. The members that get focus are incredibly well developed and fleshed out, and you will likely care about them a lot.
The series has had three different artstyles: The art made by the author, Ryukishi 07, the art made for the PS3 version, and the art made for the Steam version. Ryukishi's artwork suffers from odd proportioning, but it shows the characters emotions the best of all of the artstyles. The Steam version's artwork are far more clean, but they hurt in that the characters body movements are far more limited and they don't showcase their emotion as well. The PS3 sprites, my personal favorites, keeps the clean artstyle of the Steam version, and it has far more free body movement for the characters which allows them to express more emotion than the Steam sprites, although not as good as Ryukishi's. The voice acting in the PS3 version is top notch, to the point that I would recommend downloading the voices mod for the Steam version if you get that version.
Overall, Umineko is a wonderfully unique and amazingly written game. Its mystery not giving you any concrete answers, leaving you to take the pieces and see where to put them, is genius, the presentation of the game is wonderful regardless of which sprites you use, a grand majority of the characters are well developed and fleshed out, and the overall plot is very solid. I definitely recommend Umineko to anyone with a love for the mystery genre or enjoys solving seemingly impossible puzzles
This is a review of the anime, as I haven't played the games.
The main draw of the series is its crazy premise. First it's an And Then There Were None-style murder mystery. Then it's Battler and the witches watching the murder mystery and debating what really happened. Then the Red Truth and Blue Truth show up, which makes it sort of like debating a murder mystery with the author of the story. It's very strange and metafictional, sort of like House Of Leaves meets Agatha Christie.
The characters are decent. It's hard to connect to them when they're getting killed off and brought back all the time, and their circumstances and motivations change rapidly. Meanwhile, the witches tend to be insane, playing an incomprehensible game, or both. But the story does put in the effort, and every character gets a moment in the spotlight.
The main problem is that it really doesn't go anywhere. Battler debates his way through four crazy murder mysteries and four crazier witches, and what does he get? Not much, because the season stops there. Apparently the anime covers the first 4 visual novels, while the next 4 actually start answering questions. But on its own, the anime has no real sense of closure.
Overall, I'd say it's worth watching for the novelty, but don't expect great things out of it.
When The Seagulls Cry 3 and 4, or for the Japanese title, Umineko No Naku Koro Ni, is a colossal effort in transmedia, consisting on an ongoing manga adaptation, a Japanese animated cartoon, a spinoff fighting game franchise, fan-discs and assorted short stories and, of course, The original Visual Novel series and its remakes. Just the visual novels alone come to approximately double the size of the Russian epic War and Peace. With such a massive scale of work, with such a large reputation to follow and with so many ways to encounter and look at this series, does it manage to stay worth the commitment on all fronts?
While the answer is always subjective, the reaction of this reviewer and the fan community as a whole is a resounding yes.
Umineko consists of a slow first part where the main family is introduced. While some characters get full episodes surrounding them [The women, and Battler in particular.] some get none at all. This varied family and its servants serve as the love letter and the pale outline of the first part of the story - a murder mystery steeped in horror and psychological tricks. By the end of the first episode, many riddles are presented, including the one that the story revolves around at first - who is this Beatrice, how can she preform impossible feats and does, as she insist, magic exist in our human realm? I will say this. Those questions are dear to the readers and in the execution of thier answers, some felt truly cheated when not all were brought to light.
But such complaints pale in comparison to the lessons of the story - Indeed they are based around the arc words "Without Love, It Cannot Be Seen" and "It Takes Two People To Create A Universe." The story evolves into something greater. It becomes a commentary on truth and love. As someone who was raised Wiccan - quite literally in a world where loved ones insist magic exists and that i could not see it. This...creation changed the way i saw my world ; the way i interpreted my truth. The story asks the questions of the right to discredit religion and the right to existence and belief. The story soon becomes a deconstruction and reconstruction of itself and suddenly, the mystery simply just didn't matter. It gave way to something much more beautiful.
Such stories are more than precious, and do not be daunted by size. You will come to love this universe too.
Umineko No Naku Koro Ni was one of my Gateway Series to visual novels, so I admit in having some bias towards this series. Nevertheless, I'll try to be as impartial as possible while writing this.
Umineko starts out very slowly, taking its time in constructing the setting and atmosphere with Legend of the golden witch. A certain person on the TVT forums said that it was akin to watching people talk about the whether for two hours. An apt analogy might be a board game — it takes time to set it up before you can play with it.
However, once the set-up is finished, the novel gets into the good part rather quickly. At its core, Umineko is a mix between fantasy, mystery and horror. Each subsequent arc throws at you more and more mysteries to solve while subtly (or not-so-subtly) providing you with more hints (or Red Herrings) which will drive you to solve the riddles presented. This makes for an engaging story which will keep you thinking until you're at wit's end.
The "sound novel" format works to its advantage. The terribly-drawn art can be easily overlooked after a while; the draw to this novel isn't the art, but the music and sounds. The music is absolutely fantastic, ranging from soothing, classical musiques, to lonely piano pieces, to intense murder-rave music. The sound effects are also very effective in conveying the atmosphere of the story, particularly the endless rain on the island.
What I like about the narrative is the Unreliable Narrator aspect. Because of this, you are driven to look for clues from the limited amount of things you can trust about the plot. The narrative, however, occasionally suffers from being so lengthy that the pacing slows down considerably.
Finally, the antagonists are simply incredible. You will be trolled to hell and back by them, and you will love them for it. The characters overall range from trolls that you love to hate, to being incredibly badass that you inevitably end up cheering for them.
As a whole, I consider Umineko no Naku Koro ni to be a flawed masterpiece. While the ending is surely controversial, the journey is incredibly worth it.
Truly, without love, it cannot be seen.
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