This is a transcript of an interview conducted by Nicole Seraphita of APGNation with Ryukishi07, first posted on May 19th, 2015. Original interview link is archived here, and video link is here. Spoilers for Higurashi are included in this interview.
This article or section contains untagged major spoilers for all of Umineko When They Cry, possibly including the manga. Readers who have not completed the story are advised not to proceed further.
Ryukishi07 talked about how he would sometimes write a story without knowing where his plot would go. This “organic” style of writing, he said, is more fun for him because it was like reading a story for himself. He would often be surprised where a story would go as he wrote it on the fly. Specifically, he mentioned that the fight scene between Rena and Keiichi in episode six of Higurashi was something he went into writing not knowing what the outcome would be. He admitted that he later tried writing in a more traditional style, complete with an outline and clear direction for the plot, but in the end felt that having a clear goal in mind made the plot of a work feel more rigid and thus less fun to write, because he knew everything that would happen ahead of time. When constructing a story, Ryukishi mentioned that he sees fiction as a game between him and his readers, especially when he was writing a mystery such as Umineko. To this end, he would often go on the Internet while writing and look up what his fans were saying about his work, and then use this feedback to adjust the direction of later installments in a series. This would sometimes lead to changing the course of his writing entirely, as was the case of the second episode of Umineko. When fans complained about the second episode was far too difficult to solve, he scrapped his original plans for the third episode, which would have been an even more devious mystery, and instead wrote an entirely new scenario to replace it. In this new version of episode three, he introduced the character of Virgilia, a good witch who acted as a guide to help the player to solve the game’s mystery. Interestingly, Ryukishi also mentioned that Virgilia was originally a completely different character, who would have been been far more devious and tricky than the witch who appeared in the final game. The design and personality of this prototype character would later form the basis of the young detective Erika Furudo, who would later be introduced in episode five of Umineko.
When constructing his stories, Ryukishi also mentioned that one of the best ways to see if you are on the right track with a story is to have a friend read your work. In Ryukishi07’s case, he often would look for a disgusted or scared face when another person, often BT or his brother, would go through a script he was writing. As his goal is often to scare or gross out his audience, this is exactly the sort of reaction he looks for in another reader. This revelation led to an interesting reaction from the audience, as one person yelled, “He’s a witch!” referencing the fact that the witches in Umineko, who are often very cruel and devious, seek much the same reaction from the game’s protagonist, Battler Ushiromiya.
Finally, Ryukishi mentioned that one of the keys to any good story is to have well-rounded characters with multiple sides to their personality. He mentioned that among his characters, Rika from Higurashi was a stellar example: when she is with her friends she is a typical bubbly and cute little girl, but when she is alone she displays a far different personality. That makes the player question just how old she really is and the mystery that goes along with that question. Ryukishi would then proceed to mention the opposite can also be true to trick the reader. The character of Mion likes to play tricks and seems like she should know something about story’s mystery, but in the end does not.
Ryukishi once more set aside a bit of time for questions from his fans. The most interesting revelation among these questions was the fact that Ryukishi’s attempts to trick and horrify his readers only applied to his mystery works, which include Umineko and Higurashi, while his other more traditional stories, such as Rose Gun Days, did not include this element.
Before moving on the interview, I’d like to talk for a moment a bit about the panels in general. One thing I noticed when interviewing Ryukishi07 is just how energetic he is when speaking. His words were often accompanied by quite a bit of gesturing and laughter that was fun to watch as he described not only his work, but also how much he appreciated his fans. It is rare for a creator to be so connected to his fanbase, so it was refreshing to see Ryukishi mention how much he cared about the opinions and theories of the people who read his work, and even went so far as to go on the Internet and research what was being said about his works. Also, in the second of the two panels I attended, he mentioned that he views each of his stories as a game played between himself and his readers. While at every turn he would try to put forth a mystery, he would then call for his readers to solve it. This back-and-forth is a theme that came up many times over the course of both panels and my interview and marked Ryukishi07 as someone who is more connected with the people who enjoy his work.
(...)But what is important for this article is my second interview with Ryukishi07. I arrived at the small press room about 10 minutes before the interview was to begin, and sat for a moment charging my phone. While I sat messing with my phone for a minute, Ryukishi07 and the rest of 07th Expansion that had been in attendance at the convention arrived and stood a few feet from where I was sitting. Naturally, I was incredibly excited just to be anywhere near one of my favorite authors. But from there things just exploded. When I arrived in the press room, I was the only reporter who had bothered to show up. Which meant that I was able to sit in the front row, right in front of Ryukishi07 himself, and ask as many questions as I wanted.
My first question was why Ryukishi07 used witches as the main antagonists of Umineko. Ryukishi then replied by say that, when compared to humans, witches live for a very long time. This means that when compared to mortals, who generally act on the straight and narrow to try and live a good and productive life, immortal witches have all the time in the world and can sometimes grow bored of life and try cruel and evil things for the sake of experiencing something new. He would then go on to compared a witch’s existence to playing the game Skyrim for a second time. While the first time you may try and complete the main quest and be the best hero you can be, the second time through you might decide to be an evil person for the sake of experiencing the game in a different way.
I then would go on to ask about the fan theory that the character of Rosa Ushiromiya and Beatrice in Umineko are, in fact, the same person. Ryukishi explained that he was aware of this particular theory, and would go on to admit that he sometimes showed references to false theories, such as this one, to throw off and trick his readers. What exactly this means for the validity of the Rosatrice theory I will leave to the fans.
After some questions for the moderator of the panel, who asked the difference between a visual novel and a sound novel, what it felt like when Ryukishi07 got his first fanmail from the United States, and what it felt like to have his works adapted into an anime, I followed up the prior question with another topic that has been hotly debated in the 07th Expansion fandom as of late.
We discussed the topic of the character of Sayo Yasuda from Umineko in our last interview with Ryukishi07 back in January, but this time I asked the author in particular, since many fans see Sayo as a transgendered character, if any themes related to that topic went into her creation. This question took Ryukishi sometime to answer, and he commented it was a difficult question to answer, but a good one. What did eventually come back was that he desired to keep some parts of Umineko a mystery and to leave it to the fans to come to conclusions of their own regarding the subject.
Further questioning included such topics such as the connection between the characters of Erika Furudo and Bernkastel from Umineko and Rika from Higurashi. Ryukishi sees his characters as actors and compared using the above characters in Umineko as being similar to Harrison Ford playing both Han Solo and Indiana Jones, in that the person behind the role is the same, but the character they are playing in each movie, or in this case game, is very different. He would then go on to mention that Higurashi and Umineko take place in worlds that are very distant from each other, yet still connected.
Finally, I asked Ryukishi07 about his time doing artwork for the card game Leaf Fight. The amusing answer: at one time, while 07th Expansion was still working on card games, when people would order cards from them, Ryukishi07 would sometimes package a free copy of Higurashi with the cards as a form of promotion of the then-new visual novel.