Warning: full spoilers for all Umineko.

I post this article mostly because I wonder if I was clear enough in the last one. So I'll try to talk a bit more about the greater narrative I see in Umineko to make things clearer. This narrative is about fiction, in particular about the fantasy and mystery genres, and why people write them or read them. This post will attempt to develop these ideas by explaining what goes on in each episode.

(This goes well with my “Featherine wrote Umineko” theory, but doesn’t need it. With my theory, Featherine is the author of the meta world and of this narrative, but in any case, Ryukishi still created it, and you can prefer it without the middlewoman. Though I do personally like author Featherine because it explains a lot of coincidences in an elegant way.)

There is an interesting article where Ryukishi talks at length about fantasy and mystery and their purposes, which shows that these considerations mattered to him. It was written after episode 3. You can read it here for example: Anti-Mystery vs Anti-Fantasy. It is extremely relevant to this analysis. To summarize it very briefly, Ryukishi talks about how you should doubt the fantasy in the games, which is an attitude he calls “anti-fantasy”. Then he describes what he calls “anti-mystery”, which is about the question of knowing if a mystery is solvable or not. Finally he asks us to think about both these concepts and how and when they should be used in the visual novel...

So, following Ryukishi himself, it appears that Umineko is a deconstruction of both fantasy and mystery. The visual novel itself answers these interrogations by exploring the meaning of both genres and their raison d’être. That’s why it’s metafiction, and can thus be described as both meta-mystery and meta-fantasy.

The first four episodes are “anti-fantasy” but are more or less straight mysteries. The last four mostly deal with “anti-mystery”, and deconstruct the relation between reader and author of a story. Throughout all episodes, the game master represent the author of a mystery book, and the detective its reader. We will now see who these in-stories authors and readers are, and how they cast light into the bigger narrative and the questions about mystery and fantasy.

  • Episode 1. Sayo as Beatrice is the game master. He creates fantasy because he believes it’s better than reality. He writes the story to mystify people about what’s going on. This is what the endless magic of Beatrice is all about: Sayo creates a situation with many different possibilities, where he (and other people) can create many stories. This is also described as a catbox later in the story. (We should also note this is not the only kind of magic, only the one preferred by Beatrice) Right here we can’t really get all this though. In this game, Battler is the reader and is too emotional to be able to reason properly. Thus he doesn’t really stand a chance against the mystery.

  • Episode 2. This is mostly the same as the first game. Some elements of anti-mystery begin to appear with the use of red text. (It highlights the trust the reader needs to have in the author) But Battler doesn’t really take the hint. Battler still refuses to see the story as either fantasy or mystery (There is no witch and no culprit, it must be a stranger on the island!)

  • Episode 3. Tohya / Beatrice is the game master. Whereas the first two games are horrific to some degree, this one is written to show how fun fantasy can be, and how the witches being evil may not be that obvious. This is anti-fantasy as it is a deconstruction. It explores why people write fantasy stories, but does not make it clear yet.

  • Episode 4. This game is mostly the same as the last one from a narrative standpoint, but it has more details about why people may create fantasy stories. It shows Ange and Maria as two young story creators (witches). Maria clearly uses fantasy to escape from a reality she finds unbearable. Unfortunately this doesn’t really help her. Ange mostly follows her footsteps, but with some reflection about it. This is also the way Sayo used stories as an escape.

  • Episode 5. Lambda is the game master. This is a game without love, but not a cruel one either. Lambda just seeks entertainment via a mystery game, a game appealing to the intellect. She represents one type of mysteries fans. The detective in this game is Erika, which the reader of the work. Erika is another type of mystery fan, one who likes to both feel smarter than others and see them suffer. Lambda and Erika approaches are both criticized here as the narrative pushes that the heart of the story should be important too, even in a mystery. (This is anti-mystery, a deconstruction of the genre)

  • Episode 6. Battler is the game master. There is “love” in the game this time. Battler tries to show that this mystery might be more innocent than it seemed at first, by showing people faking their death in some sort of show. But Erika, the reader, refuses this and only wants to see blood. To Erika, there needs to be murders in a mystery for her to have fun. This is again a criticism of this kind of readers and a deconstruction. The part with the logic error is interesting too, but less important in the bigger narrative, where I think it mostly shows how Erika can’t understand the work she’s reading as she doesn’t care about the motives.

  • Episode 7. a. Bern is the game master. The detective / reader is Will, who is some sort of ideal reader, maybe representing battler as he should have been. Bern shows a game where seemingly everything is going really well, and then subverts it at the last moment by making murders happen anyway. This is kinda cruel but her point seems to be that the Ushiromiyas really are awful people. Will understands the who dunnit, the how dunnit and the why dunnit because he is a well rounded person who can be both logical and empathetic. He also tries to only understand and not judge Sayo, which seems to be what Ryukishi wants in an ideal reader. (As a note, I disagree with this view)

  • Episode 7.b The tea party of this episode is also really interesting. Here, Bern is still the story teller, but now the story is not a mystery, but a regular tale. (It is a theater piece with no interaction, which means here no game between author and reader) It is a cruel story showing the Ushiromiyas various flaws. Bern wants to toy with her readers and disgust them. This is not presented as a good thing for her to do.

  • Episode 8. In this episode, things are more free form. First Battler as game master tries to show Ange that the Ushiromiyas were not complete monsters. She doesn’t care about his stories because she wants the truth. I see this as a criticism of people who don’t like stories because they are not true. Ange is a type of reader that is not capable of suspension of disbelief, and thus can not appreciate mystery or fantasy. (The problem is that it doesn’t come out well in the story as Ange has perfectly valid reasons to want the truth) If you choose the trick ending she doesn’t learn anything from the stories and is shown as prideful and conniving. (There is a link with Erika, because Erika too can not learn from stories as she only reads them to feel superior.) If you choose the magic ending, she gets to think a bit on things and make good choices: She refuses greed and she lets the family wealth go. She also refuses pride and lets her family name go. This allows her to live a quiet and happy life. She even gets the value of stories and tries to teach things to children by writing books. This is a good ending. (Also of note in this episode were the goats, who represent bad readers with various flaws.)

So if you look at Umineko this way, there is in it a narrative about the uses and misuses of fiction. It’s not extremely original nor extremely deep, but it is still here, tied in the abstract themes underneath the more direct layers of the story. It develops some good reasons to tell a story (to discuss with, entertain, or teach people) and some bad reasons (to escape reality, to hurt others…) And also some good reasons to read a story (to learn about others or about oneself), and some bad reasons (to escape reality, to feel superior, to see people suffer…) That’s why I think Umineko is ultimately meta-fantasy and meta-mystery…

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