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Review of Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru

SubjectUmineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru
Umineko no Naku Koro ni (Answer Arcs) - PS3 Voice and graphics patch
ByVote: 8thisworldtoyou on 2022-01-11
ReviewUmineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru is the sequel to Umineko no Naku Koro Ni. The former and latter correspond to the fourth and fifth entry of the Naku Koro Ni series, known in the west as When They Cry. Developer 07th Expansion separated Umineko into a set of episodes for each title, starting with the Question Arcs (1-4) and ending with the Answer Arcs (5-8). This review mostly concerns the latter, Chiru, but draws partially from the prequel. The Question Arcs set up the mystery, while the Answer Arcs lay down the underlying philosophy of Umineko. 

Towards the end of the last episode, The Golden Witch Beatrice presents Ange Ushiromiya with two choices which will dictate her future: whether Beatrice’s ability to produce candy out of thin air is a trick or magic. It’s certainly a trick, but the question should be, how can it also be magic? The story argues that magic is a necessity in life, because it heightens the lived experienced. Although magic doesn’t exist in a real sense, the effects do. Whether it’s prayer, wishes, or fiction. For example, Umineko or Higurashi aren’t recounts of actual events, but the elements of their story (setting, characters, plot, etc) have a genuine impression upon readers, evoking what would be considered something real, like emotion and feeling. Oxford University’s online dictionary Lexico defines magic as “a quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight.” All of us, to some degree, relish in illusion or fantasy—magic. What concepts like religion, spiritualism, and even entertainment have in common is their ability to evoke an otherworldly feeling as if something exists beyond ourselves. This realization enables Ange to interpret Beatrice’s sleight-of-hand as magic. Another message of Umineko is how multiple truths can exist simultaneously. Although Ange’s family had despicable qualities, especially her parents, Ange believes their love for her was just as certain. Additionally, the story doesn’t dismiss Erika Furudo or Bernkastel’s interpretations of October 4th and 5th, 1986. As in magic doesn’t exist, nor were many of the inhabitants of Rokkenjima good.

Besides the key messages of the story, the major reveals are just as moving. My number one pick being Sayo Yasuda’s tragedy, which is quite poignant. It seems ridiculous that she’d obsess over a meaningless childhood confession, but contextualizing it with her trauma and dysphoria, things make sense. The love story behind Kinzo’s wealth is also conceivable, how an international conflict like the Second World War would enable two people from different sides of the world to meet and fall in love, which emphasizes miracles or, depending on how one sees it, tragedy, as a motif in Umineko.

Ryukishi07’s vision is humbling, to say the least. His ability to write multifaceted characters, an entire cosmology, mysteries, puzzles, and an encompassing narrative left me questioning things way after the final credits rolled. 

Despite my high praise, there are things I didn’t enjoy. Similar to the conclusion of Shingeki no Kyojin, only after deliberation was I able to appreciate the author’s intentions. The experience itself wasn’t always pleasant. I couldn’t help but feel lethargic repeating October 4th and 5th, 1986 multiple times. The direction and outcome became clear after a while. Which is why I appreciate the addition of Erika, who added much needed flavor to the latter half. The magic battles did little for me after a while. Since they were outrageous, I accepted the fact anything could happen. They weren’t clever or surprising. Often, one party would overpower the other to victory. Ronove and Jessica’s battle comes to mind. Unabashedly, I desired the truth behind many of the mysteries. When the story revealed the truth, I enjoyed the premise, but the execution was rushed and vague. Also, there are several anti-climatic moments like Will and Lion’s showdown with Bernkastel, Erika’s last red truth in episode six, and Ange reading Eva’s diary. The biggest letdown was the truth of the Rokkenjima Massacre, which starts quickly and ends suddenly. We don’t see events like Eva’s escape to Kuwadorian or Battler’s reunion with Sayo. The manga does a better job with certain points of the story, but this isn’t a critique of the manga.

Let’s move on to the sound of Umineko. I played with the 07th-Mod (PS3 Sound and Graphics). I’ll start with the soundtrack, which is eclectic for better or worse. The most distinguishable songs, the electronic and trance ones (e.g. “worldenddominator”), play during crime scenes, battle of wits, and fight sequences. They surprisingly work well with the campy, whimsical atmosphere of Umineko. Then there are the songs during modest scenes like “Hope”, “Wingless”, and “Future”. They aren’t elaborate or have outstanding production quality, regardless, their harmony and melody stand out, transcending budget and technical limitations, which could be said for most of the older soundtrack. There are particular songs I enjoyed the most, such as “Birth of a New Witch” an R&B inspired, harmonically rich track which pairs well with the finale of episode 6 when Erika rises from the throes of death for one last counterattack. Another song that deserves mention is “Promise”. An unconventional ballad with a jumpy, vibrant piano melody layered underneath yudai’s melancholic vocals. Together, they create a bittersweet tune, which is both hopeful and hopeless. “Promise” is reminiscent of “Husked Girlhood” from the House in Fata Morgana soundtrack. Both are energetic, rhythmic songs with somber melodies.

But my thoughts about the soundtrack aren’t entirely positive. A number of songs, although aesthetically appropriate, sound tacky. Regardless, I respect the soundtrack ranging across Baroque, trance, J-rock, Amakusa’s weird Jazz, and unconventional scores like “Senritsu Shirabe”.

This wouldn’t be a complete review without mentioning the voice acting. The voice actors deserve an ensemble award. They deliver one of the most outstanding cast performances in ACGN culture. I especially praise the actresses Sayaka Ohara, Natsuko Kuwatani, and Miki Itou who played the Golden Witch Beatrice, Erika, and Eva-Beatrice, respectively. The voice track shouldn’t be dubbed over. If the Golden Edition ever releases, I strongly recommend against the English dub. I don’t doubt the west’s ability to produce quality English dubs (e.g. Disney, GKIDS). However, the cast and the voice director create an inextricable link between the characters and their voice actor. The idiosyncratic sound and music production not only accompany but matches the unorthodox nature of Umineko no Naku Koro ni.

I’ll briefly go over my thoughts on the art of Umineko. For lack of a better word, Ryukishi07’s sprites are gremlinesque. However, I acknowledge the charm. His sprites are treated as a meme with an ironic following, but there is creativity and expression despite obvious technical shortcomings like the American folk artist Henry Darger. The original character designs gave the remake artists like Takahito Ekusa an excellent reference. In turn, the artists preserved Ryukishi07’s artistic objective while fully realizing his vision. The artists for the console editions also added additional poses and facial expressions, most notably the warped, ghastly ones. The diverse facial expressions add to what makes Umineko not only malleable in the story but also aesthetically.

My score for Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru oscillated between seven and nine before settling on an eight. Umineko left strong philosophical and ethical impressions on me, despite having clumsy executions. What bothers me is I know Ryukishi07 is more than capable of telling a fulfilling story. He is neither lacking in creativity nor diligence. The manga adaption subsides some of my negative feelings for the franchise but not the visual novel. Ultimately, I enjoyed Umineko and am glad to have experienced it. I’m looking forward to reading the entire When they Cry series.