It’s that time of year again: Halloween! Like in previous years, we’ll be looking at another part of Umineko: When They Cry. This year, it’s Episode 3: Banquet of the Golden Witch Vol. 1-2. Is it good?
Umineko: When They Cry Episode 3: Banquet of the Golden Witch (Yen Press)
Written by: Ryukishi07
Drawn by: Kei Natsumi
Translated by: Stephen Paul
Lettering by: Abigail Blackman
It’s time for the next round of Beatrice the Endless/Golden Witch’s little game with Battler Ushiromiya. He lost pretty badly last time, so he’ll need to really step up it if he wants to best Beatrice. Meanwhile, as the family gathering on Rokkenjima starts up again, we focus in on Eva Ushiromiya, who hasn’t been feeling well as of late. She’s been very troubled lately about her husband’s work, the future of her son, and her own standing in the family. It’s been bad for her, so much so that she’s been seeing strange visions of her younger self. Her younger self who wants to help her get ahead and secure herself as the head of the family.
The Initial Impression
Reading a few years ago, this portion of the series really caught me off guard. New elements were introduced in the mind games between Beatrice and Battler, there was an absolutely amazing twist that flipped everything I thought was happening on its head in the most deliciously evil way imaginable (it made my recent read through more interesting as I saw if I could see it coming), it had an absolutely horrifying and childish villain, and it had some great character development between both Eva and Beatrice. It was such an impressive and exciting read at the time that it easily gave Umineko a spot on my Best of 2014 list.
Just another fun family reunion. What? Don’t yours go like this too?
Story-wise, Banquet of the Golden Witch is the strongest of the three episodes so far. It continues the heavy drama and battle of wits thriller from last time, but with faster pacing and more developments in the story and characters. The faster pacing comes in the fact that the story gets moving a lot quicker, getting us into the main event a lot sooner than before. The mystery is already underway a fifth of the way into the first volume and we get some very interesting developments regarding Beatrice and Eva before the first chapter is even over. This really helps with making a good first impression and encouraging a person to stick around for more instead of having to slog through cheesy family moments or teen romance.
Episode 3’s other strength is in its story and characters. There are a lot of developments going on in this arc, especially in the ending and how it’s guaranteed to shake up the series’ formula. The major thing is that the riddle is actually solved for once and Eva discovers where the piles of gold are (We ourselves don’t see where it’s hidden though, but we do know she finds it somewhere on the island), which was a huge plotline for the series. A new villain is introduced that builds off of that gold discovery and throws everything into chaos. We learn that Beatrice’s power is growing every time Battler loses and we also learn about her interesting past on the island. These are all some interesting developments, even if some of these don’t stick around beyond these two volumes. They raised the stakes and shook up the status quo quite a bit in good ways.
However, what truly made the story so good was the ending and everything that came with it. For the first time, someone actually survives the entire story arc from beginning to end and we see what happened to them afterwards. A new player enters the field to help Battler’s side when he’s at his lowest point and we get to learn about who they are and their connection to the Ushiromiya family. We learn the identity of the true murderer that’s been killing everyone on the island this time around. Beatrice pulled off an incredible gamble to win, calling into question almost everything she did this entire arc and solidifying her as a force to be reckoned with. And yet, she still doesn’t seem like the truly powerful one in all of this insanity. This finale was a rollercoaster of shock and drama in the best way that just leaves you exhausted, but desperate for more.
Character-wise, the people that got the most focus this time around were Eva Ushiromiya and Beatrice the Endless/Golden Witch. We got some minor characterization for some others in the volume, but nothing too significant outside of a reveal with someone at the very end. First, there’s Eva, who has been a real jerk to almost everyone around in the past episode. There was always a soft side to her with how much she really loved her husband and son, but she wasn’t very pleasant to say the least. This story arc showed a weaker side to her, having similar issues as Natsuhi and Rosa’s own in a way. Eva is desperate to be seen as a worthy member of her family, despite being a blood relative. Even as one of the oldest siblings and having studied so hard her entire life, her father only sees her as a babymaker to produce suitable heirs and her eldest brother constantly puts her down. It’s definitely affected her psychologically, constantly putting pressure on her son and causing her to lash out at others that she sees lower than herself. It probably even resulted in her “other” side to come out and why she goes to the lengths she does to be the true head of this family in this part of the series. While this arc doesn’t completely redeem her by any means, but it does provide a different angle to look at and understand her. It certainly did a better job for her than the last arc did for Rosa at least.
Then there’s Beatrice and there’s a lot to be said about her. We see her origin and how she first got wrapped up in magic in the first chapter, which works as an interesting contrast between her in the past and where she is now. We learn that despite her powers, she’s more equal to Battler mentally and logically than she wants to admit. There are several places where she’s his equal and she has to put up as strong of a resistance and counter to his challenges as he does for her own. She’s surprisingly easy to rattle at points and almost at times seems to enjoy fighting Battler.
Then there’s everything else with Beatrice, which is where things get interesting. At around the halfway point and after a very dark moment, Beatrice seems to be turning around. She starts to see that’s she’s been pretty bad and tries to clean up her act after seeing the new witch that took over her position is a truly horrific being. She even bonds with Battler and when the game takes a sudden turn, she teams up with him to beat that villain. It’s sweet, if very sappy in its character development for her, but then, the curtain is pulled. Everything she has done was just to manipulate Battler into letting her win. Playing up being a damsel in distress, being soft and vulnerable, even learning a lesson about what true magic was. It was all an act and she even plays it up by saying she studied how to be like that from popular manga and anime, which is brilliant at manipulating both Battler and us, the audience who loves those cheesy redemption tropes.
It showed how great of a villain Beatrice was in this story, but it also made us question things. Was every single thing an act? Because there are moments when Battler is not around that show she may not be acting all that much. Then comes the Tea Party chapter in the book that features Lambdadelta, the Witch of Certainty, and things get even more complicated regarding Beatrice and her true self. In the end, Episode 3 of the series did a fantastic job when it came to developing Beatrice as a character and I’m more than eager to see what happens with her next.
Also, what are you people wearing? Can’t you wear better outfits when you’re tearing people apart?
The artwork for this part of Umineko is done by Kei Natsumi, who drew the first arc of the series. Like before, his artwork here is fantastic and really works overall here. The characters are all drawn very well, capturing a wide and amazing range of emotion and drama in their expressions and body language. Beatrice especially looks great here during her interactions with Battler, going from extremely prideful to devastated at points. The layouts are strung together well, making things easy to read and follow along with. The horror and gore elements of the manga are just as horrific as they were in the first episode, really delivering some nightmarish and disturbing imagery that packs one hell of a punch (what happens to Rosa and Maria towards the end of the first volume is nothing short of horrifying).
The major issue of the artwork comes in its need for fetishy designs and angles on some of the women. For a series trying to be very serious and have some nightmarish imagery, the fetish look and outfits some of the characters have just don’t remotely fit the tone at all. The Stakes of Purgatory are bad with their half-suit half-showgirl outfits, but the Chiester Sisters Imperial Guard Corps are the worst with their military uniform crossed with a playboy bunny outfit. The outfits get even worse when the artist has a character angled in a panel to flash their ass at the audience, showing just how skimpy their outfits really are. I have no issue with these particular characters personality-wise, since they serve as decent henchwomen for the villains, but their outfits just feel so out of place in the series.
Umineko: When They Cry Episode 3: Banquet of the Golden Witch was fantastic, easily one of the best story arcs I’ve read in a manga series. It had terrific twists and turns, along with a fascinating and intriguing villain with many layers to her, whether obvious or subtle. It’s a story that always kept me on my feet and second guessing things at the very end. If you weren’t sure about how you felt after Episode 2 of the series, definitely stick around to read this part. I think you’ll be pleasantly (also horrifyingly) shocked by what awaits you.