As “Umineko no naku koro ni” moves steadily towards the end of its run, I find it harder and harder to explain why I’m completely in love with this series without giving major brain-melting spoilers.
But I’m going to try.
Because I think this is definitely a series that should be given serious consideration.
Point 1:” Sound Novel” as a concept
I feel like it’s difficult to properly convey how completely awesome the idea of reading text on a screen with images and bgm tailored to fit is… because it sounds like such a weird concept if you can’t quite imagine it.
Maybe it’s a bit strange to be reading a book on a computer – I can certainly appreciate that, as I still can’t make the transition from physical novels to ebooks, but I also read tons of stuff online as it is, so I may be more used to this concept than others.
However, Umineko is much more than just words on a screen – say what you want about the art style, but the expressions are usually right on. That style of story-telling, where the key pieces, that is to say, the character’s general appearance, are given to you right away helps make them feel more real from the start. Perhaps my imagination is less strong than others’, but without a visual representation, characters in novels often end up extremely vague, nondescript shapes inside my mind. I may have a grasp on their personality, but I can’t see their face. In some stories, this is more or less the point – they’re just vehicles for conveying something else entirely, but especially in Umineko where it’s important you come to know and like Battler’s relatives, being able to actually see them speeds up this process.
Even though there are some visuals in Umineko, a large chunk of the action is left up to the narrative and the reader’s imagination – a fact that Ryuukishi takes full advantage of. It’s much creepier to fill in the blanks yourself than to see everything clearly (although it might be less disgusting, depending on your individual experience and imagination). That which makes a novel – word choice, tone, spacing, punctuation and so forth – still features prominently in the Sound Novel format. The images do not tell the story, they merely enhance it.
The true genius of this format is undeniably the background music. I don’t doubt that Umineko’s story would still be worth reading without it, but the overall experience is improved tenfold by the amazing tracks composed by dai, zts, and others. For me, who loves music and often listens to it while reading novels anyway, this feels like pure genius – how could someone have not done this before?! (Have they? Please let me know, I’d love to read others!) I find myself repeatedly drawn to them even after I’m done reading, I’ve listened to nothing but Umineko bgm for over a month in the past – which is unusual, because I tend to prefer music I can sing with to instrumentals-only.
Point 2: Genre-mashing
Umineko seems to fall into the category of occult-horror, but yet, there’s also a mystery element, and clearly more romance than is normally allowed in most mysteries, and still, beyond that… something I can’t quite explain.
There’s tons of fan service in Umineko, I won’t deny it. The wardrobe of certain characters definitely can be described as nothing but. At the same time, it’s not nearly as awful as such things can get, and the designs aren’t bad, either.
References to other works pop up from time to time, anything from another popular doujin series (Touhou) to anime to clothing brands to TV shows. There’s even a reference to Ryuukishi’s previous work! XD
If you come into Umineko expecting to be able to wrap up the experience neatly in one genre-box, you will be disappointed.
Umineko is not wholly occult-horror, or even just horror, or mystery, or romance.
Umineko is about something much larger, which fights being quickly categorized.
Point 3: Umineko will change the way you think
Naturally, this is not something I can guarantee.
But I think it’s quite likely.
I can’t outright say how, or why, because that’s something each person should experience for themselves – to have someone else explain it, not only probably won’t work, but will have no impact.
I will say this: Umineko encourages you to become an active participant in the story.
Umineko encourages you to not stop thinking.
Certainly, you can just read it, and float along for the ride, but I would encourage you to do more than this, and I feel that you might actually have a harder time just accepting everything that you are told.
So, are you convinced?
All current Episodes can be purchased from amiami:
Umineko Episodes 1-4
Umineko Episodes 5 & 6
Yes, the novels are in Japanese, but due to the hard work of the Witch Hunt, Episodes 1-5 have been fully translated into English.
The install process does involve changing some settings on your computer, but nothing that should seriously impact your day to day use of it.
If you have any questions about the series, installing the game or the English patch, you can always ask!