Marina InoueYu KobayashiDaisuke OnoHigurashi
Umineko When They Cry
Also known as: Umineko no Naku Koro ni
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2009
Director: Chiaki Kon
Writer: Toshifumi Kawase
Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Daisuke Ono, Emi Shinohara, Kenichi Suzumura, Marina Inoue, Miki Ito, Rie Kugimiya, Rina Sato, Sayaka Ohara, Yu Kobayashi, Yui Horie
Keywords: Higurashi, anime, rubbish
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 26 episodes
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=10168
Website category: Anime late 00s
Review date: 13 May 2024
Umineko
If you're a fan of Higurashi When They Cry, you should watch this. It's from the same creators, it's set in the same multiverse and it's a different look at the same basic concepts of death loops, witches playing a killing game again and again, etc. It's fascinating.
Personally, though, I hated it.
Incidentally, this review contains SPOILERS for both Higurashi and Umineko.
Sooooooooo... Higurashi is a horror series based on a visual novel about the murder of an entire village, an alleged epidemic, an immortal witch and your friends going axe-crazy and killing you. Also, unusually, it's a game-like TV series. Story arcs can and will end in your stomach-turning death... but then time resets and everyone's okay again for the next episode. The story arcs aren't disconnected, though. You can combine the clues from different storylines to work out what's going on.
It's mesmerising. It had me hooked until the Village-Destroying Chapter of the 2020-21 Gou series, which I hated so much that I jumped ship and I'll never watch its 2021 Sotsu continuation.
Umineko is similar. The Ushiromiya family have gathered on Rokkenjima island in October 1986 and they're all going to die. People will call it the Rokkenjima Mass Murder Incident, or The Witch's Legend Serial Murders. (For what it's worth, Higurashi is set in 1983.)
At first, we've no idea what's happening. We only know that people are getting killed and that we're usually glad to be rid of them. That's the difference between the two shows. Higurashi's child heroes (Mion, Shion, Keiichi, Rena, Satoko and Rika) are likeable and it's upsetting when they're murdered. Here, no. I didn't care. I counted two likeable characters out of eighteen. The only child character is a split personality freak from a horror movie who goes into Sadistic Gloating Mode when the killings start. The adults squabble with each other and vie for control of grandad's estate, although he's still alive and just as unpleasant as them.
"In what way am I inferior to Krauss?! Father?"
"Are you going on about that again?! Your place is not to imitate Krauss, but to leave this family and marry a man profitable to me!"
That child's mother alternates between hysterically beating her daughter and then saying sorry. Another mother is a queen bitch. The servants call themselves "furniture" and say they're not entitled to human feelings. (The most aggressively self-denying of them, Kanon, also dislikes people and fun.)
We know nothing initially of the supernatural, but Battler Ushiromiya's annoying when he insists that there's no such thing as witches. (He doesn't stop saying that even when talking to witches who've cast their magic spells in front of him.) Gradually, though, the plot gets interesting. The whole thing's a game, played by immortals who regard murder as a pastime. They don't even perceive moral objections, e.g. "Isn't it an interesting show? I sort of see where he's coming from, but this isn't anything more than an innocent prank, right? Right, Teacher? There was no reason for him to get so angry about it."
That's understandable from time-looping immortals who can resurrect their victims indefinitely. What's less obvious is that giving magic to an ordinary human will immediately make them just as bad. Bang, they're suddenly as callous as someone who's been a witch for ten thousand years.
"I can't wait to see what kind of cruel and brutal killing method you'll show me!" says someone who's only just become a witch. Then, after a disagreement, "So she's telling me to be reasonable. What a boring person!"
After complaining about lacklustre deaths, this person teleports away. She leaves behind a child who's been strangled to death and a woman with a fence spike sticking through her head and out of her mouth. It's gruesome enough for the anime to censor with digital mosaics.
This material needed to be that horrible, though, to stop us from realising that it's pointless. It's a reset button loop. Why would a non-sadist play it in the first place? (Answer: this anime was adapted from a visual novel, i.e. a game in which the real players are doing something similar to the witches themselves, so theoretically you could throw the question back at anyone who's ever played a violent computer game.) Also, Umineko's game involves looking for non-supernatural explanations as if this were a straight whodunnit, even though we know witches did it.
I'm reminded of my hatred of Higurashi's recent seasons. A normal, likeable person spends a thousand years sadistically killing her friends in a death loop. Uh? Furthermore, TWO of Higurashi's core cast went like this. Higurashi's Furude Rika spawned Umineko's Frederica Bernkastel. (The latter's first name is almost "Furude Rika" transliterated, while at one point Rika said, "I am the witch Bernkastel.") Similarly, Umineko's Lambdadelta is Higurashi's Satoko and we see the transformation in Higurashi Gou, despite the clues that had suggested she was Higurashi's Takano. (Lambadelta looks like the child version of Takano Miyo and has the same voice actress, while "Lambda-delta" is thirty-four in Greek and "Miyo" is "three four" in Japanese. But those were red herrings, apparently.)
Even Higurashi's Hanyuu is probably a younger-looking version of Umineko's Featherine after horn damage and a personality change, although I think Featherine also appears in Higurashi as herself.
For what it's worth, the official line on Umineko and Higurashi (and indeed un-adapted works like Ciconia) is that they share a multiverse. There are infinite realities and powerful higher dimensional beings (witches) that create and use them for entertainment. Also, these games' writer, Ryukishi, sees his characters as actors and has compared them with Harrison Ford playing both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. So you can have a random policeman in Umineko ep.21 (around 10:00) resembling Higurashi's Ooishi Kuraudo and having the same voice actor.
The plot structure's interesting. The time-looping and magic powers let stuff you'd forgotten from the early episodes get explained in bootstrap paradox fashion by a subplot towards the end. However, these people are tossers. The witches are worse, admittedly, because they're gloating, sadistic mass-murderers. But it's hard to like the mortals too and the show's mostly an exercise in watching tiresome people do nothing of interest. (I liked Shannon and George, though.)
"Pain and suffering can only be healed by forcing them on to someone else!"