Beginner’s Guide to 07th Expansion

The works of 07th Expansion can be a bit intimidating to newcomers. I’ve gathered some common questions in this guide. Hopefully, they’ll help you on your journey.

Q: What’s so great about Higurashi and Umineko?

In 2002, 07th Expansion released the first installment in the indie visual novel series. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When the Cicadas Cry) Ryukishi07, the circle’s main member, wrote and illustrated it all by himself. Despite low production values, interest in the series blew up on the strength of its characters and captivating story. From its humble origins, Higurashi has been adapted into comics, anime, a live-action movie, multiple video games, and even a pachinko machine (sort of like the Japanese equivalent of pinball). In 2007, he followed it up with with Umineko no Naku Koro ni (When the Seagulls Cry), the next game in the When They Cry series.

Higurashi and Umineko both follow a similar structure: we meet a bunch of people. Things go horribly wrong. Everyone dies. And then, time loops back to the beginning. Each loop, though, plays out differently, parceling out new clues to the underlying mystery. Or just as often, they reveal twists that completely upset everything you thought you knew.

Even though they’re full of narrative tricks and meta-fiction, neither loses sight of the heart. While most long mystery series can only develop the detective, the looping structure gives time to humanize the victims. Higurashi and Umineko are emotional roller coasters. Their complex mysteries, philosophical underpinnings, and powerful storytelling make them one hell of a ride.

Q: Which should I read first: Higurashi or Umineko?

Although the two works are loosely connected, Umineko isn’t a sequel to Higurashi. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy Umineko without any knowledge of Higurashi.

Ideally, though, one should read Higurashi first. Umineko makes some allusions to the previous work, which might spoil its core mystery.

On the other hand, for people who aren’t die-hard anime/manga/visual novel fans, I recommend people try Umineko before Higurashi. Higurashi falls back on many more anime tropes, which might put off casual fans. Umineko is also a more mature and (in my opinion) better work, so it might be worth trying Umineko first if you’re on the fence about both series.

Q: Which version should I read/watch? VN, Manga, or Anime?

Higurashi and Umineko have both been adapted into a plethora of mediums. The original novels, however, remain the ideal experience. They tell the story with the greatest detail and nuance.

On the other hand, they can be a huge time sink! To that end, I’ve created this chart. It shows how favorably each adaption compares to the original, as well as their length.

Higurashi How Good Compared to Original? How Long Will It Take Me?
Visual Novel 100% 96 hours
Manga 70% 37.5 hours
Anime 65% 20.8 hours
Umineko How Good Compared to Original? How Long Will It Take Me?
Visual Novel 100% 120 hours
Manga 75% 57.5 hours
Anime 35% 10.8 hours (Although the anime only covers the first half of the story, so you’d have to switch to another medium to finish it)

Q: Where can I get the original visual novels?

Higurashi has been released in English by MangaGamer. You can buy the first half and second half of the series from them now. They’ll also be releasing a new version on Steam in the future.

MangaGamer also sells the first half and second half of Umineko’s Japanese version, which can be patched to English with Witch Hunt’s translation patch.

Right now MangaGamer is renewing their contract to seel Ryukishi07’s games online. For now, you can only buy the first chapter of Higurashi on their site.

Q: What’s up with all these patches?

Besides the original PC release, both Higurashi and Umineko have been ported to various gaming consoles. These ports have received updated graphics and voice acting, which can be applied to the PC version thanks to a few fan-made patches. Some people prefer the original artwork, however, for it’s expressiveness.

Also, when MangaGamer released Higurashi in English for PC, they had to remove some of the original music tracks. Patches exist to return the original music, as well as enhancing the user interface, font, and translation quality.

Patches for Higurashi can be found on the Tweaking Higurashi Wiki, and those for Umineko can be found on the Tweaking Umineko Wiki.

Q: I’ve read Higurashi and Umineko, and want more. What else has 07th Expansion worked on that I ought to look into?

Along with Higurashi and Umineko, I highly recommend the following visual novels from 07th Expansion/Ryukishi07:

  • The visual novel Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni, in two parts: Dai Ichi Ya (First Night) and Dai Ni Ya (Second Night).
  • The visual novel Rose Guns Days.
  • Ryukishi07 wrote one of the routes for the visual novel Rewrite.

He’s also worked on a few other projects, which range from “meh” to “avoid!”:

  • Ryukishi07 contributed to the story of the anime/game Okamikakushi.
  • Ryukishi07 wrote the manga Kaidan to Odorou.

This post is a living document. Do you think I should include any other questions? Please, let me know!

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This entry was posted in 07th expansion, anime, Higanbana, Higurashi, manga, Rose Guns Days, Umineko, VN. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Beginner’s Guide to 07th Expansion

  1. Rin says:

    I have played only Umineko Vn, but I think this post deserved a like for promoting this awesome series. I haven’t finished the last episode of it due to conveniently broken laptop…

    One question, will Umineko have a android port like Higurashi?

    Like

  2. sairanac says:

    Great intro article. I used to be a huge fan of Ryukishi07 – followed every his Comiket releases since Higurashi Kai days to end of Umineko. Ryukishi07 is a great story teller – the settings and characters are superb. However, he is a lousy mystery writer. Reason being that he hypes up the story so well, yet the resolutions to his stories ‘which range from “meh” to “avoid!”’. Granted, I haven’t read his new stuff, but here’s what I thought of the series, combining with the different medium I’ve exposed myself to:

    Higurashi (VN/Console/Manga/Anime): Poster child. It’s what made him popular the first place. He uses the tagline “only 1% of people can solve it”(based on 2ch comments/emails to him), but it actually comes with the disclaimer that it’s calculated after the release of ep1. I’m more surprised someone figured it out after epsiode 1. of Story is great, characters are colorful and really grows on you. Unfortunately starts to fall apart around ep7 with a few loopholes (still a good episode). Ep8 is a slight farce with the resolution, but still acceptable. I actually like the epilogue “ep9”, as I found it actually wrapped up nicer than ep8. Have multiple spin-offs, which mostly are actually decent. Yes, even the mahjong arc. Extra episode/changes from the PS/DS versions of the game are meh at best – especially with the new ep8. Can’t blame him since Ryukishi07 didn’t write those 3 scenarios.

    Kaidan to Odoru (manga)- weird story – more or less about Takano Miyo. Might not even be the same person. I didn’t find anything too exciting or bad about it.

    Okami Kakushi (PSP game) – story itself is interesting, but it’s mainly because its similarity to Higurashi. Characters aren’t as colorful, but still passable. I actually liked the resolution of one of the arcs, way better than the true ending. True ending is a farce. Along the lines of “let’s have a giant explosion and kill everyone off and END!” ending (before you go nuts about OMG spoiler alert!! – that’s NOT how it ended). Pretty forgettable story since it doesn’t stand out that much, especially against Higurashi.

    Umineko (VN/Manga/Anime) I actually didn’t finish watching the anime – after Higurashi anime, I knew that Kon Chikaki doesn’t know how to direct these kind of stories. Also, by the time anime aired, the VN was already going downhill because of the release of ep5/6? The story itself is interesting – with a closed circle type of mass murder, and meta-conversations. Characters were again colorful, but they eventually moved into more of a fighting game style (which spawned the two fighting games on PC/XBOX). More and more story elements and mechanics were introduced, which made it quite interesting… until it all blew up and started to be “unsolvable”. By ep 5-6 the readers knew that they weren’t going to get the same treatment from Higurashi, where you have a solution arc to solve a prior question arcs. Some of the mysteries were still solved, but a good chunk were not – you could use your deduction power to deduces a few more elements, but that’s still just deduction and not the truth. Nail in the coffin is the whole “If you don’t deduce/think then you are a sheep, but if you try to find out the real truth, then you are a monster for breaking apart their own fantasy world.” Seriously cop out on the ending. This is where I stopped reading all his work. I think there was a fan disc after ep8, but I didn’t bother. It’s also after Umineko ep8 that Ryukishi07 started to become more minor – movies deals were scrapped, Umineko anime season 2 in limbo(most likely never see the day of light), moved back to minor booths in Comiket…

    It’s not my intention to be negative about Higurashi/Umineko. I really enjoyed the stories as they enfold – Higurashi still remains one of my favorite series, and even inspired me to go on the pilgrimage to Shirokawago. The good mix of comedy and mystery were perfect. However, he’s like the Kawamori Shoji (macross/aquarion series director) of visual novels. The ending is so unsatisfying that it doesn’t do the story/character justice.

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    • tim_p says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Yeah, it’s clear that Umineko’s ending was divisive. I loved it, though, for how challenging it was. The “Kai” added to the second half of Higurashi means “Solutions,” but the “Chiru” added to the second half of Umineko means “Breakdown.” It’s not about solving a mystery, it’s about questioning the very idea of the mystery genre itself. And of course, the story doesn’t present a single “correct” viewpoint. Ultimately, it’s the readers choice.

      It’s rare to see many popular works, much less a VN, go in such a postmodern direction. Umineko can definitely get self-indulgent at times, but I’d rather see writers aiming high and failing, than just putting out the same thing over and over. You either love the ending or become infuriated by it. Either way, it’s stuck with you.

      I’d give Higanbana and Rose Guns Days a try, though. Ryukishi07s gone back to more traditional stories after Umineko (saving his energy for the next When They Cry, mayhaps). They still have the same colorful characters and mix of comedy/darkness, though.

      Like

  3. Danny says:

    This is pretty clever! Maybe I should show my friends this, because I’ve been trying to get many people into 07th expansion VN’s for a while, but it’s hard since they get confused very easily when I try and talk about what makes these stories so powerful.

    Like

    • tim_p says:

      Thanks, I’m glad if I can help spread the joy of these stories in any small way. Though for me, even just describing what it is can be hard! Although over the years I’ve slowly gotten to the 5-second description of “It’s like The Phantom of the Opera meets Inception.”

      Another great (and gushing) article on the power of Umineko is Umineko is More Than Just a Story from Aspirety.

      Like

  4. Isae says:

    Well, I happen to prefer Higurashi, and I don’t consider myself a die-hard anime/manga/visual novel fan. I have various reasons for liking it better, but one of the major ones would have to be because Umineko feels more like a game/puzzle than a story to me, while Higurashi feels more like a story than a game/puzzle. (Accordingly, I would certainly admit that Umineko is the superior game/puzzle.)

    I know you were just stating your opinion, and you weren’t saying that there aren’t any people like me, but I’m just providing an alternate point of view for people who happen to read this guide.

    Like

    • Isae says:

      Oh yeah, and I’m curious what you’re basing Higurashi’s 96 hours and Umineko’s 120 hours on. In looking at the lengths of the light novels, at least, Higurashi and Umineko’s arcs/episodes seem to be about the same length (though of course Higurashi’s Himatsubushi-hen is shorter than Umineko’s Episode 4).

      Like

      • tim_p says:

        That’s a good way of looking at it. While they both work on both an emotional and intellectual level, I’ve always thought that Higurashi works better on the former and Umineko on the latter. I absolutely love Higurashi too, but I think a lot of “normal” folks could get turned off by the long slice-of-life parts at its start.

        And thanks, the more points of view the better! The Japanese fan base would definitely agree with you, since it’s such a bigger franchise.

        Those hours are based on my own play time (somewhat unscientifically collected). I think the Umineko VNs are definitely a bit longer than Higurashi, but here’s tons of factors that could influence my individual playing time:

        – Getting through Higurashi faster because I’d already seen the anime, whereas I hadn’t seen the anime for Umineko.
        – Since Umineko is more of a mystery, I might have stopped more to absorb information and think.
        – Umineko might have more “non-reading time,” with all the flashing magic battles and screen-change effects.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Isae says:

    Yeah, I can understand people getting impatient with the slice-of-life parts. I mean, I love them, but I had already seen the anime, so I wasn’t in any rush.

    Overall, I think that kind of “apples and oranges” approach is probably the best way to appreciate Higurashi and Umineko.

    Oh, okay, that makes sense about the reading times. I was just curious.

    Like

  6. zxc says:

    Please add this Umineko ps3 port project

    https://umineko-project.org/en/

    Like

    • tim_p says:

      Yup, this needs updating in a few other areas too (like the new MangaGamer versions of Higurashi and all the various patches for that). Thanks for reminding me.

      Like

  7. Necrelia says:

    Good post, you might also specify that Higurashi exists in French and physics (http://www.hinamizawa.fr/), this project was conducted by a professional translator (named Saffran Prod) and the translation is of high quality, my copy of the first part is even autographed by Ryukishi through its passage in France haha

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