MAG・ネット is a television program aired on NHK which delves into the realm of otaku culture on a weekly basis. They cover a wide range of things, from seiyuu, games, animators, manga artists, etc and do a very good job creating a professional and illuminating weekly documentary. They’ve had a number of excellent interviews and other insights in the 28 episodes that have been produced so far. My favourite episode was dedicated to the now-deceased old-school animator, Yoshinori Kanada. That opened my eyes up to a lot about the world of animation in Japan and gave me a deep appreciation of the man’s work. Each episode has a special focus, but they also have a segment which briefly covers other events/news of the week. From here on, whenever I stumble across something interesting in one of their episodes, I’ll relay it on this blog!
This episode focused on Ryukishi07 and his famous doujin circle, 07th Expansion, with specific attention paid to his recent mind-bending doujin game, Umineko no Naku Koro ni! It provided a nice background on the circle, and the man behind it, and a good overview of their works. Ryukishi07 originally started the circle with his younger brother, Yatazakura, and they became a famous booth at comiket after the success of their visual novel/sound novel, Higurashi. Since then, their popularity has grown significantly, and they continue to be an increasingly prominent attraction at comiket. Now, the circle has 5 staff, and their works are becoming more professional. Umineko features improved art quality, impressive music, and a challenging style of storytelling that is even studied by some university classes.
Personally, I’ve been mildly interested in 07th Expansion since I finished Higurashi and came to appreciate how original and interesting the story was. I was never really interested enough to play the original game/visual novel because the artwork wasn’t so great, and by most accounts, Higurashi was a pretty solid adaptation. Those compliments did not extend to the next anime adaptation project, Umineko no Naku Koro ni, again by studio DEEN, and again based on a mystery VN by 07th Expansion. Umineko did not sell as well, and was widely disliked by VN fans for cutting out a lot of what made the VN great, and being a messy, mediocre anime on the whole. I actually dropped it.
But, this exposition on Umineko gave me a bit of insight into the appeal of the VN, and what makes the fans tick. Umineko is an altogether more ambitious story than Higurashi, which is already saying a lot. The core of Umineko is the battle between the rational Battler, who tries to explain the mysteries occurring on the Island in terms of tricks and logic, and the witch, Beatrice, who insists they were orchestrated by magic. This fundamental conflict which leaves the reader to try and work out whether it’s a fantasy or mystery, is a really cool idea, and the meta tones to the story lend it an original and exotic feel. To me, the anime just seemed pointlessly confused and possibly retarded, but the VN format probably suits it much more, and I can see why the fan base is so strong. The fact that 07th Expansion remains a doujin circle means it has a close proximity to its fans, and it really feels like Ryukishi07 and his fans are trying to outsmart each other. Whether the story is engaging or sensible becomes irrelevant if you get caught up in that fray!