The series logo in a handwritten font: Umineko no Naku Koro ni/Rondo of the Witch and Reasoning

Umi-what?

You can thank @alchymistryandcoldsteel​ (Wren) for this one. We were talking about the astonishing scope of Homestuck, how there isn’t really anything that uses the medium like it, and she got very enthusiastic about me blogging this…

So. Umineko: When They Cry ( うみねこのなく頃に Umineko no Naku Koro ni, literally When The Seagulls Cry) is a very long series of dōjin soft visual novels which start as a questionably supernatural murder mystery and, as I understand it, get increasingly metafictional after the characters end up in purgatory. (’Dōjin soft’ is a term kinda like ‘indie’). Unlike many VNs, it’s a purely linear story, no branching (this is sometimes called a ‘kinetic novel’, but people don’t seem to use that in reference to Umineko).

These things are apparently wildly popular in dōjin soft fandom, but I was totally ignorant of them until that conversation. However, it sounds exactly like the sort of weird internet bullshit I like, so let’s go for it.

There are many versions of Umineko, with different quality of graphics and animations. Wren said I’d be best to play the Umineko Project version, a fan adaptation of the graphically rich PS3 version to PC, which is supposed to be better than, say, the Steam version.

The files weigh in astonishingly heavily for a visual novel, with about 5GB of graphics, audio, more graphics, even more graphics, and video. I went over the mega.nz upload limit, to illustrate just how huge we’re talking. I guess we’re in for something very long.

Beyond the broad premise, I basically have no idea what I’m in for. I’ve been encouraged to wildly theorise for maximum entertainment.

Let’s go!

First screen of Umineko. Nanjo Terumusa, an old balding man, says “…You’ve… been indulging in alchol again, haven’t you?” Behind him is a well-furnished study.

The game begins with a man accusing me someone of being drunk.

Unlike most VNs I’m used to, this is written in third person past tense. It starts rather drily describing a room. There are doctors. Someone is being examined.

The man who’s been drinking turns out to be Ushiromiya Kinzo, who dresses like he’s probably a wizard.

First view of Ushiromiya Kinzo, a fierce-looking man with a trimmed grey beard and small moustache, wearing a black cape with orange trim and a bird logo. He says “The bottle is my friend. It is no less of a friend than you, and it has stood by my side even longer than you have.”

The visual quality is incredibly impressive. Not only do you have these gorgeous painted backgrounds and character portraits, but it’s all lipsynced as well.

We’re introduced to a third man, Ronoue Genji. He’s a butler.

Picture of a chessboard, although not laid out as described in the narration. The caption says “judging by the positioning of the pieces, the match was well into the endgame.”

Nanjo implies Kinzo will die of his illnesses before he finishes pwning him at the chess game they play every checkup. The game takes a moment to spell out this implication. The translation feels very stilted and over-descriptive, and I’m not sure if it’s just the tense.

Anyway, Kinzo goes on a big rant about how he doesn’t want to leave anything to his kids, he started with nothing etc. etc. And… he made a contract with a witch? Which will destroy his soul when he dies? Okay

Anyway he wants to see the face of someone called Beatrice before he dies. Beatrice is suggested to have supernatural powers to hear this ‘final plea’.

(The fancy lipsync disappears… though we still have voice acting, a lot of the text is over a black screen.)

After a very dramatic yell of BEATRICEEEEEE, we get the OP:

Umineko introduction.

This means absolutely nothing to me yet, but the song’s not bad.

The narrative switches to first person. The protagonist is flying somewhere on a small plane. His name is Battler, somehow - Ushiromiya Battler (the game appears to be using Japanese name ordering conventions). Another character, Ushiromiya George, is also introduced. I guess these are the ‘idiot children’ of Kinzo (or perhaps more likely grandchildren?)…

First view of Ushiromiya Battler and Ushiromiya George. Battler is a tall thin boy with somewhat chaotic red hair, and George is slightly stockier with combed black hair and round glasses. Battler is wearing a beige suit with a bird symbol, red shirt, and black tie, while George is wearing a green suit, brown waistcoat with an eagle symbol in gold thread, black shirt, and white tie. Battler is saying “Ihihihi, you don’t think I’m actually scared of the plane shaking or maybe falling out of the sky or something, ri~ght?”

boys.png (but Battler looks kinda eggy ¬¬)

Battler certainly looks like a protagonist. How much effort does he put into his hair each morning?

Through some awkward exposition, we learn they haven’t seen each other for years, and George is old enough to smoke and drink, which would suggest he’s 20 years old. Battler is the younger, but tall, possibly because he took steroids but I think he was joking there.

Battler acknowledges his name is weird. Apparently it’s even weirder in Japanese (the second screenshot is from the game’s ‘grimoire’ of cultural notes):

Battler, now indoors. The narration from Battler’s POV says “The problem is my own name. 戦人 is made up of the characters for ‘fight’ and ‘person’, and it’s pronounced ‘Battler’.”
Screenshot from the page of the Umineko Grimoire. The text says: “Sometimes, however, the kanji readings have to be ignored, and the word has to be pronounced in a unique way of its own. For example, Battler’s name is 戦人. 戦 means FIGHT and its readings rae sen, ikusa and tataku(u). 人 means person and its readings are jin, nin, hito, ri and to. Anyone encountering the unique name 戦人 would probably try ot read it as something like ‘Sento’. No one would guess that he is called ‘Battler’! Not only is the reading of his name impossible to guess, but it is also an English word, and doesn’t sound remotely like a Japanese name.”

Ah, my sons, George and Fight-Person!

…no wait, they’re cousins, Battler just thinks of George as a brother and uses a brother honorific. Not sure which one, if either, is Kinzo’s son. And to clarify the info on ages, George is 23, Battler is 18. Apparently there are five Urishomiya cousins, two boys and three girls. Thank you, huge exposition dump for clarifying this complicated family structure.

We meet more members of the Urishomiya family, Eva and Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi is president of a company, and George’s dad. Eva is Battler’s dad’s older sister. (Are we going to need to draw a family tree at this rate?)

Now… regional dialects. Hideyoshi speaks in a ‘Kansai-style’ dialect despite being a Kanto man, if that means anything to you.

Eva does that I’m-your-aunt-I’m-going-to-encourage-you-to-be-heterosexual teasing thing.

Anyway then we meet Kyrie, who is not actually a lesbean despite her dress sense.

First view of Ushiromiya Kyrie, who has short white hair and is wearing a black jacket and tie, and a purple shirt with a diamond pattern on it. For some incomprehensible reason, she has a belt around her upper arm.

But, for all the attention to detail in rendering light and shadow, the artist still doesn’t know how to draw women halfway realistically. Anime :/

Battler jokes that a relative might be dead, and we get another page of cultural notes for ‘namunamunamu’, which is basically a Buddhist ‘RIP’ afaict.

The relative is his dad, Rudolf, apparently. Also the voice acting suddenly stops being a thing for a couple of lines. Only some of Kyrie’s lines are acted. I don’t think that’s a bug?

…is Kyrie Battler’s stepmum? They have a… very lewd conversation about Battler’s dad. And yes, she is. Huh. Battler explains that he doesn’t really see her as his mum.

Rudolf comes off the loo and there ensues a scene of ear-twisting and insulting each other and Eva and Kyrie make casual BDSM jokes and idk how much is different cultural norms and how much is this family being kinda fucked up.

First view of Ushiromiya Rudolf and Ushiromiya Eva. Rudolf has slicked back hair and thin sideburns, and he’s wearing a blue suit with the gold eagle wing pattern. Eva is wearing a purple dress with an elaborate gold eagle pattern, as well as having what seems to be an eagle tattoo on her arm. She has red hair with a straight-cut fringe, and her hair is done up with a purple ornament. The narration says: “After taking two or three steps back, Auntie Eva unleashed one of her beautiful high reverse roundhouse kicks, which stopped just a centimeter from the tip of Dad’s nose.”

what is with this family!? so uh… Eva does a lot of martial arts? and… threatens to knock Rudolf unconscious in response to a very nasty insult?

so after more epic bantz, we learn of yet another family member, Battler’s frail younger sister. then arguments about rescheduling the ‘family conference’ the following year.

Battler and George talk about their personalities. Like, literally, they just go on like “I need to work on becoming more bold and outgoing” and so forth. Anyway George’s apparently a genius who studied both ‘academics’ and apprenticed as a ‘business emperor’ at the same time. Battler’s more laid back. This is conveyed by straight-up exposition dump.

They haven’t even left the bloody airport yet!

Character screen page showing Ushiromiya Maria and her elaborate outfit. Maria is a small girl with brown hair, wearing a tiny black crown attached to a hairband, frilly pink shirt, a black corset done up with red lace at the front with the one winged eagle symbol, a black skirt and white knee-length socks, and red shoes. She’s carrying a pink handbag with a bow. The description says “Ushiromiya Maria (右代宮 真里亞)/Rosa’s daughter. Her father’s identity is unknown. She can’t shake off the habit of speaking like a young child, which often earns her a scolding./She has no interest in studying or making friends, but is very interested in things concerning the occult and black magic, and thanks to her excellent powers of memorization, she knows all kinds of obscure trivia.”

More characters turn up: Maria and Rosa. I get the immediate impression that Maria is Rosa’s daughter, and younger than the rest (and she dresses like a chess piece with a tiny crown on her head - she wouldn’t be out of place in Kingdom Hearts). No doubt this is going to be spelled out in exacting detail over the next hundred lines of dialogue… (The character info screen is, indeed, a family tree. Guess they anticipated the need.)

Indeed it is. tl;dr: Maria is 9. They spend a while explaining the concept of cousins to her and telling her to use honorifics and stuff. It’s probably a realistic depiction of family interacting with a nine-year-old child. It does drag on a bit.

There’s more discussion of the grandfather’s unusual use of English names for all his children. And finally… off to Niijima.

The author isn’t content to just write ‘we boarded the plane’, oh no. We get to see half the characters’ reactions to having their names called when boarding.

Image of a propeller-powered plane with the boarding stairs open. The narration contains boarding instructions that don’t really matter.

It’s like… in every case where there’s a choice between showing and telling, they choose whichever has the most words. And then repeat it for emphasis.

At this rate, this 20 minute flight will take much longer than 20 minutes to watch.

Thankfully they don’t narrate the flight in detail, it’s just a short montage. It’s… well it’s like an opening credits sequence, but the names shown are the names of the characters (including some we’ve yet to meet). So idek.

This post is already quite long (despite nothing at all happening yet except character intros all in one huge block) so let’s continue on another post.

I am complaining a lot about the pacing, but I think it may be more of a problem with my assumptions? I guess it’s trying to be slice-of-life-y, and there’s probably different genre expectations than I’m used to here. I did sign up for something really long, I suppose.

Next: a different airport.