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Karifean's Blog of Visual Novels

A Journey of Seagulls - Episode 1

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This is going to be a series of posts forming a commentary on the journey of reading Umineko. While I may talk about themes more relevant to Umineko on a greater scale, I intend to keep this series spoiler-free beyond the episode I'm talking about, so you're completely safe to read this if you've read up to the episode in the title yourself.

Starting with Episode 1: And Then There Were No Seagulls, or something along those lines. At least until it's not anymore.

Umineko OST - Ride on

Once you boot up and start reading, Umineko wastes absolutely no time in letting you know that it loves taking its sweet time. After a few minutes of a guy screaming BEATRICE over and over again we are treated to one of the most slow-paced introduction scenes in any VN I've ever read: the airport scene, where our protagonist, Battler Ushiromiya, gives us his best impressions of seven of his relatives despite not having seen any of them in 6 years. It doesn't help that most of this scene is backed by possibly the only track in the entire OST I don't care for at all - Doorway to Summer. One thing that does help is that the visual novel very nicely keeps track of all the people you know in a family tree in the menu, giving you some additional background information Battler doesn't explicitly state.

The plot continues to move at a relatively slow pace until all major 18 characters are introduced and the 'family conference' on Rokkenjima begins. However, you can probably realize what the story is setting up in the background; besides meeting new characters, we are also introduced to the "witch's epitaph" which any savvy reader will immediately recognize as a plot murder plot, the legend of the witch Beatrice, the unspoken master of Rokkenjima's night, which any savvy reader will recognize as a U.N. Owen stand-in, and the fact that the island is going to be cut off from the outside world by a typhoon for two days, which any savvy reader will immediately recognize as a setting for serial killings. I don't know how many people actually went into Umineko not knowing what it's about at all, but chances are about 99% of readers will be aware of what kind of story this turns into before it does.

The story sets up motives pretty quickly, as every single one of the adult Ushiromiya siblings has money problems and there is a rumored mountain of gold that supposedly belongs to the aged family head. Battler's cousin Maria also gets a bunch of screentime as she's a 9-year-old kid that fervently believes witches and magic exist, and for the sake of not upsetting her, everyone goes along with it.

But while some of the scenes along the way can be pretty cool to read (like the battle of wits of the adults) the story's first major pull finally occurs at approximately 5 hours of reading time - The Witch's Letter. Presented at dinnertime by Maria, who claims that she received it from none other than the witch Beatrice herself.

Umineko OST - Fishy Aroma

Cue Umineko's glorious sound direction kicking in. The ambience is great as Maria perfectly level-headedly reads the letter out loud while everyone else slowly but surely loses their trout. The letter is one of challenge; "solve the epitaph" it says, warning that failure to do so will have less than pleasant consequences.

The first question that pops into everyone's minds: who wrote this letter, and what were they trying to accomplish with it? Maria insists that the one who handed her the letter is Beatrice and the adults all fear that it's someone with ties to their family that wants to have their share of the family inheritance. However, Kyrie Ushiromiya, our protagonist Battler's stepmother, points out several problems with assuming Beatrice to be a mysterious "19th person" and asserts that it's more likely for someone among the 18 visitors to be pretending to be Beatrice.

Ultimately the issue has the adults argue deep into the night, and so the curtain closes on the first day of the family conference. The atmosphere built here is pretty damn amazing, as Swallowtail Butterfly plays while we just see a clipshow of where everyone is currently located on the island. And finally, October 5th begins.

At this point, I and probably most other readers were glued to our seats. We know *something* must have happened during the night, and things start looking to be out of place very quickly, but Umineko takes advantage of having established itself as liking to 'take its time' and keeps you in the palm of its hand... until finally, it turns out that six people have gone missing, and before long, their corpses are found.

Umineko OST - Golden Slaughterer

What can I say? Every reader expected this to happen, so it's not like it's a twist. However it *is* a complete game-changer for the characters themselves, as they now realize very clearly that their lives are in danger. And while as a reader you would probably love to see them not do anything stupid and just hole up in a single room all day, the people in question are neither composed nor patient enough to do something like that. It doesn't help that some people openly believe in the existence of the witch Beatrice, in particular Maria who seems completely unconcerned by the murders that took place and in fact just starts acting incredibly creepy.

The pretense of peace among the remaining people is crushed when the first accusation is voiced. And it's not a baseless nor purely emotional accusation, but the situation becomes so charged that both parties involved need some time away from one another.

Needless to say, the party that split off from the main group ends up dead not long thereafter. And after another murder happens right afterwards and another corpse is discovered, the group has finally had it and they decide to hole up in the safest room in the entire mansion.

Again, we get a little bit of calm time. If you happen to have checked your menu at any time since the first murders you will probably notice the people who've died now having different menu entries, and mutilated pictures of their bodies instead of their normal look. It's a nice touch, especially since the *descriptions* of these menu entries is just freaky as all hell, since it changed from objective 'descriptions' of who they are to very subjective statements about what's currently going on, as if the menu itself is communicating with you. Meanwhile for the characters, some speculation about the nature of the murders and the identity of Beatrice is thrown around, and it even feels as if a theory on Beatrice is formed that they can all accept. Finally, way too late, they all figure out that the witch's epitaph has been predicting the series of murders quite precisely, and all of a sudden another witch letter appears. Right smack dab in the middle of the supposedly impenetrable room they holed themselves up in.

Umineko OST - System 0

What follows is one of the most tense scenes in the entire visual novel so far. The only remaining adult among the survivors - Natsuhi Ushiromiya - picks up their rifle and aims it at the four people that could have reasonably placed the letter on the table. They all plead their innocence and Maria just shrugs and says Beatrice made the letter appear there with magic, but that just fuels Natsuhi's anger, because witches obviously *do not exist*. Ultimately none of the people Natsuhi protects dares to speak up in defense of the people she's accusing, because there simply isn't any other way for the letter to end up there.

After what feels like an eternity (to the characters, not the reader), the group finally splits up and the accused leave the room. That leaves only Natsuhi, Battler and Battler's cousins sans Maria in the room. Again a calm period follows where everyone starts feeling a bit bad for the people they chased out. Soon enough they realize the letter from the witch also contained a magical symbol Battler deciphers as meaning "discord", implying that having the group split up was exactly the letter's aim. They get worried that they just sent off innocent people to be picked off by the murderer at their leisure, and before long the phone rings, and all they can hear on the other end is the faint sound of Maria singing a song.

They decide to get the smurf down there and see what's going on, and what they find is all the people they chased out sans Maria brutally murdered while Maria is just facing the wall in the same room singing a song in monotony over and over again. And when confronted by Battler, she once again says that the one who killed everyone else was none other than the witch Beatrice. Once more, the survivors lose their trout, but before long, they realize Natsuhi is gone, having apparently stepped out to challenge the culprit directly as per another letter's instructions. And when they find her, she falls over, shot in the head. Finally, the survivors are only a few steps away from seeing Beatrice. But just as they confront them, the clock strikes midnight, and Episode 1 ends.

Umineko OST - Bring the fate

We are treated to a credit roll explaining the events as seen from investigators after the fact. They find the chance of any of the cousins having survived in the end to be particularly slim. Also, some time later, a message bottle is discovered. Paraphrased: "By the time you read this, I will probably be dead. Although there may or may not be a corpse. To whoever may read this: please find the truth. That is my only wish. - Ushiromiya Maria".

The remainder of the credit roll informs us that the Golden Witch Beatrice was the victor of the game, and that when the seagulls cried as they returned after the typhoon, there were no survivors left.

And that ends Episode 1. You will probably notice a popup saying you've "unlocked the Episode 1 Tea Party". Seems to be a callback to the All Staff Gatherings from Higurashi, where the characters in the story, in-character, speculate about what the hell was going on in the story. It makes more sense when you've seen it, trust me. Speaking of Higurashi callbacks, the message bottle above is, of course, a blatant callback to Onikakushi, Higurashi's own very first chapter.

"Please find the truth" she says. But how would one do that? At this point, any reader is bound to be befuddled and confused by all they just had to take in. I'm willing to bet only a handful of people actually sat back and tried to figure something out instead of moving on to Episode 2 instantly. After all, why bother. This is just the first episode of eight. There is very little to hang on to, and it's just the beginning of the story, with much more yet to come. Actually on that note, I wonder just how many people were actually expecting everyone on the island to die in the very first episode. I did, as I expected something like Higurashi, but I know quite a few people were surprised that the whole cast died this early.

After all that, you might find yourself checking out the Episode 1 Tea Party.

And it's here that what Umineko is and will continue to be changes forever.

We are greeted by Battler and his cousins as well as the servants they love as they speculate about what happened in the story. Or, well, rather than speculate, it's more that they can finally accept that they were stupid and that the culprit of the crimes obviously was a witch using supernatural magic, because they accomplished feats no human could. But then Battler speaks up. He doesn't believe in witches. There's no way it could have been a witch that killed everyone. It must have been a human using tricks to make it *seem* like magic.

And then Umineko's worst kept secret finally makes her appearance.

Umineko OST - Prison Strip

Welcome to Umineko. This time for real.

Beatrice herself appears in front of Battler in all her glory and challenges his narrow mind. But Battler doesn't yield. He fervently holds on to his belief that witches cannot possibly exist, and that the person standing in front of him is not actually a witch, but rather the manifestation of the 'illusion of the witch' everyone else is believing in - and that if he alone continues to deny her, she cannot fully come into existence. Consensus reality, basically. Beatrice just laughs and says that she *will* beat him into submission and have him fully realize and accept that yes, she is a witch, and yes, she killed everyone with magic. And with that, the Episode 1 Tea Party ends.

Finally, we are treated to yet another scene between Beatrice and another witch - Bernkastel, the Witch of Miracles. It seems Beatrice invited Bernkastel to watch this 'game' between her and Battler unfold. And as soon as Beatrice leaves, Bernkastel starts talking to you (or Battler?) through the fourth wall, encouraging you and saying she's on your side and will support you. And after that little bit, we finally unlock Episode 2, with Episode 1 now well and truly 'complete'.

Next time, we will talk about Episode 2. See you then.

Updated 03-02-2017 at 02:19 AM by Karifean

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