Umineko no Naku Koro Ni

aka “When the seagulls cry”
Genre: Mystery
Score: OK
Rating: 18 for graphic violence

October 1986; all the children and grandchildren of the powerful Ushinomiya family gather at the house of family head Kinzo on a remote island, at least in part to discuss his inevitable will. From inside his locked room, Kinzo announces that his wealth will be left to whoever solves the riddle of the witch Beatrice whose portrait is in the main hall. The family dismiss it as dementia, until the words or the riddle come true – and people start dying. Now they must find the solution before they’re killed too.

A not-quite-sequal to Higurashi, this has a different set of characters but with some similar ideas. Sadly, though I still rank Higurashi near the top of my favourites list, I found this a bit disappointing. It’s as violent, brain-twisting and insane as the original, but without the chilling underlying logic. When you dug through enough of the layers of mystery in Higurashi, you found frightening answers; in Umineko you found confusion. Still, it’s a fun ride.

A bit like Higurashi, it takes the form of four arcs; at the end of each of them everybody is dead. The protagonist through them (whose identity is a bit of a spoiler) is placed in the insane position of trying to explain all the actions that have taken place – mysterious closed room murders, people appearing in the same place, etc – using a rational, non-magical explanation, even though they know perfectly well that the whole thing is magic. To make it more confusing, reality itself seems to twist around the explanations given. Each arc departs from the previous one, changing the rules of the game, rewriting the plot, introducing more confusing elements, and just getting rapidly more nuts. When people start summoning magical bunny girl archers, you can tell this murder mystery has finally tipped off the deep end.