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Umineko's opening scene


alpacaman

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The recent discussions about Umineko here on the forum made me want to pick up the whole damn thing again. Only this time I'm going spend even more time on it because I'm taking notes. I'll take the game's advice though and not focus on the howdunnits (which it argues are trivial and unimportant), but rather on what meaning is hidden inbetween. I'm doing this mostly for myself, though every now and then I might feel like turning my thoughts and interpretations into a blog post like this one.

The German realist author Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) once said "the first chapter is always the main point, and within the first chapter the first page, almost the first line." While I think he is exaggerating a little bit and tbh I only opened with a quote of his to get a chance to mention how much I hate his writing (some of his novels are required reading in high-school in parts of Germany), it is true that the opening to a novel or any piece of fictional media can be a more important part of the work than it is often given credit for. Which brings us to Umineko's first scene. While it might not be the most spectacular example out there, I think it does what it sets out to do so well that it is worth taking a look at it from an analytical standpoint. I'm going to mention one or two twists that happen at later points in the VN, so you might not want read any further if you do not want to get spoiled.

The scene takes place at an unspecified point in time in Kinzo's study with him, Nanjo (his doctor) and Genji (his head servant) present. It starts out with Nanjo telling Kinzo to lay off the alcohol as the medicine he prescribed to keep him alive won't work otherwise. Kinzo responds by saying the liquor (which has a sweet scent and a venomous green colour) has been with him longer than Nanjo, and that it is what is actually keeping him alive, not the medicine. Then he orders Genji to serve him another glass, but water it down a bit. Kinzo asks Nanjo how much time he has left, to which the doctor replies by comparing it to their chess match which is apparently entering its final stages and where Kinzo managed to corner Nanjo's king.  The physician suggests Kinzo should write a will, which the latter one heavily objects to: "...And what is a will, Nanjo? Handwritten instructions to the vultures on how to devour and scatter my corpse?" He wants to leave nothing behind and insists everything he built up during his life shall disappear with him, as it is part of the deal he made. He goes on to speak about his only regret, which is not being able to see the smile of the witch Beatrice once more, resulting in him screaming at thin air offering his remaining life to her for her to appear before him one last time. Opening Credits roll.

The main thread running through the scene is a lingering conflict between what is "real" and what isn't, already introducing one of the main themes of the VN. This starts with the setting and props: There is no real indication if what you see takes place in the real world or some fantasy realm nor does it properly fit into any specific timeframe. The occult study, Kinzo's gown and the venomous green liquor all make the whole scene look surreal, but then there is also a real world physician doing standard medical examinations. In this sense the whole dialogue between Nanjo and Kanzo can be read as a conflict between material reality and fantasy, with Nanjo and his medicine or science representing the former and Kinzo having completely embraced the latter. Nanjo tries to bring Kinzo to care about his own physical wellbeing and his remains (stand-ins for material reality), both of which the latter one doesn't care at all about. The liquor in this context is basically a metaphor for fantasy. It has an inviting scent but looks like venom. It poisons Kinzo and according to him is what actually keeps him alive at the same time. His addiction turns his health and life miserable (as well as those of his children), while it is also what keeps him going. The booze or rather fantasy keeping him alive is also rather funny imo considering we later learn that, while he is part of all the "non-real" scenarios, in "real life" he has already been dead for quite a while. [It has been some time since I read the VN the first time so I don't really remember if the booze motif gets used at other points but it is one of the things I am going to keep an eye on this time around.]

One of the main and more obvious purposes of an opening scene is to make the audience want to read on, usually by using a narrative hook. In this case it is the question about Beatrice's existence. You immediately ask yourself what the deal is with a witch that might or might not be real and that some weird and menacing old man is apparently trying to summon. Her (non-)presence is one of the main threads running through the whole VN and it gets established in the very first scene. This hook also ties right back into the overarching uncertainty of the scene about what is "real" and thus one of the main themes of the VN.

The whole scene imo exemplifies pretty well what Umineko excels at, namely tying its separate narrative layers together. From the outset, characterization, plot, horror, fantasy, metaphor and theme are never truly separable but form a coherent and interwoven whole. I only implicitely talked about characterization and didn't even talk about why Genji is present in the scene at all or about the introduction of the chess motif (or the Kinzo being dead before the end of the game part). But since I already spent too much time writing this I'll keep it with one of Umineko's core messages and let you figure out how these things tie into the rest yourselves.

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Glad to see that the Umineko discussion thread inspired relooking at the VN. @Mr Poltroon's post in the thread was great to read through, and likewise its interesting to relook at the opening scene. Personally when I first read the opening scene, I remember wondering why it started this way. Looking back at it in retrospect it makes more sense though. Especially once you have a greater understanding and context of who Kinzo really is, and his role in the rest of the story.

I'm interested in the observation in whether alcohol holds any consistent motif or not. Off the top of my head I know that Bernkastel is quite fond of good alcohol and so is Beatrice. In fact there are some pretty great scenes of Beatrice getting drunk. But I don't know if that's relevant to your curiosity around the use of alcohol. 

 

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9 hours ago, Zalor said:

I'm interested in the observation in whether alcohol holds any consistent motif or not. Off the top of my head I know that Bernkastel is quite fond of good alcohol and so is Beatrice. In fact there are some pretty great scenes of Beatrice getting drunk. But I don't know if that's relevant to your curiosity around the use of alcohol. 

With Bernkastel's name it makes total sense for her to like alcohol (since she shares her name with a small German town mostly known for its wine), although I don't really know yet how it would fit into an overarching booze=fantasy motif since she's the antagonist to the pro-fantasy faction. Maybe there's more of a general drinks motif going on. There's also the thing with the tea Rosa bought for Kumasawa I had totally forgotten about and I don't remember what that was all about. I don't know, I should probably stick to reading and making notes for now before I make theories based on stuff I only half-remember.

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I always thought of the first scene as something that really happened. Nothing in it seems fake and it makes sense when you piece together the things that went in Rokkenjima Prime.

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The question is what "really happened" means in this context:

Spoiler

The scene is canon within the eight in-story games. If these are the truth you accept for yourself, then the opening scene depicts something real. If you go by the "Erika interpretation", Kinzo is probably already dead by the time this is all supposed to be happening.

The point I'm trying to make is the scene is set up to make you guess whether what you're seeing is real. Opening with an old man who is dressed like some sort of magician standing in an occult looking room while sipping a green drink and screaming at nothing in the hopes of summoning a witch makes you think you're reading a fantasy story, but then there's also a real life doctor examining him and wondering how he's still alive.

Btw., the medical exam is also setting up the ongoing theme of the "fact" faction trying (figuratively) dissect the fantasy. I can't believe I forgot to mention this in the actual blog post.

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6 hours ago, alpacaman said:

The question is what "really happened" means in this context:

  Reveal hidden contents

The scene is canon within the eight in-story games. If these are the truth you accept for yourself, then the opening scene depicts something real. If you go by the "Erika interpretation", Kinzo is probably already dead by the time this is all supposed to be happening.

The point I'm trying to make is the scene is set up to make you guess whether what you're seeing is real. Opening with an old man who is dressed like some sort of magician standing in an occult looking room while sipping a green drink and screaming at nothing in the hopes of summoning a witch makes you think you're reading a fantasy story, but then there's also a real life doctor examining him and wondering how he's still alive.

Btw., the medical exam is also setting up the ongoing theme of the "fact" faction trying (figuratively) dissect the fantasy. I can't believe I forgot to mention this in the actual blog post.

R07 doesn’t specify the year this conversation takes place tho. For all intents and purposes 

it could be right before Yasu solved the riddle.

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