Warning: Spoilers for Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and Higurashi/Kai.
Warning: “Spoilers” for Umineko no Naku Koro ni. But most of the things said aren’t even spoilers, since so much is up to interpretation, and I merely discuss my own.
Hello and welcome! If you’re into anime and you know some noteworthy titles from the 2000s prior to 2010, you’ve almost certainly heard of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. In English, it means “When the Cicadas Cry,” and the English Dub of the first season is called When They Cry. It’s a thriller/ horror/ mystery show that’s technically a “harem anime” and also includes comedy and supernatural. It’s a fantastic show I recommend to anyone 16+ who can stomach violence.
Maybe, like me, you’re a fan of Higurashi, familiar with the both seasons of the anime, plus the various specials. Or maybe you’ve gone even farther than me and read most or all of the manga. I only know the anime, but I’m a diehard fan. If you love Higurashi, you may have found yourself looking for something else like it to watch. Well, the original creator of Higurashi, known as Ryuukishi07, went on to create the concepts and stories for Umineko no Naku Koro ni (“When the Seagulls Cry.”) The manga ran in 8 “episodes” (arcs) from 2007 to 2015, and an anime adaptation covering 4 of the arcs aired in summer 2009.
In both manga and anime forms, Umineko initially attracted a lot of attention from Higurashi-lovers. But in the end, only a handful of this vast fanbase liked and remained interested in the Umineko anime/manga after the first few arcs. In short, it wasn’t popular; you can even say it “flopped,” at least compared to the Higurashi franchise. So what happened? Where did Umineko go “wrong”? (I say wrong in quotation marks because there are some, like myself, who still love and enjoy Umineko, especially the manga. To me, to us, it didn’t go wrong at all.)
Presented next are some reasons for why Umineko failed to be popular with its potential audiences, Higurashi fans as well as people completely new. For one thing, there were/ are issues with availability of Umineko. I don’t know much about it, other than it’s hard to find the anime and the manga available legally and/or in a translated form. I just wanted to mention that as a potential factor in the way Umineko bombed.
Another reason Umineko failed– particularly in anime form– is the level of unnecessary and graphic violence and death. This turns some people away from Higurashi, too, but in that series, I believe those elements were needed to set the show up as a tragic horror story and to show the reactions of the characters. The same can’t be said of a lot of Umineko‘s content. The excessive gore is there for one reason only: to attract people who, like me, enjoy violence and death in anime form. (Relax– it’s only anime.)
People like this, like me, are actually fairly few. The shocking depictions of death and torture may be what attracts a lot of people, but for most, Higurashi is lastingly popular because the stories and characters are so interesting. So it was a major blunder to think blood ‘n guts alone would make people interested in Umineko — let alone make them stay for more than a few arcs.
This next reason applies mostly to the Higurashi fans drawn to Umineko. It’s just that Umineko and Higurashi are so different. This was a terrible disappointment to fans who just wanted something else like Higurashi. Umineko takes place in the same universe, and it sort of has a character from Higurashi (a witch born from Rika’s soul). There are some similarities with narrative style and the general feel of the content, but besides that, Umineko is nothing like Higurashi. Well, how exactly is it different?
Higurashi is a thrilling mystery story with amazing characters that provides clear answers to all of the big questions by the end of the series. Umineko is a story about amazing characters talking about whether or not murders committed by magic can be explained with only human means and logic. Answers to the big questions of each arc are rarely given, and they’re never given in a clean, satisfactory way. Most of it is up to interpretation, including the main premise of the show (witches with godlike powers exist and one of them pulls Battler into her games)!
Higurashi is overwhelmly self-consistent, and firm rules are in place that can only be broken by the characters’ repeated attempts to overcome “fate.” Meanwhile, in Umineko, there is a lot of inconsistency, and for most of the series, only one being can make/break the rules (Beatrice). In Higurashi, there are elements of supernatural, what with Hanyuu/Oyashiro, and elements of fantasy/ sci-fi (the existence of brain parasites and Hinamizawa Syndrome). There is only ever one mention of magic or a witch. (Rika refers to herself as a witch who has ended her 100-year journey, at the end of Higurashi /Kai.) However, Umineko has an overflowing abundance of magic, witches, and mythological beings.
These are all major differences. Let me give some examples. Who is behind the mysterious recurring deaths happening every year, what is the reason for characters going insane, and why does Hinamizawa always get wiped out at the end? Those big questions are answered clearly in Higurashi/ Kai. Takano is the murderer mastermind, characters go insane because of Hinamizawa Syndrome, and Rika’s death is the cause of the village’s destruction in every timeline. It’s pretty straightforward and simple.
Now look at Umineko. What are the answers to the logical dilemmas in each arc, what is Beatrice trying to accomplish by repeating the events, and what is the nature of magic? These questions are never answered very clearly. Solutions to the logical dilemmas aren’t given unless Battler or another player provides them. There’s no “right” answer. Beatrice has a goal– to make Battler remember her and fall for her– but that’s only one Beatrice. The Beatrice Witch as an Existence still continues after, repeating the murders for no reason. The nature of magic is that it can’t be measured or explained in any way. Those are the only kind of “explanations” we get.
Umineko no Naku Koro ni failed as a popular anime /manga for many reasons. These include availability issues, needless graphic content, and the series’ many differences from Higurashi. There are others I don’t mention here, as well — like Battler being stupid or annoying, or the anime ending without any resolution. Another reason could be that the content of the manga, once you get far into it, was too complex for people to understand, keep up with, or care about. But the most powerful causes of Umineko‘s failure were these: it’s easy to misunderstand what it’s about, and what it’s really about appeals only to a tiny audience.
So what do I mean by that? Well, Umineko sets itself up as a grand mystery with some ideas from and references to classical mystery novels and fiction. Then it does a 180 degree turn and brings in magic that becomes more and more absurd and unruly with each story arc. So is it a mystery-solving anime/manga? Or is it a fantasy tale? Can it be both? Actually, it’s neither. Then what is Umineko about? Once past the misunderstandings which Umineko seems to almost promote in its first few arcs, it’s obvious what kind of story it really is.
Umineko isn’t a story itself, as much as it is a story about stories. It’s not a mystery; it’s about characters discussing, thinking about, and reacting to mysteries. Umineko isn’t a fantasy tale, but a depiction of interesting characters discussing, thinking about, and reacting to fantasy/magic. It doesn’t give answers with each arc; it gives new questions. You won’t be handed any certain or satisfying solutions — only more and more complex puzzles. What do you see when you look at the symmetrical ink blot? There’s no “correct” answer.
Is there a point of this anime/manga? You could say that seeing the fates of the characters — including Rika’s Witch — is the purpose of this work of fiction. But that alone isn’t worth the mental strain of getting through Umineko — especially if you’re not fond of the main characters. “The point” is to enjoy the process of thinking of possibilities. If you don’t enjoy thinking for the sake of thinking, and trying to wrap your mind around purely hypothetical and theoretical arguments and concepts, then there’s no point in Umineko.
Reading the Umineko manga is like being given a math problem, looking at everyone’s theories on how it might be solved, and then moving onto the next without it ever actually being solved. Oh, and add a splattering of blood, just because. Now for me, that sounds like all hella fun. But I’m kind of weird, if you haven’t noticed. xD So anyway, here’s the thing. Umineko will only ever appeal to a small audience because relatively few people have the time, patience, interest, or personality type needed to enjoy the content. I don’t recommend the manga or the anime, unless you’re the sort, like me, who takes pleasure from objectively pointless mental strain.
Well then, let’s end on that note. I really want to thank you for reading this anime rant/ ramble. Each and every view is appreciated. Thank you! 🙂
(All images were found by searching the web and I don’t own any of them.)