Umineko Reading List: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the WindThe Shadow of the Wind is many things. Through its twists and turns, it tells a story both mysterious and romantic, chilling and comedic. If you loved Umineko, and seek more stories in the same vein, The Shadow of the Wind is a fine place to start.

One night, Daniel’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, tucked away in the alleys of Fascist-dominated Spain. Daniel may choose any single book from it’s endless bookcases, on the condition that he protect it with his life. The Shadow of the Wind, last remaining copy of a novel by obscure author Julian Carax, catches his attention. Daniel’s quest to protect the book is complicated by the fact that a man has been tracking down copies of Julian Carax’s books, and burning every single one. Even odder, this mysterious figure claims the name of “Lain Couthbert,” The Shadow of the Wind‘s arch-villain.

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Review: Fragments, Umineko Doujinshi

aiwa - fragments coverIf there’s one thing I love most about Japanese media, it’s doujin culture. Anime, manga, and visual novels aren’t just products to be consumed. Thanks to doujin culture, each work becomes a conversation between creator and fans, endlessly remixed by an astonishing depth of talent.

That’s why I’m always glad to see doujin culture spreading outside Japan. Today, I’m reviewing one such instance: the English-language Umineko doujinshi “Fragments,” from the Spanish doujin circle Cyclic Redundancy.

(The rest of the review contains spoilers for Umineko Episode 7)

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Review: Tragedy Looper

tragedy looperHave you ever wanted to recreate the high-stakes “witch’s games” from Umineko and Higurashi? Well, now you can, thanks to the unique Japanese board game Tragedy Looper. Originally released by the doujin circle BakaFire in 2011, it was published last year in English, and quickly gained buzz as one of 2014’s most innovative board games.

Each game of Tragedy Looper uses a unique script. Scripts list the secret roles of each character, as well as plot twists and possible tragedies lurking behind the scenes. With this script in hand, a single Mastermind takes on a team of 1-3 Protagonists. While the Mastermind is privy to the entire script, the Protagonists start each game in the dark. To prevent the tragedy, they must discover the Mastermind’s secrets through trial and error. Mostly error, of course, as the Mastermind tries to trigger murders, suicides, and worse. After each Bad End, the Protagonists get a chance to loop back in time and try again. It’s a struggle of wits, as the Protagonists try to untangle the script’s mysteries before they run out of loops.

Each turn, the Mastermind plays cards face-down to different characters and locations. Then, the Protagonists play their own cards, before everything is flipped up and resolved. They know where the Mastermind’s playing, but not what he’s playing. This leads to many tense mind games. Is the Mastermind adding to that character’s paranoia, so they’re demoned away? Or is that face-down card just a feint, concealing his real attack?

The stage is set for the 1st script.

The stage is set for the 1st script.

Tragedy Looper is one of those rare “board games with spoilers.” Each script is designed to be played only once as a protagonist (though you can play it as Mastermind any number of times). Although the game comes packaged with 10 pre-made scripts, some might worry about it’s replay value. Don’t worry, though: it’s replay value is infinite! For Masterminds with a few games under their belt, it’s easy to create new scripts. In fact, this can be the most fun part of the game: watching your friends puzzle out your own devious creations.

Tragedy Looper is a game with many moving parts. For new players, it can take a while to “click.” The occasionally confusing terminology doesn’t help. “Wait, so someone can be the Culprit of a Murder, but the Killer is a totally different thing?” Once it does click, though, the experience is extremely rewarding. Even if you don’t have enough friends up for the challenge, the game lends itself well to playing by forum. I’ve even run a few myself; if you’d like to try the game yourself, feel free to let me know!

Umineko Reading List: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

tokyo zodiac murdersThe Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada is one of the best-selling mystery novels in Japan. Upon reading, it’s clear why. The story begins with the death of a reclusive artist, and the discovery of rambling note written in his own hand. The note details his plans to gruesomely murder his own daughters and nieces, as part of a “noble” experiment to create the perfect woman, Azoth, with dismembered body parts from each girl.

Soon after his supposed death, the murders occur just as written. The sensational and seemingly impossible crimes shock the world, and remain unsolved for over 40 years. In modern day, the eccentric fortune teller Kiyoshi Mitarai races to solve the case, all for his own personal reasons.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders was clearly a strong influence on Ryukishi07’s Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Many of the plot points will feel familiar: An eccentric old man sacrifices his progeny to a gruesome ritual, all for the sake of his perfect woman. The mystery shocks the world, inspiring a whole subculture of occult and conspiracy theories. Without spoiling anything, though, it’s probably the mystery’s conclusion that comes closest to the heart of Umineko.

Despite it’s macabre tone, the book is rather easy in one way: it’s a classic “fair play” mystery. Near the book’s end, the author even inserts a note to let the reader know when all clues need to solve the mystery are present. Although it isn’t the hardest mystery novel out there, it definitely has some beautifully clever twists.

The book might disappoint those expecting an atmospheric thrill ride, like Agatha Christie’s And then There Were None.  The crime’s distance of time can make it feel more like an intellectual puzzle than a suspenseful narrative. Still, the characters are well developed, and the atmosphere is perfectly set thanks to some beautiful (and occasionally creepy) passages. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is strongly recommended to anyone interested in the influences that went into Umineko. Or, anyone just looking for a cracking good classic mystery novel!