Umineko hits with all the trappings of the murder mystery genre; an isolated island, a mysterious woman, shady business dealings, an incredibly rich victim and a family arguing over who is entitled to his fortune. Though well-trodden territory, Umineko manages to find a way to bring them all together in interesting, though not all that original, way.
The series opens with the death of Kinzo Ushiromiya, the wealthy patriarch of the Ushiromiya family. The series then jumps to the familyís annual gathering, where we meet Battler, the seriesí protagonist and grandson of Kinzo. If Uminenko has any glaring problems, it is the number of characters the show tosses at the viewer in a short period of time. There are attempts to build connections between the characters in an attempt to provide viewers with some context and quick reference, but without the "Case File 001" book that accompanies the Premium Edition as an extra, it would have been hard to keep track of everyone.
Luckily (or perhaps, unluckily), family members begin to die under mysterious circumstances. Everyone suspects everyone else especially since Kinzoís inheritance is a sore point for the family. Of course, all of the familyís arguments are for nothing; according to family lore, the only way someone can get Kinzoís gold is to solve a riddle embedded in a family epitaph. Then again, thereís gold to be had and everyone wants it, so rather than solve the riddle, everyone instead focuses on who is killing the family members.
While the rest of the family squabbles over the gold, a younger member of the family, Maria, begins to look into other mysteries surrounding the family. The rest of the family is convinced it is one of their own, while Maria insists it is the work of a witch, who is somehow connected to the mysterious epitaph.
Much of the series revolves around Battler trying to make sense of the murders, or more importantly, trying to figure out who has it right Ė his family or Maria? Itís an interesting concept, especially when supernatural aspects begin to appear about halfway through the first volume. These aspects do make some of the larger plot elements hard to follow, if not downright confusing, though I was able to piece things together with the aid of the aforementioned "Case Files 001" book and a second viewing.
It also helps that the show is broken up into several mini story arcs rather than one huge story. Not every arc is a winner (there are a few massive duds throughout the entire series), but they were able to hold my attention and helped push the main plot forward without becoming too overwhelming.
Other than the show throwing too many characters into the mix too quickly, my only other major complaint was the unnecessary insertion of comedic elements. The mystery, and everything surrounding it, stands on its own well enough. However, there are times where the series insists on tossing in some stupid joke, almost if to remind you, "Hey, this is anime!" Itís similar to games that toss in collection elements not because it helps the game, itís just "what you do" in a platformer.
Umineko ships as a Blu-ray only, so if youíre used to getting both the Blu-ray and DVD in one package, you wonít get that here. While nothing about the series really jumped out at me, it isnít a bad looking anime either. I really like how the show plays with light, which goes a long way towards setting the appropriate mood for the show.
As usual, the series ships in a beautiful, hard-backed slipcase and full-color art book. The book, which Iíve already mentioned, is presented as a casebook of sorts, offering short synopses of each episode and, more importantly, character profiles. They offer deep insight into who these characters are, or why you should care about them, but it is great for keeping track of who the major players are and, in some small way, why they matter.
Umineko: WHEN THEY CRY Volume 1 Premium Edition comes highly recommended for supernatural mystery fans. It is anime, so that may deter a few potential viewers, but if you can look past that, it is a fun, interesting watch.