originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/162450...
The story so far: a rich family goes on holiday. This is narrated in excrutiating detail.
We leave Kanon behind. Now it’s time for a discussion of architectural styles.
This is some Victor Hugo level digression. I guess this was probably a major deal in the 80s, when this is set? No doubt still is.
Apparently, of all the servants, old Kinzo will only open his heart to Genji. And he has a smelly habit of ‘black magic’. And he had a history of physically abusing his children and grandchildren (hitting them with a wooden sword and his fists). Delightful.
Oh yeah and there’s a matter of inheritance. Jessica will inherit the head house instead of one of the branches. Family structure seems to be a bigger deal in rich Japanese families than I’m familiar with? Admittedly I’m generalising this out of this one game and videos of the Yakuza games so like, what the hell do I know lol. I know our own remnant aristocrats are equally fucked up. (Is there a guillotine emoji yet?)
So uh since these people are going to start getting murdered eventually, it’s probably worth noting who’s rooming with who. It’s pretty straightforward: parent couples together, Battler and George share, Rosa and Maria share… I guess Jessica’s on her own?
They have all the luxury that two-point perspective paintings can provide.
All the adults go off to the mansion while the Cousin Gang holds back in the guest house. As they leave, George asks Kumasawa a question that we don’t hear. Chekhov’s gun, etc. etc.
…or not, Battler demands to find out about it right away and he and Maria tickle George until they get their way. Apparently George is inquiring after one of the servants, a girl called Shannon.
Meanwhile, the adults might actually be starting a plot..? Also we meet Natsuhi, another Ushiromiya, who we previously heard mentioned as Jessica’s mum, (I misspelled her as Natsui before). She has headaches. Eva is a dick to her about it. They discuss cajoling children through exams. (*cough*reformthewholeinhumansystem*cough*)
There’s some dynamics around hosts’ responsibilities and stuff (again, spelled out in patronising detail) and we meet Shannon the maid at last. Shannon seems to be traumatised, or at least rendered extremely anxious, by the strictness of her hosts. If this doesn’t end in communist revolution, I will be disappointed.
Eva continues to be incredibly nasty to everyone. And there’s this whole thing where if the servant isn’t perfect it reflects poorly on the host which just leads to toxic dynamics all round. I really feel for Shannon getting caught in the crossfire of aristocratic status games. I’m not going to be particularly sorry when these people start getting murdered.
Thankfully Kanon is here with some servant solidarity.
Look, Kanon even has a beret. Excellent start for any revolution. But Gohda is apparently the one resonsible for setting up Shannon’s humiliation.
As ever, the game does this thing of explaining what just happened in overwhelming detail. In this case, to shake things up, Kumasawa is the one delivering the lecture rather than the omniscient narrator, but either way, it’s… getting quite tiresome.
(It’s the opposite end of the scale from the more cryptic games I’ve played recently like Dark Souls and Hyper Light Drifter, which give you the vague but evocative hints and images by way of exposition and leave you to puzzle out the connections. Or, to pick an example closer to what this work will apparently become, it’s labouring its points far more than Homestuck. But I’ll bear with it.)
But now it’s time to go back to the Cousin Gang.
So now we get to the boob touching scene. Hi, this is Bryn writing from 2022. While reading this series back, I reached this point in the liveread, and cringed so much about my moralistic response that I'm rewriting it.
2017!Bryn gets seriously upset
FUCKING HELL Battler, she’s fucking NINE YEARS OLD, it was vile enough when you were creeping on your other cousin in front of her but this makes me feel ill.
I know he won’t die first because he’s the protagonist, but I really want him out of this series asap. Why are men - and I mean the man responsible for this scene - so incredibly vile!?
Shannon arrives on the scene, and Battler wastes no time in literally attempting to sexually assault her. And in the narration, he tries to play it off as ‘just a joke’. This is making me seriously angry.
And it just gets worse. The game gives us a closeup of Shannon’s boobs and like fuck this shit? The story of this post is ‘service worker suffers workplace abuse and then almost sexually assaulted’, and the latter is played as a joke. That’s not OK at all.
Thankfully Jessica intervenes violently, but not violently enough, before our protagonist can actually sexually assault someone. I want her to break Battler’s legs.
Battler does not get the shit beaten out of him, and immediately starts giving a victim-blaming lecture to Shannon, and demands that she smack him to complete the “joke”. It’s not just that Battler is a horrible person that really gets to me, it’s that he’s meant to be sympathetic. Someone wrote this character thinking that this behaviour was somehow endearing.
Shannon repeats the ‘we are furniture’ line that Kanon gave. So many fucking red flags in this house. These fuckers deserve what they get, as long as Kanon and Shannon escape.
Even after the situation is defused (by, let’s be clear, a norm being established where the assaulting behaviour is not questioned but turned into a ritual where a man tries to sexually assault someone and gets rebuffed), Battler’s still wittering on about Shannons boobs. This is so creepy and awful.
So, here's 2022 Bryn. Battler in this scene jokes about touching the girls' breasts: first trying to extract a promise from the nine-year-old Maria, and then Shannon when she walks into the room. This whole scene is kind of a meta joke about the frequent fanservice scene in which the 'pervert' (usually male) character attempts to spy on or feel up a girl, and gets rebuffed violently.
Battler imagines that he can set up this joke here—which he describes as a means to lighten tension, breaking the ice by sheer crassness and playing into a kind of clown role for himself—oh that pervy Battler! He intends for the girls to play it off as a flirtatious joke. In each case, it doesn't quite go as planned, and this is obviously a characterisation element. The naive Maria happily promises to let Battler feel her up when she's older, much to the discomfort of Jessica and George, who get her to retract the 'promise'.
Then, Shannon enters and he tries the same routine on her, without considering how deeply she's internalised the master-servant dichotomy. Shannon, who has just faced humiliation, is prepared to let him sexually assault her, and Battler panics; Jessica ultimately intervenes, saving him from the embarassment of sexually assaulting someone.
If a real person did this, it would be way out of line obviously—and no doubt in plenty of cases rich men will sexually assault their servants and get away without getting strangled and having their dick chopped off after several weeks of sadomasochistic sex. However, in the heightened, stylised world of anime achetypes (the maid in particular occupying a significant place in the sexual imaginary), this is pretty much par for the course. The discomfort is clearly intentional;
Battler sits in a role similar to the protagonist of the Monogatari series. Unlikeable, sure, but let's keep it in proportion lol. I'll now hand you back to 2017!me.
Here's 2023 Bryn, because it seems this liveblog is destined to become a palimpsest. If 2017 me was extreme in her outrage against the fiction, I think 2022 me was trying too hard to be distant.
I don't want to belabour the point any further but: yes, even as a fictional person, Battler is kind of appalling here. It's no surprise 2017!me found it so upsetting. By contrasting the goofy anime perv routine against the actual power dynamic in this situation, it very effectively creates something really uncomfortable.
I compared Battler to the protagonist of Monogatari. That comparison can be expanded on, although Battler isn't nearly as much of a general cunt lmao. Both works are in significant dimension metafictional and responding to other works in the otaku sphere; both characters are dumbass teenage boys running on a lot of hormones. Kizuonogatari also has a significant scene framed around a guy asking to touch a girl's boobs and getting her consent, then backing out of it when confronted with the concrete reality of the the idea, which is milked (lol) for about as much tension and anticipation as possible before it's deflated, lasting almost ten minutes in the film version. The novel was published in 2008, roughly contemporary with Umineko, so it's an idea that was in the zeitgeist.
Umineko's version goes for a different kind of tension and discomfort. It wouldn't be so odd for Araragi and Tsubasa to have a sexual relationship, and in fact Tsubasa seems to want one, albeit on different terms to what Araragi imagines; it would be proper fucked up for Battler to have a sexual relationship with either his nine-year-old cousin or his family's servant! This is an early instance of the Ushiromiya children attempting to treat the servant characters as peers and even romantic interests, without really acknowledging the power they hold. That's very important to the themes of this visual novel.
OK, now I really will hand you back to 2017!me.
Kanon and Shannon turn out to be siblings, at least as chosen family. And it’s extremely clear from the writing that they’re in an abusive situation.
I’m going to end this post here.
your 2017 response was better, wtf happened in your five years
Hello, ‘z’. I doubt you’re interested in a sincere answer but I feel like it’s worth giving one all the same.
I don’t find it worthwhile to pantomime outrage about fictional things anymore. There’s enough real shit to be upset about, and fiction is a handle we can use to examine it, but that’s impossible to do more than superficially if we treat every story as a morality play.
So I don’t need fictional characters to be moral and in fact it’s often more interesting if they aren’t. Battler is (as we’ll see) a very endearing character, but he’s still fucked up by his place in society. Rather than turn up my nose and rant about how I could possibly be asked to sympathise with a figure like that, I would rather observe the function of this scene in the narrative, the elements that go into its construction, fantasies it may be fulfilling etc. etc.
On that note, I don’t think I did that fully above, so let me expand further.
Here, it creates a contrast between a sort of ‘haha isn’t it so silly’ portrayal of sexual assault (conventionally, the ‘perv’ character tries to grope someone’s boobs, she pulls out a hammer and smacks him), and a more grounded portrayal of the power dynamics involved (understood all too clearly by poor Shannon here). It’s not the first time Umineko will do something both playful and critical towards genre conventions. In this first readthrough, I couldn’t detect that the discomfort in this scene is blatantly ‘intentional’. So rather than be angry with the novel for minimising sexual assault, my reaction on the second read through was ‘oh oof, well played ryuukishi07’.
We’ll learn more about Battler’s characterisation over the course of the novel. He’s playing a role as much as any of the Ushiromiyas. Battler naively wants everyone to get along, and he’s only sensitive to power dynamics in the most obvious cases. Part of the whole thrust of Umineko is that the world can’t be cleanly divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people, but instead to portray the dynamics and situations that give rise to cruelty.
This is also an early illustration of how the same interaction can read very differently to different characters - the multiple ‘truths’ we’ll read about later. To Battler, he’s playing the role of a comic relief character in fiction to relieve tension. To Shannon, someone connected to her employer is demanding a sex act and she feels she has to oblige. Obviously Shannon’s view of the situation is the more insightful one here. But the story gives us both for a complete view.
So there’s a lot going on here. I didn’t want to just leave it as “how dare you portray this ryuukishi”. Battler does grow out of his whole ‘look at me I’m such a perv’ persona, but this is also far from the nastiest thing we’ll see in Umineko, nor the last time we’ll be asked to understand (though not absolve) a character who’s committing violence. If it’s a line, best stop here.