I rewatched Higurashi a couple weeks ago, marathoning both the original and the sequel, and the one thing that was struck by (and have always been impressed by) is how much I cared for each one of the characters. My heart broke for each one of them as they succumbed to the madness during the question arcs. This made the answer arcs and the second season that much more powerful. I felt like I was part of the gang. And I rooted for Rika and friends to break their treacherous fate harder than I’ve rooted for any characters to do anything ever.
Umineko has thus far been missing that and I wondered if it would ever have that. The mystery was compelling, but I don’t love the characters. I don’t dislike them, but after the first 10 episodes, they haven’t managed to make a significant impact on me. Except for maybe Battler, and even that’s been muted. I won’t say this episode resolves that issue, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a somewhat shallow step, but progress is progress. When Gohda tries to explain what the inexplicable Kanon events. When he adamantly denies being the culprits. When he, Shannon and George are running from Beatrice. When he tries to hold off Beatrice’s demon minions while George and Shannon tried to open Natsuko’s mirror. It was the first time I felt some a deeper level of emotion from the characters. And when Gohda dies, it was the first time I felt sorry for one of the characters.
I do wonder Gohda, Shannon and Genji chose not to explain the Kanon incident in all its gory detail. If there was a time for overexplanation, this was it. Perhaps what we saw isn’t exactly what occurred? Or maybe they do know more than they’re letting on.
But it’s not just Gohda. Battler takes a big step forward as well. Stuck with no answers, unwilling to blame his family or the servants, game piece Battler succumbs to Beatrice’s trap and decides to blame the witch. A stirring moment occurs between him and Maria, because she seemed honestly happy that Battler accepted Beatrice. I suppose we’ll see whether that has anything to do with Maria’s dreams of the Golden Land. And when Maria talks of solving the epitaph with Battler, it feels like they’re part of a team for the first time. Is this an inflection point for Battler? An unexpected and inadvertent turning of the chessboard? Maybe he was chasing after the wrong demons. Beatrice is always one step ahead of when it comes to the murders. But the epitaph is the epitaph, it doesn’t change, and it’s there to be solved.
If Battler and Gohda take sympathetic steps forward, Rosa takes a sharp step backwards. Unlike Natsuhi in the first arc, it’s hard to tell who Rosa cares about. She may be even more inscrutable than even Eva was in the previous arc. We know Rosa seems to have a bipolar relationship with her admittedly odd daughter. She also quickly turns her back on the servants, showing a two-faced maliciousness about it. She leaves her family member, George, to the supposed wolves. And just as quickly walks away from Battler when he gets angry at her for continuing to suspect the servants. Yet, we hear nothing about the meeting she had with Beatrice with the other family members before the murder was committed. And we still haven’t seen a peep about the letter she received from Beatrice. If meta-Battler were looking down on this, even he’d probably have difficulty explaining all of Rosa’s actions. Just because there’s no evidence doesn’t make her a suspect, as he likes to say, but there’s little about her character so far that suggests that she couldn’t be.
Well, what happens next? As far as this game goes, Beatrice has both game piece and meta-Battler in check, he needs to turn the chessboard over and figure out a new strategy, because his current one is being torn to shreds. The only thing that might actually be meta-Battler’s saving grace is his hard-headed stubbornness against accepting Beatrice and the role of magic. I think he needs a minor miracle just to be able to get to the next game unscathed. Is that miracle Natsuhi’s mirror? Questions, questions, questions. I don’t expect any answers soon, but if they continue to give the characters depth, I can live with questions.