Over the last two weeks I caught up with watching Ookami Kakushi. The last time I had watched it was when I spent my 21st birthday immersing myself in everything 07th Expansion. I watched the first two episodes and after only that I was pretty much able to formulate a solid theory which later proved to be correct with each subsequent episode. The ease at which I solved the “mystery” was the main reason I fell behind it in the first place. Yet I find that very fact the reason I believe Ookami Kakushi is a better anime than Umineko. When put next to the Higurashi anime it definitely doesn’t compare but still I would place it above the likes of the Umineko anime. To put things into perspective I place the Umineko sound novels on equal terms as the Higurashi anime.
As a mystery series Ookami Kakushi pales in comparison to the Higurashi anime and the Umineko novels. As previously mentioned it is a lot easier to predict than would be expected. In fact I wouldn’t even classify Ookami Kakushi as a mystery series at all but rather as supernatural suspense. The show does not really have to rely on the mystery elements at all and can focus on character interaction and the moment-to-moment events that befall Hiroshi. At times the show can seem shallower than Higurashi or the Umineko sound novels but it also doesn’t place the same expectations that made the Umineko anime a letdown in many respects. In a way this allows the series to sidestep several of the many big faults with the Umineko anime–the terrible transition of the mystery to animated form. Get ready for possibly massive spoilers as is always the case when I discuss stuff about 07th Expansion.
Umineko as an anime suffered pretty badly due to severe time constraints and a a large cast. Maybe if the series was extended to 39 or even 52 episodes it could have been so much better. From the get go you start off with 19 characters encompassing various members of the Ushiromiya family, their servants and the Golden Witch Beatrice. As the story unfolds a plethora of supernatural characters and characters from the future are introduced which by the end of Episode 6 totals several dozen characters. Realistically you get very little character development or even general details in the anime which only covers up to the end of Episode 4. When dealing with mysteries every shred of information you can get could be valuable in the process of solving the mystery. The result of dropping important information in the Umineko anime is a less intriguing mystery and flat characters due to rushed storytelling.
In a mystery such as this one of the principle pieces of information you need to formulate theories are the motivations. It’s still easy to solve the “how it was done” of the various serial murder mysteries without knowing any motivations. However that completely defeats the purpose of the series since the whole point is to prove that a human culprit was responsible for the murders and to also identify that human and any accomplices. Otherwise what reason does Battler have to play the Witch’s game other than to figure out the identity of the perpetrator and to stop his loved ones from getting killed? In the end you need to know it to solve Beato’s final mystery “Who am I?”
With pretty much no exception except for say Maria you don’t get a true feel for why anyone would want to kill each other beyond a very vague motivation. The parents are obviously in financial troubles with their companies but that fact is only slightly glanced. In the anime version you don’t get to learn all the intricacies and the backdoor dealing between the parents. The romances between George and Shannon and Jessica and Kanon is shown but at the same time you don’t get much detail. In other words you can make the conclusion that they have motivations but not enough is shown to make farther reaching predictions such as which characters would the culprit spare or work with and which ones they would kill first. There’s also the fact that Shannon and Kanon know that they are trapped in the Witch’s game but that is never even shown in the anime which would give the two even more reason to kill. I could list more but that would just get old fast.
The progression of the murders was terribly paced and looked as if they happened back to back. Whereas in the original novels a noticeable amount of time passed between each murder in the anime they were portrayed to happen with barely any time passing. Battler is supposed to have at least some time to investigate the scenes of the crimes and get the thoughts of the other witnesses. One of the most important things about Battler is his extremely rational personality. Even though he’s also emotional and will cry all the time after he has shed all his tears he’ll compose himself and try to figure out as much as he can. Following his train of thought and how Beato counters or disproves them provide the majority of Umineko’s true conflict. Umineko isn’t about people dying all over the place!
Most importantly the whole mystery aspect was completely downplayed which was the whole meat of Umineko as a story. The dynamic between Battler’s denial of Beato and her methods lacks the same impact in the anime version. The string of arguments and rebuttals that the two of them make that shows them as fierce opponents, friends and equals was pretty much thrown away in the anime. Battler may be at an obvious disadvantage to Beato but he can fight back against her with some help. The advice he gets from Bernkastel, Ronove, Virgilia and Ange help Battler to grow as a character and a detective but that is pretty much completely ignored. Probatio diabolica (Devil’s Proof) and Hempel’s Ravens were not even mentioned which were the basis of many of Battler’s inabilities to counter Beato’s red early on. How Battler learned to attack Beato using her own logical arguments and red statements against her was one of the Battler’s coolest moments. Battler acknowledging Beato as a Witch but not as the culprit was important to show how it’s possible to accept the existence of the supernatural without having to rely on it to win the game. Without these the anime barely even touched on the friendship and love that forms between Battler and Beato. In the anime not having these tiny little details detracted from the emotional impact during Beato’s betrayal at the end of Episode 3 (I actually believed her and was pissed off too) and Battler and his “final” counterattack against Beato at the end of Episode 4.
Just like the Battler/Beato dynamic suffered much of the metaverse gaming also suffered. For one thing the roles of Bernkastel and Lambdadelta was also severely downplayed. This makes no sense considering their integral roles behind the scenes and as the actual players of Episode 5. In actuality Umineko is a massive rematch between the bored witches Bernkastel and Lambdadelta. It’s undeniable how much “help” they provide to both Battler and Beato. Of course this is all to extend the game to satiate the boredom of the most powerful witches in existence. It’s actually a little disturbing to think that Bernkastel who in another life was once part of Rika could do such a thing. It doesn’t help that she is friends with and plotting with Lambdadelta who tortured and killed her for over a thousand years. The connection between Higurashi is pretty much ignored in the anime which unfortunately means less insight in the nature of the game. As such you never get the tea parties in their full glory at the end of each episode which themselves provide clues about the rules of the game and other information Battler never gets to see directly.
I could keep going on about what Umineko did wrong as an anime but I think this is enough. Basically what was an intellectually intriguing and highly emotional story was simplified and stripped into something that only resembles Umineko at primitive levels. It may be appealing to those unfamiliar with 07th Expansion but to fans of Higurashi and the Umineko sound novels it is underwhelming. Just to clarify the enjoyment I did get from the anime were due to the voices and reminiscing about the corresponding scenes in the novels. I’ll also admit once again that I like the Episode 4 portion of the anime which was better done compared to the previous episodes.
Anyway back to Ookami Kakushi. Ookami Kakushi has the advantage of time. Initially I was worried how well it would work crammed into only 12 episodes but it worked rather well. Ookami Kakushi has a small principal cast and not too many side characters so each of the main characters get a decent amount of characterization. This works well for developing Hiroshi’s relations with the girls which is essential later on when the suspense picks up.
Thanks to the smaller cast the show ends up better paced than the Umineko anime. Unlike the rapid fire deaths of the characters in Umineko Ookami Kakushi establishes the passage of time between the murders. This allows Hiroshi to spend his time thinking things over creating a sense of tension for Hiroshi. If people began disappearing everyday Hiroshi would have realized earlier that something was wrong and might have done something different. Just giving him time to think about the strange disappearances allows him to develop a sense of paranoia and fear so when drastic things happen it has a much greater impact. Instead of a sudden snap in sanity Issei shows signs of his uncontrollable urges toward Hiroshi throughout multiple episodes. Because of this the viewer is left with the question of when will he finally go crazy and in what situation. This maintains that sense of tension mentioned earlier.
The time allowed for Hiroshi to develop his sense of paranoia was also vital in episode 9’s storage shed predicament in which he was trapped together with Nemuru. Had things been rushed it’s not certain whether he would have had the same hallucinations he had of Nemuru. If people started dying all over the place he might not have had the time to think he could reason or listen to Nemuru. Instead he got to know her at a basic level which allowed him despite his fear to muster the courage to unbind Nemuru. She could have broken out of the ropes herself but the mere act of cutting the ropes himself showed that he trusts Nemuru to overcome her basal instincts. Had this been Keiichi or Battler this would be completely unnecessary but obviously Hiroshi is a completely different kind of character.
That brings me to my other point. The main advantage of Ookami Kakushi is that it doesn’t have to rely on the precedents or expectations set by Higurashi or Umineko. Although many aspects of the setting are reminiscent of Higurashi Hiroshi just for being a different kind of main character than Keiichi and Battler changes how the story unfolds. Unlike those two he doesn’t actively investigate the secrets of the town but just gets caught up in them due to his alluring scent. Just watching his freak outs is enough of a reminder of that fact. A strange side effect is that I always end up thinking “What would Keiichi/Battler do?” or what would happen if the three of them met each other. I’m not comparing them in the sense that it could have been better if it were more like Higurashi but rather allows me to appreciate how different the show is.
The underemphasis of Ookami Kakushi as a mystery also means it doesn’t have to rely on the staple of 07th Expansion mysteries, the traversal of kakera which is inaccurately referred to as the time loop. Without the possibility of further trials there’s a greater sense of danger since it’s highly doubtful Hiroshi’s mind will be transferred to another universe for a second chance. Of course it means everything is presented at once leading this mystery to be not much of a mystery at all but like I said the anime really isn’t trying to be one as much as suspense.
As a whole Ookami Kakushi doesn’t provide the same level of intelligent entertainment as its forerunners. However it can distinguish itself from them and can just be itself which is surprisingly entertaining. Maybe if I knew the game’s story better my perspective would be a little different. However it was fun ride so that doesn’t matter too much. It provides something new for 07th Expansion fans and undeserved disappointment comes from fans expecting it to match the level of Higurashi which it really wasn’t trying to be.