This is my review of Umineko. I will review both the questions and answers arcs, and please be aware that there will be spoilers for both fairly quickly.

I finished episode 8 a little more than a week ago. In my view, it is a good work, but not a great one. (Production values are really impressive though, the OST is top notch. But I won’t speak about it here, I’m more interested in analyzing the literary value of the work.) The story itself has some great moments but unfortunately also some pretty large flaws.

It is like the matrix trilogy: the beginning is great, but the middle gets weird and the end is kinda bad in a way that retrospectively diminish the merits of the start.

By that I mean that the end makes some stuff from the beginning kinda irrelevant and some other parts stupid.

Beato

SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON

For example, the who dunnit is ok, (fine and fair choice of a culprit), but both the how dunnit and the why dunnit are pretty dumb. That’s a real shame, because the narration told us the why dunnit was the important thing.

For the how dunnit, it is really dumb in my view that now one notices the shkannon thing. Natsuhi, Krauss and Jessica really have no business being this blind. For example, it means they never gathered all the servants together to speak to them. Pretty weird stuff. (And while Genji helping kinda handwaves it, it does also raise some questions: Why would he think it’s a good idea? Can he not see Sayo is messed up? More on that in the next point.)

And that’s why the why dunnit is also pretty stupid. It means Kamasawa and Genji, who we are shown to love and care for Sayo, don’t try to understand him and talk to him (I will refer to Sayo as a male for grammatical simplicity). Even though he was going through heavy stuff and obviously not taking it well (the Kannon thing). What dumbasses… Sayo’s isolation is really forced and not necessary.

But is that even enough to murder so many people? In my eyes no, not really. It’s one thing to fantasize about it and another to do it. While it’s not impossible with such a convenient weapon as the bomb, I frankly doubt many people in Sayo shoes would have detonated it. Because with it she kills innocent people (Gohda, arguably some of the siblings and cousins…) and she even kills people she likes and cares for, such as Jessica, Battler and Georges for whom he had ambiguous feelings and Maria, who as Beatrice she was really close to. Killing Maria really is a nasty betrayal of the friendship they had.

For the details of the closed rooms and stuff, I have no beef with that part, but don’t really care about it either. (I’m not a usual reader of mystery) It seems to me a good percentage of the tricks revolve around the shkannon thing though. And ultimately the game boards are fictional in the story, which makes it harder to care about the people in them and the things happening to them. (they are pieces indeed)

Now my Umineko theory.

Thinking about it, I have developed a unified theory around the events. I don’t think it’s very original, but it does make sense to me. Here is it:

Everything we read is part of a story written by Featherine.

This means Umineko is Ryukishi07 writing about an author, who we don’t know the real name of, but who is writing a story where she self inserts as Featherine and Tohya / Ikuko Hachijo. This author is writing about other authors (magic is the metaphor for literary creation, so witches and sorcerers are authors). It is extremely meta, but that doesn’t surprise you, does it?

In my view, as we see everything through what this author (let’s call her meta-Featherine) writes, we cannot know what she invented and what is real in her world. (which may not be ours) But I think the most probable is the following: Ikuko is an author avatar of meta-Featherine, same as Featherine.

SPOILER HIGURASHI – Meta-Featherine also wrote Higurashi and inserted herself as Hanyū. The likeness of the characters makes it obvious to me. Featherine is more mature because it represents the growth as an author of meta-Featherine between the two works. – END SPOILER HIGURASHI

So Featherine reads stories about rokkenjima on the net and meets a wounded Battler. Both these things could be fake / metaphoric. The wounded Battler certainly is, because it explains why Ikuko doesn’t age when Battler does in episode 8. My view is that Rokkenjima is a construction based on real events and / or fictional ones (And then there were none). The story grows inside meta-Featherine mind, and that is represented by Ikuko nursing and caring for Battler. The story she wants to tell is one of meta fiction (I guess that makes the one told by Ryukishi07 meta-meta-fiction). She wants to explore the act of literary creation, with its consequences and circumstances. So she decides to make a series of stories by different authors (witches), to show how authors can differ and how they are born. She makes it about the mystery genre to show how even in this “realistic” genre, there are conventions to respect and works needs a lot of imagination and creativity to create a compelling story while respecting the formula. Indeed mystery is a kind of fantasy. Seen by an uncaring observer (without love) it can seem formulaic and pointless (a bunch of tricks). This explains the meta world. Of course, there is more to say about it and the characters of Lambdadelta and Bernkastel, but this is long already. Let’s just say Lambdadelta and Bernkastel represent different authors who have a different yet similar point of view on artistic creation and the created works. (Bern sees her characters as emotional chew toys, and Lamdba hers as clowns to watch while munching pop corn)

Writing it like this makes it really fun, but this is a summary. The flaw of Umineko is that these considerations trump the original story about the Ushiromiya family. Much more time is spent describing the Ushiromiyas’ tale, a tale which is ultimately not the point. We never learn what really happened on Rokkenjima Prime for instance, and that is fair since Rokkenjima Prime does not exist, but at the same time, we were made to care about it, which I see as a mistake from Ryukishi07. Umineko is a really ambitious work, which tries to make meta-fiction and fiction at the same time. Unfortunately, It fails awkwardly at both (albeit in a mostly entertaining way).

Interestingly, there is a famous work that does both fiction and meta-fiction convincingly at the same time, it is The Divine Comedy of Dante. I guess that does make the references to it more sensible than it first seemed…

Bonus: A rokkenjima story.

I really didn’t like the ending of episode 8 with Ange accepting that magic exists, because the literal reading is pretty rotten. (Of course the metaphorical meaning is much better, it is her accepting the value of fiction – she even becomes an author)

So I thought a silly game board designed as a take that to the opinion that believing in magic or astrology or whatever is a great way to cope. This could even be Rokkenjima Prime if such a thing existed, as Rosa is the sole survivor of this tale…

a chessboard

Our story begins as usual on the 4th of October. Battler is curious about the epitaph and tries to solve it. By luck or skill though, the cousins together really manage to decipher parts of it. The parents are intrigued when they see that and soon begin to help.

All of them together manage to solve it in the afternoon and are quite pleased with themselves when discovering the gold. Due to the children being present, the guns are placed in the care of Genji, who stores them away appropriately. Genji also confirms to them that the bomb is currently deactivated. The kids (mostly Battler and his big mouth) argue that the gold should be shared equally (between the families), given that they worked together to find it. The parents are reluctant to this, but at the same time it is not a bad deal, and splitting the money in the bank account would be great for everyone in the short term. Everyone goes to the dining room and dinner is served. The parents talk about the gold. (Krauss wants more because of his contacts, but Kyrie and Rudolf successfully bluff about having contacts too) But some attention is also given to Beatrice. At one point Beatrice reveals that she is Shannon and Kinzo’s daughter. Jaws drop everywhere. There is an emotional scene where Natsuhi tells her story and asks Sayo for forgiveness. Sayo is touched and they hug. Dinner finishes.

Jessica, Georges and Battler are flabbergasted. They go back to the guesthouse with Sayo and begin to talk. Soon Georges and Sayo excuse themselves and have a deep talk. Georges tells Sayo he still loves her. Sayo tells him he’s a boy. Georges says nobody’s perfect. (sorry not sorry) They kiss. Meanwhile the parents discuss the gold. It gets heated, but no one has a better proposition than an equal distribution. Each couple goes its own way. One gets the feeling that they will all agree in the end. Rosa is agitated though. She remembers a girl falling to her death. She puts Maria to bed and decides to go to the place of her memories. Maria is saying strange stuff, but that’s not really a new thing. She asks Genji for directions and goes to Kuwadorian.

Battler and Jessica are happy for Sayo and Georges, who plan to announce their relation to Eva and Hideyoshi the following day. Could the fact that they are related be an issue? Surely not, says Georges, after all people marry their cousins all the time…

Maria is angry though. Beatrice had promised they would go to the golden land! We see a flashback where Sayo as Beatrice tells Maria that there is a room somewhere on the island where she keeps the magic gold. She says with a nasty smile that this room hides the key to the golden land as a button on a clock. Back to the present. Maria is furious. Beatrice has betrayed her! The anti-magic toxin of the others has corrupted her. The witch has become a demon! Her only hope is now to open herself the door to the golden land. Fortunately for her plans, she has managed to steal the key from Sayo. At eleven, she slips from her room, goes to the hidden area and activates the mechanism. Then she climbs on top of the gold heap while laughing maniacally.

Rosa hears the explosion from Kuwadorian. She runs back to the mansion, but there is nothing to do. Everyone is dead. She cries as she remembers the words of Maria sooner in the evening and understands she was the culprit.

Back from Rokkenjima, Rosa tries to take care of Ange, her closest relative. But she was hurt too much, and everyone blames her for the deaths. She blames herself too. After all, if she had been a better mother, Maria would not have turned that way… When Ange accuses her of the killing, it is the final blow and she loses the will to live. She tries to bury herself in work, and never lets anyone close to her again.

And so it ends in a compatible way with the start of episode 4.

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