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Manga Monday: Umineko

Story by Ryukishi07

Art by Kei Natsumi

 

Between my recent shojo binges (Strobe Edge, Kiss Him Not Me, Orange…), I read Umineko: Legend of the Golden Witch. I’ve had my share of horror manga, like Uzumaki, Gyo, and Monster. While Umineko isn’t of the same caliber as those stories, it does have the same psychological drama, mystery, and gore.

Umineko opens with a family reunion, a meeting of the Ushiromiya family on a remote island. The patriarch of the family is a secluded elderly man who spends his days researching the occult. The family, composed of four siblings, their spouses, and their children, are more interested in the patriarch’s deteriorating health and rumored large sums of gold than spending any time with him as he slowly dies. As the adults begin to bicker and fight over the inheritance of their living father, their children reconnect with one another.

Battler Ushiromiya has lived in self-imposed exile from his family after the death of his mother for six years. In a way, he is an outsider to the Ushiromiya family, one who tries to reconcile what he knew as a young child with what he sees now. His cousin George has grown into a smart and capable young man. Jessica has become fierce and proud as the daughter of the future heir to the family. And Maria, the youngest cousin, seems to be perpetually stuck as a small child despite being nine years old. The cousins lamant their parents’ fighting as they reconnect with each other and explore their grandfather’s estate. One relic of the estate is of note: a large portrait of a blonde woman with an epitaph below it.

As with any remote location, haunted tales surround the scene. The portrait of the woman, known as Beatrice, is allegedly a witch who was connected to the grandfather prior to dying. The epitaph below her painting is ominous; it refers to gruesome deaths and the resurrection of the witch with a promise of restoration. Battler deems himself a highly logical man and refuses to acknowledge the presence of a witch. Things change when Maria starts speaking about Beatrice and her presence at the mansion.

Battler and the portrait of Beatrice

Battler and the portrait of Beatrice

What follows in Umineko is a series of horrific murders as the family tries to understand what is happening. Battler is faced with the decision to either accept the possibility of the occult directing his life or find a human explanation for the murders. As he tries to solve the mystery, the murders continue with no hint of halting. Each family member has something to gain from the deaths, and it is up to Battler to decide who is responsible for the killings.

The story is divided into two large volumes: Umineko When They Cry Episode 1: Legend of the Golden Witch and Umineko When They Cry Episode 2: Legend of the Golden Witch. It is based on a murder mystery game from 2007. The manga, much like the game, challenges the consumer to find a human way for the murders to happen. The action takes place over two days on the island, and the action is quickly accelerated as time passes. It is gripping, to say the least, and it can be eerie to read at night. The artwork by Natsumi is especially frightening, from drawing Maria with creepy facial expressions as she discusses Beatrice to the bloody murders throughout the story. There is painstaking detail included in every page.

What keeps this series from reaching the same level as Monster or other psychological drama manga is, well, the fanservice sprinkled throughout. Humor is useful to break tension in stories, but Battler’s sexual proclivities and comments towards his female family members and servants can be off-putting at times. The parts where he refers to the ample bosom of a cousin as desirous is unnecessary, as well as the awkward molestation of maid. At worst, it pulled me completely out of the story. That being said, I would recommend Umineko to anyone looking for a manga murder mystery story – especially if they don’t have a weak stomach.

Umineko When They Cry: Legend of the Golden Witch is written by Ryukishi07 and illustrated by Kei Natsumi. The English translations of the manga is published by Yen Press. Review copies of the series were provided for this review by Yen Press.

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