Let’s start off this post with a spoiler warning. I’ve read episodes 1-6 of the Visual Novel, so if you’re not up to date, be warned because I may spoil some elements of the story (also expect heavy spoilers from the higurashi anime too).
Now, it’s no doubt that the Umineko no Naku Koro ni franchise has had a huge influence on me (even the name of my blog was inspired by Higurashi and Umineko), but lately I’ve been quietly reflecting on just how it has influenced me. I think it’s fair to say that Umineko’s impact on my mind is unlike any other anime, manga or visual novel I have encountered so far. Sure, I have Clannad and ef to thank for welcoming into the world of manly tears, and I have Gurren Lagann to look back on when I need a bit of strength, but Umineko has had a different effect on me, arguably a more profound one. There are a number of ways in which it has affected the way I think about things, and this blog post will go into detail about just a number of them. But first, how does it do this? How does Umineko have such an influence on me? The answer is Ryukishi’s masterful writing. The way he intricately weaves together bottle letter of the Rokkenjima Mass Murder Incident of 1986, while paying equal attention to the magic, the meta, the meta-meta… Ryukishi is a god amongst writers, because even whilst maintaining such an impossibly deep narrative full of twisted mind games and convoluted plot twists, he knows EXACTLY what’s going on (it’s canon from EP5 people). He knows exactly how the readership will react, and plays with our reactions to create the experience. Ryukishi is quite possibly one of the greatest literary minds of our generation, and I can proclaim it in red that his writing prowess has proven him worthy of the title of a creator witch, beyond the realm of ordinary humans. Ehehe. That said, let me delve into just some of the ways that Umineko no Naku Koro ni has influenced my thinking.
Concepts of Probability
Probability is essential to the mythos of Umineko, especially when defining the nature of magic in the series. There are three characters in particular which provoke thoughts of probability in the story: these being Bernkastel, Lambdadelta, and Kinzo (or Goldsmith as his witch title). I can’t remember who mentioned it first, but I’m pretty sure it was brought up first in EP1 with Kinzo. When trying to establish the origins of the Rokkenjima wealth, a myth was created by Kinzo that he received all the gold by the alchemical powers of a witch named Beatrice. One logical interpretation of this myth is that Kinzo gained the wealth through creating a number of ‘miracles’ in his financial pursuits to surmount an incredible fortune. Some may call him crazy, but none can deny the result. On the illusionary level, Kinzo himself comments that in his dealings with magic, risk is essential. The essence of Kinzo’s magic is ‘miracles’, or to be more descriptive, ‘achieving a result despite an astronomically low probability of success’. On the meta level, the witch who embodies the concept of miracles is Bernkastel. In the mythos, her power is that she can actualize anything as long as it’s probability is not zero. Hence miracles. Her counterpart is Lambdadelta, the witch of certainty. Her power is that of turning a high probability into a certain probability, ie. turning 99% into 100%. All of this ties into human willpower, and in Umineko, how that can ascend to the state of magic. So, when we have an outcome that’s completely dependent on the choices humans make, then human minds are the only variables in these equations. Turning back to Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, we have the eternal battle between Rika / Hanyuu and Takano Mio. The focus of the story was the infinite kakera Rika and Hanyuu travelled through, trying to escape their inevitable fate of being killed. Why was this fate inevitable? That is the power of certainty. Takano Mio actualized a fate for Hinamizawa through sheer willpower, such an immense strength of mind that nobody could shatter that outcome, even after a thousand repetitions. That was, until Rika’s power of miracles took shape. By utilizing an unfathomable willpower of her own (and having hundreds of chances), she eventually overthrew Takano’s ‘certain fate’ despite near impossible odds, and achieved a new destiny. Or, so the anime says. I haven’t actually read the visual novel so forgive me if the original ending is a bit different, eheh… But the points remain. The only real explaination of how Rika won though, is that her willpower became stronger than Takano’s, and her certainty became a 99%. There’s only three states of probability: 0%, 100%, and everything in-between. It doesn’t matter how low or how high that in-between is, anything between 0% and 100% is an uncertainty. And uncertainties are open to any outcome; the only thing that determines which outcome is the will of humans. That is of course when dealing with probabilities concerning human action. And well, if you believe that free will is the only thing that drives the universe toward different futures, then everything that happens in the world has been somehow caused to happen by the human mind. That’s starting to sound a lot like the Anthropic Principle… But yeah, you can easily see how Umineko has made me think a lot about probability, and the role humans play in it. I guess, determining the path of reality is magic too, in a way.
What is real? What is ‘truth’? How do you define truth? These are all essential questions in life, but are often overlooked. Umineko has provoked me into thinking about these deceptively profound questions a lot more deeply. Ask a child what ‘truth’ is, or what’s ‘real’, and they’ll give you a straightforward answer. “It’s what is.” Or something to that effect. But isn’t that the same as defining a term using the term? It’s almost like saying “truth = truth”, which doesn’t really answer anything. Enter Umineko. In the first episode, told through Battler’s perspective, we are presented with a group of 18 people attending a family conference on the private island of Rokkenjima. The island is cut off from the outside world by a typhoon, and people are murdered one by one. With no means to contact the outside world, everyone is killed, and the corpses are dis
covered after the typhoon has passed. What happened here? How were these people murdered? Only those who were murdered, and the murderer himself can know, and they are all gone. Autopsies cannot reveal anything; the incident is shrouded in complete mystery. What is the truth of those three days? What happened? Flash back to the conference, before the murders have begun. A letter has been passed onto a child, young Maria, and presented to the family at dinner. The letter proclaims the existence of a 19th person on the island, the fabled witch Beatrice. Some time after, people are murdered one after another, and Beatrice openly reveals through more letters that she is responsible for the murders. Our protagonist, Battler, refuses to accept the letters as truth and chooses his own truth: that witches and magic cannot possibly exist, and that there is a rational explanation for the murders. One by one, the remaining people slowly begin to believe in the existence of the witch named Beatrice, and in the black magic used to kill their relatives and friends. This becomes their ‘truth’, and slowly, the Golden Witch Beatrice begins to materialise in reality, on this closed dimension of the island. By midnight, 17 people have accepted the existence of the witch Beatrice, and so the witch has nearly revived into the physical world. There is only one thing stopping her from reigning over Rokkenjima as a god, and that is Battler. Battler adamantly believes that the truth of the murders is that of human action, and not magic or witches. He is the only one who has failed to accept the existence of a witch named Beatrice, and so, Beatrice cannot yet exist on the island, because belief in her existence is not unanimous. How does this all relate to truth? One might cal this consensus reality. What is reality, what is truth? How can one prove something is real? How can you prove that the person standing before you is nothing more than an optical illusion? How can you prove that the words they say are the truth? How can you prove they aren’t a delusion of your mind? No matter what one claims to be true, there is no way of proving it with 100% certainty. That is the flaw of humans, and a mistake many people make. In a world where nothing can be 100% proven, humans subconsciously choose faith to make up for the lack of certainty. That is, faith in evidence presented. Therefore, I propose a logical definition of ‘truth’. “Truth is what people agree is real.” This is the essence of consensus reality. Even the laws of physics are purely ‘theory’. We have evidence gathered by many proud scientists, and we have chosen to place our faith in these theories as a collective. This faith ascends to the realm of truth; it becomes reality. As humans, we live in a completely uncertain world. You can spend your life gathering all the evidence you can to prove a simple fact, but in the end, your so-called “proof” can only ever amount to 99.999999999999% certainty. There is still potential for error, potential for new evidence to overturn all previously conceived thoughts. People once regarded the statement “the world is flat” as absolute truth. Is that a red truth? As humanity’s history progressed, this TRUTH was disproved completely, and a new truth took it’s place. A similar theme occurred in the battle between Battler and Erika – the Witch of Truth – in EP5. Erika claimed to have reached the ‘truth’ of the murders, yet Battler was able to conceive an ALTERNATE truth which was also possible, therefore putting the authenticity of both ‘truths’ into question. Without the divine intervention of entities from a higher plane, humanity will never know genuine truth. This brings me to the later arcs of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, where the red truth was introduced as a mechanic. Battler engages in a battle of twisted logic with the illusion of the witch Beatrice, and to spice the battle up a bit and give it more footing, Beatrice introduced the red truth. The rule is that, any words used by a witch in red are the absolute, undeniable truth. Certain truth, something that cannot be found in the human world. Yet, even then, you may be questioning the red truth. “How is it 100% certain? How can you prove she isn’t lying with the red truth?” And that is a very valid argument to make. With this interpretation, even the sacred red truth become fallible, and we are back to square one, where nothing can be proven. However, for the sake of the story (and from a fictional standpoint), ignoring the law of the red truth will only serve to jeopardise the mystery of Umineko altogether. If only humans had something like the red truth, our reality would be much more easier to understand. But alas, we live in an uncertain world, and to treat it as ‘solid’ and ‘complete’ is naive. Truths can change all the time, and perhaps reality really is shaped by human perception after all. Or is it just a matter of perception? Anthropic principle or not? You decide. But on the topic of red truth, this leads me into my third and final point.
The Umineko readership has probably heard this a few times, but only the dedicated fans really have an idea of what it actually means. In a TIP revealed as an extra to one of the games, we are explained the concepts of Anti-Mystery and Anti-Fantasy. I encourage any Umineko readers who haven’t already done so to read up on the TIP in question, as it explains in detail what I am going to talk about. Anti-Fantasy is the default, the logic, the common sense. Anti-Fantasy is all about cold hard facts, the science, the truth. Anti-Mystery, however, is a little more abstract. Anti-Mystery is, as the name implies, a force that denies the mystery genre. As Umineko is not a traditional mystery story, the concepts of Anti-Mystery and Anti-Fantasy are in constant conflict throughout the narrative. But to those who are still confused about anti-mystery, I think there’s one profound quote in the Umineko stories (originating in EP4) which is very relevant to the definition of anti-mystery:
“Without love, it cannot be seen.”
In EP2, Beatrice herself introduced herself to Shannon by explaining that “Love is the single most basic element in the world”. At the time we were caused to question whether she was speaking what she really believed or not, but there’s no questioning that it’s a statement that reverberates throughout the whole series. We encountered the theme of love again with Ange’s trademark: “Without love, it cannot be seen.” In the context that Ange came to understand of it, it’s not only true of magic or mysteries, but of the world at large, that love is required to perceive the truth. But to bring it back to the context of the mystery genre, Anti-Mystery is, in a nutshell, the denial of the mystery element. This is, as Ryukishi likes to put it, due to a lack of love, or a lack of faith perhaps. When reading a mystery novel, if you are not given an indication that the mystery has a logical solution, then uncertainty arises, and if the reader chooses, they collapse into the trap called “anti-mystery”. This applies to the outside world as well. When one cannot be comforted in the knowledge of absolute proof, with a lack of certainty, they fall into anti-mystery. This takes me back to the point I made earlier. “How can you prove that Beatrice’s Red Truth is 100% accurate? How can you prove that she isn’t lying with it?” As the perception of anti-mystery stipulates, you cannot. You cannot prove it. You cannot prove anything in the world with 100% certainty! Then, what is there left to do? When science and logic cannot hold true, where does one turn? One might answer God, or faith. One might even answer love. This is where ange’s words become so profound. As I stated earlier, at the most basic breakdown, science IS faith. Everything is faith – faith in the evidence provided. The laws of physics may be dictated to us by scholars around the world, but as long as there is the potential for new evidence to completely overshadow what we know about the universe and change everything, then it is not certain. Therefore, it is up to us as individauls – as temporal mortals – to choose what we place our faith in, choose what teachings to believe in. This is the most basic breakdown of science, and the nature of truth. Without love, nothing can be seen. It also applies to the idea of motives in murder. When Battler is investigating the murders, he is forced to decide between believing in the cold, hard evidence, or placing his faith in the ones he loves to reach the truth. Which is the most favourable option, then? This is another way of explaining the conflict between anti-mystery and anti-fantasy. Many believe that a combination of both is required to reach the ultimate truth, and that is a very valid claim. Looking at it this way, we know that logic and evidence is required to reach the truth, but it’s also fair to say that it will only ever break through the barrier of anti-mystery and reach a conclusion when we can believe, when we can have love. That’s the conclusion I have reached.
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my rambling on some of the themes of Umineko and how they’ve influenced my thinking quite dramatically. I feel so privileged to get to read such an amazing visual novel and get so much mental stimulation from it. My brain is always ticking when I’m reading Umineko! I still haven’t reached the truth of the games yet, but I feel like I’m getting pretty close. The clues are there, I’ve just gotta keep thinking. Thanks for reading, and feel free to post your thoughts below! I’d very much appreciate hearing them.