Last year in the spirit of the season, I reviewed Umineko Episode 1: The Legend of the Golden Witch. It was a murder mystery involving a rich family trapped on an island during the middle of the storm and rife with suspense. Who was behind the murders? Was it the family, servants, or perhaps the legendary witch of the island? Either way, it was one of hell of a thrill ride from start to finish, but the story is far from over. With the haunting season here, let’s take a look at the second part of the series. Is it good?
Umineko: When They Cry Episode 2: Turn of the Golden Witch (Yen Press)
Written By: Ryukishi07
Drawn By: Jiro Suzuki
Translated By: Caleb D. Cook
Before the bloody incident on Rokkenjima Island, there was a lowly servant named Shannon. Day in and day out, she toiled and worked as hard as she could for the Ushiromiya family, even though she was treated with no respect (thought of as merely furniture). Despite that, she was in love with one of the younger members, George, and was determined for them to be together. However, her determination to change her life and win George’s heart over is going to be costly, as she has a run in with the legendary ruler of the island, Beatrice the Endless Witch. From there, the pieces are set into place as time resets and the annual family gathering is about to get underway.
That’s a very simple synopsis of the plot to the second episode of Umineko, because there are a ton of things going on here. Turn of the Golden Witch is where the series makes its first big change and where the plot truly gets underway. The central story changes from a vicious murder mystery to a supernatural, heavy drama, battle of wits thriller. It’s a rather interesting change of direction, but one that still fits and doesn’t feel too radical of a shift; as such, the second episode of Umineko is another fun and thrilling ride, still knowing how to catch you off guard and take you by surprise.
Episode 2 builds off some of the ideas and concepts that were introduced briefly or abruptly throughout the first episode, such as the whole surprise with George and Shannon having a thing, Aunt Rosa’ biopolar behavior with her daughter and Jessica’s interest in Kannon. In fact, the entire episode shifts focus away from Battler (for the most part) and Natsuhi Ushiromiya, developing other characters and showing more of their true nature. It also plays up the romance a lot more, which does end up diminishing the horror elements and making the manga feel a bit saccharine at times.
Aside from switching some things up, the manga still follows a similar setup to the last episode. A long buildup introducing the main focus for this storyline and the themes extending from it, the murders and ritual being carried out over the two days, the attempts of the characters to try figure out what is going on, and eventually the resolution and the tea party chapters (which set the stage for the next episode). While this formula and outline is similar to the last, the beats and execution are much different. The buildup is a lot longer and introduces the fantastical element right away with Beatrice appearing before Shannon (though the slow pace is more of a weakness since things starts to drag after a while with the romance and lack of horror or thrills). Who gets killed off when and where is different and since we got to spend more time with some characters, either in this episode or the last, some of the deaths are rather tragic and sad. Heck, even the layout of the story becomes different about a fourth of the way in, with a sort of frame/nested story taking over. There’s the story going on with the people on Rokkenjima, but also with Battler and Beatrice in some odd dimension where the two are watching the events occur and Battler has to figure out the human explanation behind the murders. All of these changes and tweaks, for the most part, work very well.
The characters who get the most attention this time around are Shannon, Kanon, and also Rosa Ushiromiya. Jessica gets a bit of development herself, concerning how she deals with the pressures of being in her position and we spend more time with Battler as he battles Beatrice on an intellectual level and tries to figure out her game, but the main focus of the episode is usually split between those other three. Shannon gets the most development and we get a bigger understanding of her character. To reiterate, she’s a lowly servant girl working for a mean family, but is in love with one of the kids (George) and wants to change her destiny. The trope is familiar (these points are admittedly not lost on a bunch of the other characters), but the execution works. You see how much she struggles and overcomes her problems, becoming more confident and sure of herself as she becomes closer with George, even when the rest of the world seems determined to step on her. It’s a bumpy road but Shannon’s determination and strength in whatever comes her way is fantastic and strangely inspiring. It’s a big step up for the character, who was one of the first to be axed off in the last episode.
Kanon is different from his “sister”, being far more cynical, miserable, and less hopeful of the future. He fully believes in his position in life as “furniture” and sees no reason to get attached to Jessica, despite her fondness of him. He even goes as far as to try and convince Shannon to stop pursuing George, believing it will only end in tragedy, and telling Jessica he can’t be human or feel anything. He comes across as a more tragic character than last time, especially when he has to suppress his own feelings and deal with Beatrice, who is fully determined to torment and hurt him. When he actually dies this time around, his death has more power and emotion to it after all of his struggles and deciding that he finally wants to become more than what he is. It’s heartbreaking and despite him seeming overly angsty, given what is implied and the only life he has ever known, his behavior is understandable and adds to his depth.
Then there is Rosa and oh man, is this a divisive character. In the first story arc, the adult character that had the most focus was Natsuhi and she was fairly likable due to the complexity of her life and all the issues and problems she faced along the way. Rosa on the other hand… is incredibly difficult to sympathize with. Growing up, her family and siblings treated her very harshly and damaged her psychologically (it feels like she suffers from an inferiority complex in the present) and now she is a single mom raising a daughter with her own problems. All of this ends up leading to Rosa being an absuive individual who often slaps her daughter for not acting her age, saying that it is for her own good but then later regretting it… before doing it again. She’s also hostile and paranoid (though the paranoia is justifiable given the circumstances), snapping at others and threatening to shoot them.
Turn of the Golden Witch had a different artist working on it by the name of Jiro Suzuki. In some ways, I would say his artwork is not as good as the previous artist with some wonky looking faces, a lot of wasted panel space, and the action we get in the book being rather stiff. On the other hand, Jiro’s style is just as visceral and powerful with how he depicts the violence and horror and unnatural aspects of the story. The murders, the abuse Rosa inflicts on Maria, the way the characters express themselves and twist their faces, the cruelty displayed in Beatrice’s actions, and the disturbing imagery of the ending are all extremely uncomfortable and make you uneasy in the right ways. The depiction of the positive and goofy moments early on are also well done, though in a more typical and familiar Moe-style. Regardless, the artwork is great despite the minor problems it has and hopefully Jiro will draw more episodes in the future.
Is It Good?
Umineko: When They Cry Episode 2: Turn of the Golden Witch is a great episode and continuation of the series. While there are a lot of different elements and themes at play here, including a new direction for the manga to go in, it works most of the time and gives you a really twisted, rough, but thrilling experience. If you enjoyed the first episode and like stories that evolves in surprising ways, definitely give Turn of the Golden Witch a look.
Umineko: When They Cry is available from Yen Press. Episode 1 (Legend of the Golden Witch), Episode 3 (Banquet of the Golden Witch), and Episode 4 (Alliance of the Golden Witch) are all available in completion, while Episode 5 (End of the Golden Witch) is still slowly being released. Episode 6 (Dawn of the Golden Witch) is set for release sometime next year. Also available from Ryukishi07 are Higurashi: When They Cry and Rose Guns Days, both good series worth a look.