The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Umineko no Naku Koro ni

Title: Umineko no Naku Koro ni aka When the Seagulls Cry
Genre: Drama/Horror
Company: Studio DEEN
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 2 Jul 2009 – 24 Dec 2009

Synopsis: The exceptionally wealthy Kinzo Ushiromiya calls his eight heirs to his private island to decide how his fortune will be divided upon his death. As discussions take place, a mysterious letter arrives claiming to be from a witch named Beatrice. At first, the letter is not taken seriously, but soon as dead bodies turn up one by one in depraved and seemingly impossible situations, the survivors begin to believe that Beatrice is real.

The Highlights
Animation and music: Nothing memorable but decent nonetheless.
Plot progression: Happens across numerous parallel universes with observers sipping tea and shouting “objection!”
Mystery: Creates a thousand questions and answers none.

It may be pretentious of me to pass any kind of judgment on a piece that is woefully unfinished and that I do not completely understand, but having seen the piece in its convoluted and confusing entirety, it’s well within my right, and considering the thorough mental sodomy I endured while watching it, I have less than kind words to describe what I happen to understand. Though Umineko no Naku Koro ni is not an absolutely horrible anime, it lacks the visceral drama, brooding atmosphere and genuine impact of its predecessor Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.

Back in 2006, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni made waves through its unconventional narrative structure and its shocking juxtaposition of innocence and violence. The series tells stories that pan across several alternate universes, each telling its own tale of murder, but all feeding into the same questions and the same overarching mystery. Umineko no Naku Koro ni follows a similar structure but it adds spectators, Battler and Beatrice, who observe the progress of an alternate universe and then use logical arguments to try to makes sense of what occurred. I do not know how this dynamic played out in the source material, but for the television anime, it drove a massive stake through the heart of the series.

The main problem with the Battler vs Beatrice game is that it displaces the focus of the series from the drama generated by the mystery to the far less interesting dynamic between Battler and Beatrice. The strength of Higurashi is its ability to reconnect the audience to the core characters in every single alternate universe. Umineko doesn’t do this and instead jumps to where the murders begin, letting most of the drama come from Beatrice relishing in Battler’s feeble attempts to crack her puzzle. This makes all the horrific mutilations, the twisted mind games and the overbearing atmosphere of fear playing out in the game feel oddly pedestrian. The drama between Battler and Beatrice is not enough to make people care about the true gem of the series: the mystery itself.

Effectively, the final nail to the show’s coffin is its decision to make certain scenes in the anime intentional misdirections. It is strongly implied that a significant number of scenes in the anime are completely fabricated by Beatrice, so the viewer can sit through some dramatic turn of events and not be sure it even happened. I suppose the best approach would be to discount everything supernatural that happens within the game as fiction, but there is the odd quirk that these seemingly fictitious events have an actual impact on the players themselves. Of course, this is nothing compared to the final stretch of the series where the show makes the “brilliant” decision to double the number of characters and show what appears to be magic outside the context of Beatrice’s game.

Umineko no Naku Koro ni is best described as an exercise in one’s patience when approached intellectually, but its histrionics are actually compelling enough to enjoy when one’s brain is shut off. Given that even the convoluted Higurashi no Naku Koro ni has a reasonable explanation to its secrets, I do not doubt that there is some sort of answer to this series, but unlike Umineko, Higurashi functioned even without the answers at hand. Watch this show if a good adaptation of the answers arc ever materializes because without it much of what has been built up is simply indecipherable.

The Rating: 5

Reviewed by: Shadowmage

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