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Umineko: When They Cry – Legend Of The Golden Witch Vol. #01 Manga Review

9 min read
Umineko Volume 1
Umineko Volume 1

A new tale of horror that presents a mystery that may have more than a foot in the supernatural.

Creative Staff
Story: Ryukishio7
Art: Kei Natsumi
Translation/Adaptation: Stephen Paul

What They Say
Each year, the Ushiromiya family gathers at the secluded mansion of its patriarch, the elderly Kinzo. It has been six years since Battler joined his cousins at the annual event, but their happy reunion is overshadowed by worsening weather and an eerie premonition from his youngest cousin. When their parents’ conversation turns to the division of the inheritance upon Kinzo’s imminent death, Battler and his cousins reminisce about the stories their parents teased them with as children – tales of the witch, Beatrice, who haunts the island’s forest. But when people start dying unnatural deaths, Battler can’t help but wonder…

Technical:
Coming in at just over 500 pages, the giant sized release of the first omnibus release of Umineko When They Cry contains the equivalent of two larger manga volumes in one. Given the page count the manga is a bit- though not terribly- unwieldy to handle and adding to that Yen Press printed this in a larger than normal manga size format (about the size of a hardcover book minus the hardcover) that has the benefit of making for larger images and makes the small sound effects easier to read which more than balances out for the discomfort that may come from the size for most. The edition also includes four double sided pages (or eight as page count numbers go) of full color art work that includes the first couple pages to start the manga as well as a couple of pages where the second volume would start if the two volumes were separate. The paper is a decently thick stock that doesn’t bleed through and the binding is sturdy.

The cover for the release features a simple picture that nicely focuses on two of the more prominent characters in the story as Battler Ushiromiya stands in his yellow suit with his younger cousin Maria clinging to him and peering over her right shoulder with a look that suggests a mischievousness as a rose from the story floats in the foreground (and it also appears on the spine). The background for the image and the background is a rust colored red which includes some yellow-gold colored leaf patterns as part of it. The art is rather sharp as the artist Kei Natsumi has the ability to draw both the serious moments in a way that helps convey the tension in the story as well as handle the more expressive and deformed comedy bits that pop up from time to time with an eye more toward emotion than having a single realistic model in mind for all the characters and sticking with it which could hamper the communication of what the characters are feeling. For the release Yen Press opted to leave the Japanese sound effects and writing unmolested and put the English translation for the onomatopoeia underneath them which is a rather enjoyable method of translating over all and the text itself flows in a smooth way that feels natural. Also of note, the material uses honorifics though often they are absent indicating the familiarity many members of the family have for each other (or contempt in some cases) and there is a brief translator’s notes page in what would be the end of the first volume of manga in this collected work and again in the back after the second volume of work, though the material doesn’t have all that much that needs them.

Content: (please note that content portions of review may contain spoilers):
In 1923, Tokyo experienced an enormous earthquake that killed many and caused incredibly damage to the city. In the shadow of this Kinzou Ushiromiya used a secret fortune of 10 tons of gold to keep his family solvent and this gold allowed Kinzou to accumulate even more wealth and power in the aftermath and he seemingly thrived in almost every sense of the word, having a number of children who also had a number of children as well. Now on October 4th, 1986 the family is gathering as a whole for the first time in a while as the errant member of the family- the 18 year old Battler- has finally set aside his grievances with his father and agreed to come to this latest gathering which allows him to reconnect with his cousins. This arc of the story has a large focus on Battler and his introduction shows of his personality which has him making rather lecherous advances and statements, hoping to be the butt of the joke when shot down though he has a serious side that is capable of handling the unusual and horrific, which is important as it looks like his role here is going to be taking the lead in trying to piece together the upcoming events as this gathering is going to be far from the happy occasion that the younger family members might have been hoping for when they came along.

There is an old saying that more money means more problems and in the case of this family that is an understatement as while the younger cousins bond, their parents talk turns much more avarice in nature as they snipe at each other about the inheritance they are looking at receiving once their elderly father passes away, a situation which looks to be not terribly far in the future given the reports of his health and which many of them desperately need. Unfortunately for the family, their various plans for either a bit of fun or attempt to gain a larger part of the inheritance fall into chaos as the darker legend of the family’s history appears as there is an old story that Kinzou got the gold through a deal with a mysterious witch named Beatrice who he has erected a few paintings and a stand with an odd message on in the house and as a typhoon heads toward the private island that the family is gathered on mysterious events start happening which cause those present to start to wonder if the legend might just be real. These omens start when most of the family arrives on a boat to the secluded island and it is noticed that an old shrine that used to stand near the entrance to the inlet that the boats dock at has vanished and the youngest family member, Maria, suddenly starts to spout about disaster falling over the family. Maria’s behavior continues to be strange as the events play out, including at one point when the typhoon hits and she is searching through the family’s huge rose garden for one particular flower while the rest of the family all think she is with someone else only to discover her missing and in a panic rush out to the last place anyone saw her, only to find Maria standing under an umbrella that she persists she received from the Golden Witch Beatrice.

While this odd event is enough to cause some rumblings in the family as no one can explain who Maria got the umbrella from, it is the letter that the mysterious person gave her at the same time though that sends chills into everyone’s hearts when Maria produces it during dinner, a letter which claims that Kinzou made a pact with the witch all those years ago and now payment is due- and that payment is the lives of everyone in the family. The only way to prevent the witch from collecting her due is for the gold that is hidden on the island to be found by one of the family members which will save the lives of everyone present…but the clock is running fast and the first night sees a brutal massacre which threatens to drive everyone into a state of frenzy. With the time running out and almost everyone on the island having suffered a massive blow to their psyche will Battler be able to pull things together and figure out the secret to the riddle of the gold or will Beatrice collect on her long awaited payment?

Having played through both versions of the original Higurashi games I was ecstatic to get my hands on this manga series from the same creator as his ability to write seemingly normal characters and situations before shocking his audience with either extreme violence or incredible psychological twists- or both- to create a unique tale of mystery is one that is a particular treat. This volume contains a note from creator Ryukishi07 as he explains how he feels modern mystery has moved so far to the logical that the occult has been lost and that the genre is the poorer for that as the mix of supernatural can help create such a powerful feel in its audience and he manages to pull that off splendidly in this telling of his story where he blends the two. Having already made his name with his previous series, Ryukishi07 has a bit of freedom here to show his characters in a more light hearted manner at the outset than the intro to Higurashi and by doing so he has more time and freedom to work to the act of build up to something awful happening which helps create a pressure that is absolutely delectable.

This environment makes it feel like anything is possible and as the horrors start to come in (and rather graphically by the way) it helps create the situation where the supernatural seems like the only possible solution and the course of events can create a chill up one’s spine that can conquer even the hottest of summer heats. While the initial build up may feel a little on the pedestrian side as few of the characters are immediately attention grabbing, once the ball starts to roll the book becomes the kind of page turner that one just doesn’t want to put down as they strive to find out what happens on the next page, all the while fearing that it may be something exceptionally horrible which is a sign of masterful suspense writing. While it is impossible to say after only this part of an arc where the story will wind up it is rather clear from here that the author has a pretty good idea on how to grab his target audience and squeeze them for all they are worth and it seems that this is a title that will easily appeal to both fans of Higurashi as well as fans who’ve never heard of Ryukishi07 before but love a very dark mystery whose supernatural elements may challenge their way of looking at the world.

In Summary
Higurashi creator Ryukishi07 returns with a new tale of horror as he introduces a powerful and wealthy family that looks to be tearing itself apart in the middle due to money and he gives them something much worse to deal with as the deal the head of the house made with a witch to gain his influence comes due- and the price is going to cost most of the people on the island their lives unless they can figure out how to solve the mystery of just who is behind these events but first they need to figure out if it really is a powerful witch whose riddle will defeat her or if it perhaps is someone on the island looking to take care of some rivals or a grudge that is truly acting behind the scenes using the witch as cover. As the body count grows and desperation sets in, there is a increasing and encompassing sense that no one may get out alive as the tale of greed, treachery and the supernatural spin together. With its colorful and often dark cast and unflinching look at both human psychology under pressure as well as some very graphic events Umineko is a fantastic ride through some very bleak environments that may prove to be thrilling for some and perhaps a bit much for others as it shows some people (often less than savory) and how they cope with a brush with what appears to be the supernatural. Recommended

Content Grade: A+
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: A-

Age Rating: 17+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: November 20th, 2012
MSRP: $18.99