The final game is revealed and it expands the show in some rather conflicting and curious ways.
What They Say:
Trapped on an isolated island in the middle of a raging typhoon, Battler Ushiromiya has found himself locked in an unending struggle with a woman calling herself the Golden Witch Beatrice to uncover the truth behind the gruesome murders of everyone in his family. Are these killings the supernatural work of an ageless witch, or is that just the cover story for a far more ruthlessly human plot?
As he searches for clues and draws closer to the truth, a mysterious young girl suddenly appears on the island. She claims she can help him, but could this fiery ally be nothing more than a trap set by the “witch” herself…?
Contains episodes 19-26 (arc 4) and a full-color, 28-page hardcover artbook with in-depth story analysis, detailed character bios, and character sketches, in premium showcase packaging.
The audio presentation for this release provides us with the original Japanese language only, in stereo, but using the lossless PCM encoding for it. The series has a good mix of dialogue and action along with some dramatic music swells, which gives it a very rich atmosphere in this area. A lot of the show is filled with the dialogue and with numerous characters on screen, placement comes in well and there’s a lot to like with how the sound design is done. When it comes to the more action oriented parts, it gets a lot fuller and dominates both of the forward channels in a really good way, giving it some great impact and real sense of presence. Combine this with the way the music blends into everything and you get a really rich and engaging mix overall. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This set contains eight episodes on a single disc. Animated by Studio Deen, the series has a really great look about it with the character designs and the detail there but also with the backgrounds and general flow of the animation. The show brings in magic fairly often and some decent transitions and all of it has a really rich and vibrant sense of color design around it that gives it a great life. There’s a lot of standing around in the series with plenty of dialogue, but the set design brings us such good looking locations that it works well. When it does hit the high action moments or swirling magic, it ramps up even more and the transfer captures it well with a high bitrate that shows off the colors, detail and flow of it all.
The packaging for this limited edition release follows tradition for NIS America as we get the oversized heavy chipboard box that holds a hardcover book and two clear thinpak cases. The front of the box has a solid image with the pairing of Jessica and Kanon that provides for some balance of color to it, while also having a very dark visual for Beatrice in the background that’s looking at her in an amusing angle. Mixing in a lot of reds and golds with the black background, it’s dark but distinctive. The logo is kept simple but has just enough flair to it and the hook with the When They Cry aspect to draw in unfamiliar fans. The back cover is a bit simpler as it moves the logo to the middle and removes the character artwork but keeps the butterflies and adds some ornate edging to it that fits in with the wealth side of the series.
The hardcover book inside uses the same design as the back of the box and provides a dark looking tome, both in and out. The inside provides a creative breakdown of the episodes, doing them as scrapbook style layouts, while mixing in character design material along the way as well. The mysteries are laid out and expanded upon slightly and has an interesting flow to it when you read about it after watching it. It’s not hugely colorful, going for the newsprint look for the text sections, and a lot of the shots from the show that are used are pretty dark in tone overall as well. It also brings in some really good additional full color pages with lots of promotional artwork that’s just beautiful. Also included in the box is the single thinpak case which uses the ornate nature from the back of the box and provides a character pairing on the front cover that works well. The back covers have a few shots from the show as well as a breakdown of the episodes and story arcs by number and title. The technical information is also all included here and lays everything out clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for Umineko goes for a simple approach where it has a black and gray checkered background over which we have various clips from the series play out. It provides a good mix of symbolism and character material to give it a good blend of what’s going on without being too up front about it. The navigation strip is along the bottom and keeps it to just an off-white stripe with the basic selections that are quick to access and easy to move around through. The general design is decent though it doesn’t go for the hard sell or revealing too much about it. Submenus load quickly and it works well as a pop-up menu, though I dislike that once more, when you look in the episode menu during playback, it doesn’t indicate which episode that you’re on.
The only extras included are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the sets are a bit oddly structured with eighteen episodes on the first set and just eight here, it does make a certain amount of sense since the first set covers the first three storylines while this one handles the fourth. With the first three arcs, we got very different mysteries that proceeded to unfold in front of us as Battler was attempting to win the larger match going on between him and Beatrice. The different stories were certainly interesting, but as it progressed the stories really got more varied and in some cases felt like it diverged so wildly that it was impossible for Battler to prove things as he needed to in order to win.
With the final installment, which runs for the full eight episodes here, Battler is shifted from being the primary focus to a secondary one, though still of a lot of importance. We’ve had some back story moments going to the distant past, a little time spent in the late 60’s and even some going to the year or two before the events of 1986. Here, it spends most of its time in 1986 but also sets the larger stage by giving us more time in 1998 as it introduces us clearly to Ange, Battlers younger sister who did not go to Rokken Island with him back in 86. With Ange having been one of the few direct relative survivors, her situation was beyond difficult as her aunt Kasumi took her in and basically abused her in many ways. Her school life was just the same as the other students constantly berated and tormented her. She retreated into herself in a lot of ways but also ended up with a connection to the Seven Sister of Purgatory along the way as well, which really ended up befriending her.
Ange’s not been idle all these years though as she’s been gathering information on what happened on Rokken Island and has found some fascinating things as this particular storyline unfolds. With messages left through creative means, the way events on the island unfolded were vastly different this time around, especially as Maria became the new Beatrice through some creative manipulation on Beatrice’s part. Battler and Beatrice are still playing the game, but we see how this one brings Kinzo into the game in a more integral way, working with Beatrice within the game to run through the various aspects of the epitaph in order to get to the Golden Land. There’s a lot of characters involved here that had smaller roles before, some more integral, and seeing how they all interact through this configuration and the way that Beatrice is running the game makes for a very good time.
But as enjoyable as it is, there’s a lot to be explored with how Ange figures into things. She ends up forcing her way into the match between Battler and Beatrice with the stipulation that she can’t reveal who she really is to him. Combine this with more of the witches showing up, more expansive furniture inclusion and that of Ronove, who takes over for Beatrice for awhile and it gets complicated. Almost too complicated, which is made more awkward by the way that we get so much more magic involved here and so many different supporting pieces coming into play. Particularly with the 1998 sequences factoring into it as we get Ange’s story with school in order to really understand the kinds of things she’s suffered through.
While there was something of a lead character when it comes to the other arcs, with Battler being a key figure due to the match with Beatrice, here it feels like it’s more of an ensemble piece due to the number of characters that are involved, especially with the magic side that comes into play. This makes for a more chaotic series of events overall since it has so many people being put through the wringer. The deaths are pretty brutal in this arc as well, some are a little by the numbers at first without anything too bad happening, but when the magic side really gets into it as some of the participants are put through some difficult choices, it just gets brutal and ugly in a way that’s almost heartbreaking with the emotional aspect tied to it.
The final arc of Umineko is a difficult one for a number of reasons, especially with the way its ending works that leaves it open ended, but that’s an aspect of this style of show that I fully expected. There’s a lot going on here and it feels a bit more out of control than the other three storylines, but we’ve seen a progression in complexity and the required suspension of disbelief over the course of them so it’s not too much of a surprise. As a whole, I really liked Umineko, from its visual design, approach, violence and the layers that it works through. Similar to Higurashi, Umineko is a series that’s going to be difficult to watch if not downright impossible for some with the kinds of violence it works with. But for others, it can be an engaging and disturbing experience that makes an impact on you and plays with characters in a way few series do.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: December 4th, 2012
Running Time: 191 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.