The following are selected excerpts from an interview with the author of Umineko no Naku Koro Ni, Ryukishi 07. The interview in full can be found here.
KEIYA (after this as K) I want to congratulate you for completing Umineko first.
Ryûkishi07 (after this as R) Thank you very much. I was really able to write what I wanted to write, because of you.
K Even though the way to end it was sadly not quite what many players had expected it to be.
R And what was it that so many players expected? I really want to know.
K „Won’t he reveal the solution a little more clearly?“ was the expectation of many people, I think. But you have said in interviews and so on, that „there wouldn’t be a clear solution like that“. And it really became a finale just like that.
R So that’s where you’re coming from all of a sudden *laugh*. It’s a little misleading to say, that I said something like „I wouldn’t reveal the answer“. I have made it to the point where in a classical mystery someone would say „All the mysteries have been solved!“, the answer has been made clear enough and not few people have actually arrived at the truth. For me there has always been a path leading towards the truth and there have been enough people on it at certain points to be sufficient. The people arriving there have arrived because they thought about it. And wouldn’t it be inexcusable towards those who actually put effort into arriving at that truth, to just give the answer to those who didn’t arrive because they did not think about it. Because I hoped for the fun in Umineko to lie in „thinking and troubling yourself, but reaching the answer through that“, I did not create something like a solution section in a riddle book, where you can look for the answers just by opening them. And I think even if I told the people who did not come through the „Who, how and why“, they still would not understand. Someone who climbs to the top of the Everest by foot and somebody who just rode a helicopter to the top without breaking a sweat, you wouldn’t say they had the same feeling of satisfaction, would you? Of course I could not avoid giving an answer equally to both those who arrived and those who didn’t. That’s why I chose this way of revealing it. To those of you who arrived at the truth, it should all be clear as daylight, I think. I’m sure there were some among you who arrived at it during the really early Episodes and thought „he’s just portraying the same thing in every new EP again and again“, weren’t there? Truth be told, I was unnecessarily elaborate in telling the same thing again and again.
K So, using the part about the staged murders, planting plain to see corpses even though there couldn’t be a culprit and even then piling up on the corpses. I imagine you mean things like this.
R There was also the Definition of a Locked Room. Many of my role models from the detective novels of the past argued about „what exactly is a locked room murder“. The most famous is Carr’s Locked Room Study. There were many other types of definitions floating around, and I can’t really say who coined this definition, but there is the explanation that „locked room murders can basically be divided into two kinds, those who fail to become a locked room situation and those who are destroyed afterwards.“. So, it would only really be a locked room, if it could not be destroyed by reason.
K I also read many pieces featuring tricks and locked rooms. But you’re right, a perfect locked room would be a bold trick that could not be solved by anyone.
R If you think about it from that angle, it’s quite fascinating isn’t it. If you would simply look at locked room murders on a time axis, you could only apply the definition of a locked room in the case of it being flawless. But if that were true, the definition of a locked room in itself would be wrong. In most of the cases, they are „the illusion of a locked room“. It’s a pattern where a locked room actually never existed. If you know about these definition, the locked rooms in Umineko are quite easy to understand.
K „Illusion is the key to all of Umineko“ is a part I have been troubling myself over from the beginning, it fits together with the chess metaphor we discussed around here last time. But you don’t have to stop at the locked room tricks, it’s something that encompasses the whole of the series.
R I had the feeling that many people were used to the idea of an illusion locked room, but there are not many who are used to the idea of a perfect locked room. The most often used tricks for an illusion locked room are things like „it looks like a locked room, but there is this gap“ or „if you use that, you can kill him within the room“. To say it shortly, it’s a pattern of remote killing.
K Tricks like poison gas or certain gadgets, right?!
R Or directions within the room, like „look up“ or „look down“, which finally lead to you falling into a needle trap and dying. If there is a locked room in which you can still the person inside, then it’s just pseudo locked room. There are many others, mostly it’s something like „the door was locked from the inside, but through a kite string under the door…“. Because most of you people are used to this kind of mystery, you should be busy thinking about things like „is this really a locked room?“ or „isn’t there a gap?“. That is why Battler is doing exactly this quite often and why he is doubting so often. By the way, the more Battler is doubting, the more he is attacked with red. And so more and more the perfection of the locked room is proven. If you came this far, a person well versed in locked room definitions might immediately understand this: „So if it can be proven that this locked room is actually perfect, then murder can only have happened before it’s construction or after it’s deconstruction.“. Because I spotted almost no people who arrived at this point, I assumed that there were not that many people who are well versed in locked room mystery. Because there are so many TV shows and movies in the mystery genre, which feature really well made illusion locked room tricks, I just had to accept that.
R Battler really gave off the image of being down for, but actually he steadily came through. But would the player rather take that as a hint, or would they think „there’s no more chance!“. Now that I think about it, during EP2 or 3 it might have been better if I had just delivered the killing strike and said „This is a perfect locked room“ in red truth. But even if I had, it wouldn’t have eliminated theories like „there was poison gas“ or something. So I really despaired about my lack of power when I thought if it might reach my limits as an author, when I tried to explain the concept of a perfect locked room murder to the people who were thinking centered around a illusion locked room.
K During the story there was also Beatrice’s Definition of a Locked Room.
R Of course this was something taken from the classic definition of a locked room. I expected there to be people who wouldn’t bother to research the term locked room definition, but it seems it was almost not researched at all. Even though I let Beatrice give her locked room definition, „it was not made in red, so everything might be a lie“ was the main thought that surfaced, so they did not think about perfect locked rooms, but doubted them as illusion locked rooms.
K It was pretty important not just to stick to interpreting the Red, but also to search for alternate patterns.
R I wonder if it would have been better if I had Battler say something like: „No matter how much I think about it this locked room is flawless. So I just have to search for a way how that crime could have been committed even though the locked room is perfect.“. But I did not want to give out such an important hint at the time of EP2 or 3 *laugh*. But I wonder if I might have been to hard with not telling that hint at all. But there were people who noticed this and as long as you can reason and squeeze out an answer it’s alright, right?! Many of those people who deduced by arming themselves with logic while reading, if they were to play Umineko again without any memory of it, they would find that way again, I think.
K No matter how much you adjust, I think there will always be people who can’t keep up.
R It’s quite difficult, because when there are no people who fail, the people who succeed won’t rejoice either. Because if everyone made it, there would be no sense of completion. But if there are too many people who don’t make it, it’s bad as well. But it’s the massive information age because of the internet, isn’t it?! If there are ten people and one of them arrives at the truth and says „I understood the truth!“, it will still vanish in the ocean of the opinion of the remaining 9. That’s the weakpoint I see. The voices of the people who don’t understand are so much louder than the one voice that understood.
K And if it’s buried, nobody will notice it.
R The mystery of the epitaph is such an example. Even though the correct solution in form of the Taiwan theory surfaced at quite an early stage, it didn’t gain many followers back then. There were some people who noticed it as „Awesome“, but there were at least as many voices claiming it to be „definitely wroooong!“ it became just one of many quite soon. To be honest, I followed some of the message boards live back then. When I typed the F5 key to refresh the page, things like „Taiwan has trainstations“ popped up… and I thought, „Nooo, I’ve been found out!“. So I talked with my circle members about it, but it soon became swallowed up by other famous theories. That’s why I think the internet is so fascinating. If 1 person among 10000 has arrived at the truth and he writes it down and the other 9999 agree with his idea, then they can work together. But while there is this strong point, there is the danger that ,because the voices of these 9999 people are so strong together, the voice which is just 1/10000 can be swallowed up. Because of that I often grieved about whether it has become to difficult to publish serialized detective novels in the internet age.
K You said that at that time there were almost no people challenging your locked room murders.
R There were many people who said, just like Battler during the Main Episodes, that „there is not enough information“.
K They wanted more hints.
R Yes. „We can’t trust Battler’s inspection of the crime scene. Everything that Battler does not inspect could be a gap.“. If Battler’s inspection is so full of holes, then why not use the holes and draw a deduction on that? That’s what I was thinking, but sadly I saw no really fascinating theories surface. In those over 100 years of published mystery fiction, there should be enough grotesque and unique tricks to draw inspiration from. Among those there should have been plenty to crush my meager locked rooms in Umineko easily.
K It’s a theory we talked about in the last discussion, but do you mean something like „the chain of the chain locked room being unnaturally long“?
R It’s a theory so absurd that it’s fascinating, isn’t it?!
K At least it hasn’t been disproven by the red truth *laugh*.
R The chain as a seal has been verified, but the extent of the opening was never proven.
K It’s a blind spot, yes. If the chain was longer, then there would be no problem in constructing that scene.
R It would be as amusingly absurd if it was, „there was no ceiling!“. If we are talking about orthodox detective fiction it’s something you need to consider. It may be something that would be inexcusable when writing a Shakai-ha (society-genre: a mix of thriller and hard boiled) story, but it’s no problem if you’re writing orthodox.
K But essentialy, it’s not much different from saying „the chain was cut and then later it was welt together again.“.
R That’s true. It’s basically the same.
K If you take out that, that only leaves a simple answer like the locked room being replaced by another room.
R A substitute locked room would fall into the category of a fake locked room or an illusion locked room we already discussed. You think they are talking about a locked room, but it’s actually about the room next door.
K I think the word Anti-Mystery is something that is often discussed, but it is also something used to describe works that use „a structure in which the solution to the mystery is not part of the plot“.
R I think the word Anti-Mystery is quite difficult, because it changes according to the place where it is used.
K It’s because of the people who defined it. My own is limited to connecting it to this one great novel An Offering to Nothingness (Kyomu e no kumotsu) (Kôdansha, Nakai Hideo), though of course there are several different definitions for it.
R Yes, it’s quite hard to find a proper definition for that word. Maybe, when you attack it with the attitude „all of it can be explained with tricks and logic“, then it’s a mystery, and maybe you can really say that an Anti-Mystery is nothing but the aggressive stance of „thinking is useless“. So when people say „While the players are reasoning, Ryukishi is changing the story around and betraying us, so it’s useless thinking about the truth.“ it’s really a stance that’s fitting for an Anti-Mystery.
K A stance that denies the Mystery.
R What’s left is „Don’t give up on finding the truth!“. If it is a mystery, than it is absolutely just to arrive at the truth, but thinking of it as just a narrative, there is no absolute need to arrive at the truth. If you think about it, maybe not unnecessarily uncovering something through showing the truth, that is also part of an explanation for an Anti-Mystery.
R I went into this during the story itself as well, but as long as you don’t read it thinking you can solve it, I think you won’t. „If you don’t believe that a jam-jar will open, then it won’t no matter how hard you turn“. And just like if you confront it with the idea „with those hints I can solve it“ you will solve it, you will never be able to get a clear thought if all you think is „the hints up until now aren’t enough, it’s impossible to solve.“. I might be wrong but I think I never said anytime before EP4, that „with these hints you can solve the mystery“. And even though I did say it after EP5, I’m really regretting not saying it at the time around EP4. No matter how many hints you give, as long as I don’t make the players believe that they can solve it, even the most trivial mystery will never be solved.
K At the time of EP2 there were heavy discussions whether we should trust Beato or not.
R That’s true. Your deduction process changes depending whether you believe the red truth or not. If you doubt the red truth reasoning becomes almost impossible, it’s like claiming „I won’t reason at all“.
K It’s the same as not agreeing to the rules of a gameboard. Because during the story there were those comparisons to chess and sentences like „a game has to have rules“ or „I will hold my promise“, it becomes impossible to reason if you don’t believe them.
R I have begun saying this at the time of EP2 and repeated it several times during Chiru. Especially Will is insisting on this. „If you don’t believe it to be solvable, you won’t solve it“. All those passages clogged with „Without love it cannot be seen“ were actually meaning, „you cannot solve something that is made to be solved if you don’t believe“. Will is the one who did some very cynical comments on this during EP8, too.
K He said those things during the fight against the goats, right?
R Exactly. Those goats who appeared at that point really had guts, hadn’t they? It was Will and Dlanor who said that, but I too actually have some respect for those goats who kept on making theories, even though they were attacked by the red again and again. I accept them as adversaries. Who I am really mad about are those goats who actually gave up thinking.
K Somebody who writes everything including the solution, is sure to gain the praise of the readers.
R I am not so sure about that. „I liked it better when I didn’t know everything. Knowing everything kinda ruined it.“ there are many novels like that. That is why, when I’m asked whether or not I would reveal the truth on the Fandisc, I answer „I don’t really want to do that.“.
K Well, maybe I didn’t think of an all out spoiler.
R Doing that is also rude towards the people who arrived at the truth. I also wanted to write a story where you can only get to the truth by reading it, for all those people who kept on thinking. But the only guarantee I can give you in return is that, if you read the thoughts of those who arrived at the truth now, even the people who did not arrive there can come closer to it. And I guarantee you that if you don’t stop thinking, then you will arrive at the truth. And by guaranteeing that, maybe some people will arrive there only through that.
K That there have already been people who arrived there is prove of just one truth in itself, isn’t it?
R Yes. And I didn’t want to spill it out even now. I want the players to find it themselves. But the one message I can convey in this book now is probably the one, that Umineko can be solved.
R I have this feeling that most of the people who arrived at the truth were women, because the key is being able to imagine Yasu’s feelings. Umineko is something that cannot be read by people who never fell in love with somebody. It is something that people who have no experience in love and relationships have trouble understanding. „Love can become a motive that has more power over you than life or death“, that is something which is pretty hard to explain to people without this experience. Most of them will think that it’s just „an overdone motive“. But for people who have known love and experienced how much it can make you suffer, they understand that love can turn your world upside down. If you are told „I will come for you again!“ and for 6 years there is nothing, it can make you go crazy, but people who have even slightly suffered due to love will say „those 6 years must have been hell“. But people who no nothing of that pain will probably wait for nothing less than a dramatic gadget to appear, like the heroic story of „at age X her mother and father were brutally murdered“.
K When I compared my own experiences with love to it, I had no problem with accepting Yasu’s motive.
R It is an important experience for your social development to love honestly, no matter if it goes well or not. Many of today’s children, because they only know the information that „I am scared of being used. It hurts.“, decide based on that „as long as I don’t fall in love it won’t hurt and it won’t be difficult!“, which is a really strange logic I think.
R I think it’s really fascinating that you can see the differences in how those people lead their lifes in those small things.
K Do you think that having this many different theories in that certain range is better than denoting one truth?
R Of course. Because I wanted to leave this margin. I never had the intention to give just one answer, like in Bern’s Trial. But I made it in a way that, if you investigate deep enough, you will get an answer that is beyond doubt.
K So is it that there is only one truth, like you just said?
R Of course there is only one, but because by telling it I would have limited the scope of ideas, I made it a bit looser. I was designing a concept that expected a little bit more effort from the reader side. Depending on whether the pivot leg is Beatrice or Ange, many parts of how you look at the story change.
R There is no certainty at all. If we follow that Rosa’s logic is true, „The only thing that can be proof is your own corpse“. And Erika even expands on that „The only corpse you can trust is the one you killed yourself“. If you just went around and killed all the people you met, you would actually be completely safe.
K But it would be a world where you are alone on a mountain of corpses.