As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
The Halloween season is upon us and like always, we turn to the next part of Umineko for this year’s look at the series. Things are really shaken up a bit as we enter the fourth episode, Alliance of the Golden Witch. Is it good?
Umineko: When They Cry Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch (Yen Press)
Twelve years have passed since Ange Ushiromiya lost almost all of her loved ones during an annual family reunion and now, she’s all alone and the sole heir to a vast fortune. However, money and power cannot replace what she’s lost, nor can it help her escape the harsh, brutal reality she lives in. All she can do is read her cousin Maria’s old diary and escape through that, but even that’s not enough after a while. Then one night, the Witch of Miracles, Bernkastel, appears before her with an opportunity to save her family… possibly. And thus, we begin the fourth brutal game…
The Initial Impression
I said the third arc of Umineko caught me completely off guard. This fourth arc managed to up the ante even more — the shock and surprise increased ten fold. This is the storyline where we start to get answers about what had happened in past arcs, really messing with our perceptions further about what we thought was going on and calling into question many of the interactions between the characters. We also shift focus onto a different member of the family, change up the dynamics of the game between Beatrice and Battler even further, and dive into both the nature of magic itself and the darkness surrounding characters’ pasts. When I first read the storyline, I was blown away and reading it over a year later again, it still holds up so well.
Story and plot-wise, Alliance of the Golden Witch splits its focus between Battler and his now all grown up sister from 1998, Ange Ushiromiya. While Battler continues his fight with Beatrice to solve her mysteries and uncover the truth in yet another game cycle, Ange’s story brings both a breath of fresh air to liven up the ongoing story and a new perspective for which to look at things as she works in 1998 and alongside her brother (though I wish there was more of the two working together). We see what ultimately happened to Ange after the events of the massacre and her struggles, dealing with a whole school that is against her and her trying to uncover the truth of what happened while avoiding her aunt. We see her dive into Maria’s diary, which she got after her cousin’s death, and trying to escape her troubles by reading it and either believing in magic or just being delusional (it’s hard to tell in this series what is real and what isn’t). It’s a tale with several turns that build her character up, but also Maria’s — both girls have equally tragic and depressing worlds that they try to shield themselves from in their own ways. The addition of Ange’s story really adds a lot to the manga in all the right ways without feeling intrusive or a sidetrack.
But of course, the story and plot by themselves aren’t the only things that make this as good as it is. There are three other things: the revelations, the characters, and the nature and depth within its themes and ideas. Thematically, the story focuses straight in several different ideas and concepts: isolation, how we cope with our own trauma and abuse, the very nature of witches and magic, belief itself and how our views of one another manipulate and affects it. There are a lot of psychological issues to unpack as well as we witness how people cope with their own issues and what happens when they’re pushed to their breaking point. Do they dive further into what may or may not be real or do they shatter the world they built and fall? There’s so much to read into and think about, but it’s present in a way that feels significant and emotionally powerful. All of these themes and ideas tie into the central plot and everyone’s character arcs, such as the power of belief and nature of magic with both Beatrice and Maria’s alliance. They’re not here in a way that feels shoehorned in or added in order to make the story feel smarter than it is, like some other series I’ve read in the past. The story may end up getting bloated and rather exposition-heavy diving into these themes at times, but they serve the story well.
The big players for this arc are newcomer Ange Ushiromiya, Maria, Beatrice, and Battler. Ange gets the lion’s share of growth, undergoing an entire character arc before the end. She absolutely idolizes and worships Battler, still wearing these cheap hair beads that he won her before his untimely death, and will do absolutely anything to get him back. All by herself with no real allies, she loses herself in Maria’s diary that’s filled with tales of magic, witches, and demon servants. She sees them as real and the way the book presents it, they could very well be. However, she cracks several times during the course of the arc, hitting her lowest points and growing more bitter. It’s only after a fateful trip does she come to a realization and grows, seeing how being bitter and angry is only destroying herself. Of every character in the series, she’s the one with the clearest and strongest arc so far, reaching a conclusion that feels natural and well built throughout the storyline.
Then there is Maria, who we finally get to understand more of here than at any point in the previous arcs. In a way, she was much like Ange, learning to cope with her own loneliness and depression by diving head first into magic and the world of witches (again, whether it’s real or not is up in the air). Though unlike almost any other character, who just slipped further into their own misery and anger and eventually taking it out on someone else, Maria went in an opposite way and figured out a way to at least cope to some degree. We better understand her relationship with her mother, Rosa, and why she is the way she is, like saying the phrase “uuu” all the time. It’s a relationship built on what feels like one-sided love — Maria loves her mom unconditionally and makes excuses for her neglectful, awful behavior. It’s depressing and heartbreaking, feeling very reminiscent of real-world behavior seen with abusive parents, making Maria and how she acts feel so real and human.
Battler and Beatrice leave me completely unsure what to think after what happened by the end. Battler’s character growth doesn’t really kick in until the final book in this large arc. Otherwise, he’s the same intelligent, logical, witty, and occasionally snarky opponent of Beatrice. After what happens, his entire worldview is flipped upside down and he loses all hope and belief in himself, even more so than the second arc and for very good reasons that I won’t get into. Beatrice, much like Battler, doesn’t really grow or show any new side until that point as well, revealing that she may have another angle to her games and why she is playing with Battler in particular. She’s shown in quite the abysmal and broken state, almost dead inside and wanting nothing more than the end to everything when she isn’t with Maria. Why exactly there is this change is only vaguely hinted at, including new mystery that is brought about who exactly she is to the family. But like with Battler, it’s not dived into as much as it could and should be. While these developments are great and leave me wanting more, it feels like a little bit more could have been explored with the two due to how vague and undefined things are left.
Throughout the storyline, there are new characters added in and old ones who get more focus and development. Kyrie takes a bigger role in the arc (not as much as Natsuhi, Eva, or Rosa disappointingly), as the intelligent one of the adults who’s trying to reason and figure out what is going on with Kinzou. We get insight into George and Jessica, seeing what they are willing to sacrifice when presented with a hard question and how they reached their conclusion. We bring in Kyrie’s sister, Kasumi, whose own arc and character shows her being rather similar to that of both Ange and Eva, despite her being the central villain for now. There’s the introduction of Gaap, a new demon added to Beatrice’s ranks that is far crueler and has more of a bloodlust than most of the others. The new characters and new dimensions added to already existing ones help bolster the manga excellently, leading to some of the most incredible and tension-filled scenes that the series ever had, like George and Jessica’s decisions towards the end of the second omnibus and Beatrice and Maria in the Golden Land.
Artwork for this story arc is brought to us by Soichiro, who would go on to draw Rose Guns Days, and the work is absolutely excellent here. Soichiro do a great job of drawing the scenes, capturing a vast range of emotion, expression, and body language that sells the harsh, warm, and brutal moments of the book. The big confrontation in the third omnibus between Beatrice and Battler when she shatters him is almost perfect in the looks and angles used. The only downfall comea in some spotty body posing (rubber spines on some of the ladies) and the weird costumes and outfits of the fantastical characters, like how Gaap’s outfit would probably only stay on due to her being a magical demon.
The layouts are woven exceptionally together, where things never feel hard to follow, and along with and angles and panel position they make some of the scenes more dynamic. There’s also some creativity in the imagery to depict certain moments, like Beatrice and Battler’s final battle, that make moments that may have been dull in other series and exciting feast for the eyes. Outside of some occasional empty backgrounds and white voids (though they do work on occasion, like Beatrice’s final line), this is some fantastic artwork that really kicked an already great storyline up a notch.
Umineko: When They Cry Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch was not only amazing, but managed to top the previous story arc in the level of character growth, surprises, and strong, engaging themes. The ongoing mysteries of the series are slowly becoming clearer, but more mysteries are piling on and the villains are slowly upping their game as the series progresses further and further. After the finale of this game, things are changed now and forever. Here’s hoping when we come back next year, End of the Golden Witch turns out to be just as amazing and jaw-dropping.
Umineko: When They Cry is available from Yen Press. Two other series by the same creator, Rose Guns Days and Higurashi: When They Cry, are also available from Yen Press. Currently, all of Episode 1-6 of Umineko are available in book form, with Episode 7 looking to release its first volume in December 2017.