Series Recap: Akuma no Riddle

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Once upon a time I reviewed Sakura Trick, and alluded to the next yuri series the blog would be covering.

“If you want drama and depressing tragedy, well…wait a few weeks and we’ll have what you need.”

I feel like such an idiot.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s let L explain it all to us.

I just keep coming back to this comparison. I couldn’t actually find any clips where the goth kids confront the vampire kids about how hardcore they were, and the vampire kids answer that mommy and daddy might not approve of such behavior.

This is basically the problem, as I see it, with Akuma no Riddle.  In tone, in feel, it’s far more like Sakura Trick than one would suspect. Of course unlike Sakura Trick, I don’t have dipshits commenting that my opinion would be totally opposite if this were about male characters, so we have that going for us. But it is safe, it is fun, it is innocent, while it dresses in fishnet so people will think it’s cool.

Not that this is a point of judgment, not exactly. Shows are free to dress how they want, but the false advertising feels like a cheap marketing ploy than any fashion choice in light of the disjointed nature of the series.  It’s more to appeal to people too embarrassed to admit they like slice of life shows, it seems.

So approaching it from that angle, let’s analyze the girls one by one, starting with our leads.

Fair warning, of course. I am going to be yelling. At lesbians. For the next 7,000 words. One of the seals might be open, better check on that.

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Azuma Tokaku

I’m effectively torn on Tokaku’s character.  On the one hand, I am not of the opinion you MUST act a certain way to be your gender.  I know lots of people have been making jokes that “your penis will never be as big as Tokaku’s” but that’s just more misogyny we don’t need right now.

Yet, side by side with Shio from Nobunagun, she falls flat.  Shio was very masculine in presentation, yet never lost her female identity.

I think this ultimately comes down to the fact Tokaku never really had a character.  She was the stoic assassin, and that was the end of it. She was very much like Alka on Blade and Soul this season, and just as interesting.

So while I do not think a girl MUST have feminine qualities to be “considered” a girl, in this instance it can feel like it was something done to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  Much like a harem protagonist, Tokaku is rather generic and, just to spice it up here, androgynous in order to illicit sympathies and self-inserts from the male AND female viewers alike, rather than trying to get its audience to care about one of its leads in a lesbian romance. In that sense, as a gay person, it cheapens the story for me.

Tokaku was not void of ALL development, of course. But the little we got was woefully inadequate. Herself and Haru were less protagonists half the series rather than a very vague and ill-defined obstacle for the assassins to achieve their goals. The big plot point for her was the memory block, which I will call hypnosis and the anime calls spell.  Really it’s the same thing (many old “magic” principles were incorporated into the sciences in some form or the other), but it was just this vague thing, much like Tokaku herself was to the other girls.  It was an obstacle to overcome because we can’t have the characters sitting with their thumbs parked the whole episode.

Of course, in Tokaku’s case, both of her primary obstacles, that of the hypnosis and the Primer power, were never definitively resolved.  Both were SAID to have been resolved, but it was like, “Oh, I can move my arm. I just LIKE keeping it in this sling.”

Maybe it’s combination of the insidious nature and my playing Wildstar these days, but an example that springs to mind is Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation, where a shadow organization safeguarding an entire nation (the first foundation), pretends that it was eliminated so that the First Foundation would go about its business. Of course, as we learn, the Second Foundation is indeed still around pulling the strings, but the point was that the First Foundation’s leadership needed to THINK they were in charge for good, as they could be more easily predicted (and not force the Second Foundation to repeatedly bail their asses out of the fire, thinking the Second Foundation would save them from their mistakes).

I feel the same sinister sense here with Tokaku’s mind.  She has rationalized it away in such a way as to satisfy herself….but without ACTUALLY killing anyone, without ACTUALLY betraying Haru, how does she know? How does she know that the thoughts she has of “I don’t WANT to kill” are indeed her thoughts, and not a manipulation of the hypnosis to make her THINK she is free of the bond, thus making her a more willing slave, less likely to question the impulses fed her?

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Personally I think it’s moot. Manipulation is more than brainwashing, it’s a natural part of life. But the show made such a big deal of it, and then didn’t resolve it’s own problem.

Mind, when it chose to MAKE it a problem. Most of the series it wasn’t even an issue. Until Isuke, until the episode the kill-block resolved itself. And then the final two episodes where Tokaku learns about the Primer and then “deals” with it.

What would have made, at least, the first one more interesting is if we had seen Tokaku struggling against the previous assassins because of that block. It was forcing her to fight in creative ways because she couldn’t take their lives, or even potentially take their lives, due to the hypnosis. But then she encounters Isuke, who is aware of the block, and takes advantage of it. Now there’s an enemy whom the usual trickery isn’t working.

You could SAY this did indeed happen, but the show never made a big deal out of it. I can’t think of a single example from episodes 3-7 where it was even mentioned as being a hindrance.  Just EXISTING does not make it an obstacle, but this show doesn’t seem to quite have that concept down.

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Ichinose Haru

…What?

Haru was mostly an enjoyable character, but several aspects really twisted me the wrong way.

The first was her boundless optimism.  Being optimistic isn’t in and of itself a character flaw, but when done to this degree it’s just a bad idea.  Haru was willfully blind to the fact that everyone in class was trying to kill her.

On top of that, once we get into the Primer arc, Haru (and the show) will try to tug at our heartstrings about How Special Haru Isn’t.

You know what this is? This is EXACTLY the stunt pulled in Black Bullet.  Get us a pretty young girl, turn her into an innocent puppy, and send a strawman after her to make us feel indignant.

Only in Haru’s case, the “strawman” was Tokaku.  Whom in ANY OTHER SERIES would be presented as the reasonable one.

Again, I’m not saying Haru had to be any less optimistic than she was, but her portrayal needed to convey that this was in stark contrast to her world.  The show would…well it’s the conversation they had ten times out of ten. “Maybe we can be friends!” “No, she’s an assassin.” “Tokaku-san! You’re such a grump!”  Each and every time should have inserted rebuttal of “And I’m also always right.”  The show constantly wanted to frame its world  in a way that did NOT make Haru look like a giant death trap waiting to happen. When in reality we should have reversed it.  Make us side with Tokaku, so the few times Haru wins a victory, however small, we are elated to see her world view vindicated.  This is arguably what I think made episode 2 work so well when Tokaku reveals she will defect to Haru’s side.

…Of course, in her world no one ends up dead if we get to WITNESS the tragedy, so maybe it’s not entirely unfounded.

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It’s really an extension of that issue I have with this show’s tone.  It wants the world of lesbian assassins to be consequence free. Despite the very real fact that none of those words imply anything of the sort.

If I wanted to watch a show about unicorns, My Little Pony is still around.

Other than this issue with the way she was framed against the backdrop of the series, Haru was an interesting person to me. Her world view, while optimistic, did seem to be warped by her messed up childhood.  The fact she understood that the other 12 girls were in class to try and murder her spoke to such a sad story.

But, personally, I would have handled her in a much darker way.  Make the “Primer” power not a magical gene, but a learned behavior.  Haru gets doughy puppy dog eyes not because she’s That Not Special And Down To Earth, but because she has learned, after a lifetime of assassination attempts, that this is how people best respond to her.  She has learned to frame her language in such a way to make herself sound sympathetic, she has learned how humility turns people around her into human shields.  All the personality traits she has learned to survive make her an agreeable person that people just want to DO things for.  As a domestic violence victim can say “But s/he LOVES me!”, make this a similar warped world view.

It doesn’t make Haru a bad person doing it this way, but it would be interesting to play with, especially after Yuri’s revelation and Haru’s wounded puppy act isn’t working on Tokaku, to see her snap at her in real anger now that her usual defenses aren’t working on Tokaku.  You could even have her hold a hand to her mouth, all “Oh god I’m a monster,” style to nail this point home. Tokaku’s conflict was the hypnosis, make Haru’s challenge to be aware of this form of self-hypnosis, this Primer Personality that she has been carefully groomed for by the Clan. And, whaddya know, there’s a completely natural hook for season 2: What is New Haru like?

As it stands with the magical Primer Powers, Haru is very much like Tokaku, bland and Not Special to be more like a harem lead. She is self-insert as well, just So Not Special, like you, but deep down we know she’s a snowflake, like you.

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Kenmochi Shiena

Well, someone had to get the short end of the stick. And sadly it was our lovely Shiena. What she lacked in story, she made up for with some pretty strong characterization, at least. Bossing everyone around during the play, probably assuming the title Director for Life, her very down to earth nature regarding her broken glasses and in the bath with the other girls as she squicks out that she was sharing a bedroom with a serial killer, and insight into her computer braininess in the finale, it’s rather a shame she couldn’t have been traded for one of the less interesting girls as the patsy for the series. I would have traded her with Hanabusa or Nio, and let the switcheroo side with Tokaku and Haru for some meta-plot reason.

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Kaminaga Kouko

One of the weaker assassins, primarily because she was sold as someone with a twisted moral, who failed to see the flipping obvious.  She was hurt significantly by the attempt to rouse our sympathies for her with her backstory.  Kids were teasing her, the leadership didn’t trust her because she was a butterfingers assassin.  Well. Unfortunately the entire run of the series depends on her FAILING her assassination, so I guess they were right? There is no chance of seeing her vindicated, so why should I care? There was a forced attempt to summon up more sympathy as we saw she scored highest on the mid-terms. Oh, gosh, she scored the highest in her cover school that wasn’t going to help her solve her life dilemma? Oh, golly, now I feel bad for her, mister.

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Suzu Shutou

A teenage grandma, Shutou was only interesting in that she wanted to make her attempt on Haru’s life a little game.  She very clearly would have won instantly if she hadn’t offered her a way out of the bomb collar. She had a much more disciplined air than our other girls, and that made her a useful piece to the ensemble. But apart from this there isn’t much to her.  It could have been made much more interesting if Tokaku had made Haru stick near her, not allowing her to leave her sight for fear of detonating the bomb, and wringing some clever drama out of that, but as is, meh.

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Sagae Haruki

Haruki’s best quality was how casual she was about things.  Her introduction was priceless and she had probably the best opening characterization next to Haru. What seemed to put her over the edge was that she tested everyone’s combat skills, be that by throwing Pocky at Tokaku or grabbing Isuke’s arm to check out her nail polish. She is also the only person to beat the living hell out of Nio until Tokaku in the final episode, so she has that going for her.  Perhaps the best thing to remember about her is that she was clearly a good person in dire straits who needed a miracle to save her family. But otherwise, her bonding with the cast seems genuine.  She also displayed a fair amount of intelligence despite her lack of interest in schooling, understanding that it was Tokaku, not Haru, who was the emotionally weak link of the pair.  I think the biggest weakness was how the first two episodes set her up as this amazing fighter, only for her actual combat to be rather weaksauce.

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Hanabusa Sumireko

Hanabusa is on that lower end of the scale, as far as I’m concerned. I sympathize with her plight, absolutely.  She is polluted by her life, gone through that same gauntlet as Haru, all while being privileged with wealth.  She was born the best, while relatives have fallen to the murder attempts. Judging by Haru’s revelation that she is on the fringes of the Clan, Hanabusa might very well be the “main branch”, from which all the world operates.  And then, and THEN, Yuri comes to her and says “We’re testing one of your hick cousins to be my heir.”  What a crippling blow to her world view, so confident that until now, SHE was destined to be the Primer.

And yet ultimately it was left in the back closet, to never really get the development it deserved.  Hanabusa herself wasn’t even very present throughout the series, even compared to the other girls.  I imagine this was to set up her aloofness and hoity toity rich snob identity, but it had the end result that we never got to sympathize with her, and I mostly feel sad for her as a character in that light.

I wanted to feel for this girl, but you don’t get credit for stuff you didn’t put in the story. Again, that harem protagonist attitude. Put in just enough so if we identify with them, we can fill in the blanks.  But that doesn’t work on me, show.

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Banba Mahiru/Banba Shinya

Banba was handled in a very interesting way, and frankly the way the series should have handled its assassins. Her backstory was never outright stated (as I mentioned then, probably because child abuse would “ruin the fun” of the show about murdering a teenage girl).  And yet, because of this, Banba felt like a much tighter character.  The writers couldn’t just throw tragedy on the screen to tug at the heart strings. The limitations forced them to actually develop Banba’s personality…personalities…in her dialogue and the framing of shots to convey information about her character. It was brilliant.

On top of this! What little information we did receive actually weaved into the story.  We saw the flash photography when she was an imprisoned six year old, and Isuke incapacitates her with a projector light.  It Chekov’s Gunned that detail beautifully.  Not only were we fed information relevant to Banba’s past, that information was important to the PRESENT as well, something the girls like Kouko and Hanabusa did not manage. For these reasons alone I hold up Banba as the example of what the show should have been like.  It gave us just enough, and if you loved how her voice wavered as she chased Haru, the rage she started to display, you wanted to know more. That should always be the goal for a series like Akuma no Riddle, to make us want to explore the original material (that is still ongoing).

Banba was also handled differently as a threat.  She came off more as a pawn of Isuke’s master plan rather than her own entity. Which I am totally cool with. It breaks up the formulaic nature of Akuma no Riddle and gives them a much more natural feel if girls are teaming up and stabbing each other in the back. Really I expected way more of that, shifting alliances in the face of danger.

In all, I will be referencing Banba later in the post. Just keep these thoughts tucked away in a safe place until then.

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 Namatame Chitaru and Kirigaya Hitsugi

As G would say, Team Teddy belongs together.  Mostly because Kirigaya plays little role as her own identity than as a force to define Chitaru. I don’t actually possess a frontal image of Chitaru…irony.

In part this is because of the Romeo and Juliet homage the pair played.  They of course mixed and matched some things.  Chitaru playing the part of Romeo in the play, though Kirigaya playing the role of Romeo as the one who killed someone precious to Chitaru.

I really enjoyed this aspect of Kirigaya.  She was an unknown factor, yet her actions drove the plot of the episode.  We, in hindsight, understood those reasons.  As soon as she learns that Chitaru is in Black Class to kill Angel Trumpet, Kirigaya instantly moves to end the game as quickly as possible. So, hopefully, she can lead Chitaru away from her thoughts of revenge, or perhaps break the news to her at a later time.  Whatever her future plans, it’s obvious she doesn’t believe Chitaru would forgive such a grievous betrayal at their current level of intimacy.

I think that is my personal draw to the pair. Does love overcome such a betrayal? The answer is, of course, entirely subjective, person to person. Which makes us want to see how Chitaru would have acted.

Chitaru had the major arc, though, which is why the episode was basically from her point of view.  She enters the school very much…very much a combination of Haru and Tokaku.  She’s a righteous fighter, who believes innately in the good of human beings. Blindly so, even, as she never suspects Kirigaya of being capable of heinous acts despite the fact she is in Black Class. And yet she’s a competent fighter, with a code and principles.  She then unwittingly lets those same passions drive her to “bad” acts, that is attacking Tokaku directly for the wrong reasons. She has unwittingly been cast as the villain, very Shakespearean of her.

The reason for her quest? Her master’s daughter was killed by Angel Trumpet, her love interest Kirigaya. So think about the duality of that situation.  She is here to kill Angel Trumpet because, as she describes the dead daughter, she was precious.  Kirigaya knows that Chitaru is noble, and sacrifices herself, having lost the one thing she wanted most: Chitaru’s eternal love.

Chitaru’s moment there, on the stage, where Nio explains Kirigaya’s desire to leave the underworld with Chitaru forever, she has suddenly become Angel Trumpet.  She has taken the life of something precious, even if we want to rules lawyer it was indirect, she is still responsible. Kirigaya would never have gone to these lengths if not for Chitaru.  So, as I said then, while Chitaru hated Angel Trumpet, but could not face life without Kirigaya.

Of course, all of this is undone by the finale.  Romeo and Juliet does not have an epilogue where they get up and say “Just kidding!” because that’s not the point.  And the show seemed to miss the point as well.

Of course, the puppy eating bitch who is your Mistress would have had it another way. Have Chitaru figure out Kirigaya was Angel Trumpet without her knowledge.  Embrace the Shakespeare by throwing in a little Caesar, “Et tu, Chitaru?”, leaving Kirigaya unawares until the knife is in her back.  And, follow up basically the same.  But that is a minor quip and more about taste than anything structurally wrong with the episode. Other than the follow up….to a murder-suicide.

It just hurts me that the series failed to understand the purpose of making this pair a grand tragedy. They even made it the one episode where Haru has no optimistic platitude about how life will end up better even if they didn’t attain their goal. Haru, yes, doe-eyed Haru, cries herself to sleep.  Don’t tell me that wasn’t an attempt at manipulating the audience into supposing the worst.

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Takechi Otoya

I really liked Otoya.

What? Shuttup. It has nothing to do with the fact my wife has associated me to her and I find it adorable. What gives you that impression?

I am of the opinion, however, that Otoya was played too early.  Otoya should have been the Joker to Tokaku’s Batman.  After a string of the more professional assassins, send the heroes up against someone who isn’t looking for anything logical. Otoya is emotional and impulsive.  We could also play up the friendship aspect.

Going further, imagine if we had set up “the good guys camp”, that is, the players who weren’t part of some assassin club.  Chitaru, Tokaku, perhaps Hanabusa and Nio.  And add Otoya to the mix.  One of the girls does some digging about Otoya and finds she isn’t actually an assassin.  What is she here for? She has reasons, and reasons the organizers have approved of, but they remain a mystery.  Let her buddy up to Haru, make us think that she might be the Second Tokaku. Hell, I’d love to have her SAVE Haru from another assassin (since no one else gets to kill her precious Haru).

And then rip the rug out from under us.

There was so much potential to be had by making the buddy comedy thing a slow, subtle climb over the course of a few episodes and just pull the fast one. It would have then left a stronger impression when she makes her return later. The ONE person we DID NOT want to see again (unless that’s your thing like my wife).

It would have also left a stronger impact when Haru drugs her during the fight. Showing us that, yes, while Haru might feel betrayed, she’s emotionally strong and aware enough to still fight back.

Not that we can’t take that away from the episode we had, but again, the pace. It was so quick that it didn’t feel like the betrayal cut Haru deep.

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Inukai Isuke

Isuke was a valley girl through and through.  She was into fashion, dressing sexy, and loved the comfortable life.  In this sense she is all the worst stereotypes about the beautiful and privileged, taking that to its extreme with her casual disregard for human life.  But this hid an uncanny intellect, which made her…archetype, yes, that’s PG…all the sweeter.  She was the only assassin to realize that there was a hidden purpose to Black Class (besides Hanabusa, who got that knowledge by being of the family who orchestrated it), and she was quick to see Tokaku’s hypnotic weakness. She does berate Haruki for being too attached to her family, saying weak people should die and if they’re a bother let them go, but this appears to have been a defensive screen so that no one would try to use her parents as an achilles heel to exploit.

She also managed to manipulate Banba into doing her grunt work, orchestrating probably the most elaborate of the assassination attempts.  Her insight into bending the rules of Black Class was also rather clever, one of those “Wow, why didn’t anyone think of that earlier?”, as all the truly brilliant ideas are.

My favorite Isuke scene was quite possibly the panty shot the moment Nio comes to mark her territory, voicing out loud her speculations about Isuke’s family, implying that if she wanted to, she could hurt the things that Isuke loved most.  Isuke drops all of her acting and tells Nio in the most polite manner possible to shove it. No attempt at masking the fact that Nio hit her buttons, just a declaration that she wouldn’t let Nio push her around.  In my head canon, this fight was much more intense, but it was still pretty great to watch.

In this sense there was potential in making Isuke a sort of rogue party, one who had seen through Black Class but wasn’t about to side with Haru, either. But that’s another style thing, not anything wrong with what they did with her.  Isuke was handled well also in that she had a strong screen presence before her attempt.  This allowed us to see the shades develop on her character, which made their revelation all the more interesting. On the whole, probably my favorite assassin, and that took me by surprise.

In a way, Isuke was very much how I saw Haru in tone.  She wasn’t the strongest, or the best trained, or an insider, but she would use what tools were available to her to place herself at the front of the pack. She was a master of manipulation and would seize every edge to come out ahead.

Finally, worth mentioning, it was great to see Isuke with gay parents. It wasn’t a huge plot point or anything, it was just there. The way homosexuality should be handled. So props to the series for that.

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Hashiri Nio

Another surprise was how much I liked Nio by the end of the series, even if her attempt on Haru’s life was one of the lamer ones.

Maybe I just liked shipping her with Yuri, too. There’s always that possibility.

Nio’s bonding with Haru scenes were some of the liveliest throughout, they always brightened up the episode.

But as the Arbiter of the Black Class, Nio wasn’t allowed to stretch her legs very often, despite being a constant presence. Her best interactions were with Isuke, when the latter began probing into the real circumstances of the game.

But her hypnotic powers? Eh, take em or leave em. It wasn’t an especially troublesome detail for me, more, I was just confused.  Why bring that up now? Just for flashy stuff and a doppelganger fight? I guess. But the doppelganger fight didn’t actually mean anything structurally.

A thing I loved was her ED. Nio is voiced by the vocalist of Fripside, Yoshino Nanjo, whom we met in Black Bullet this season as well (they did the intro), so hers was naturally just going to be one of the better ones. And it conveyed her loneliness, working behind the scenes. It held a smidgen of badassery, quirkiness, and sorrow appropriate to the character.  It expanded on this idea that Nio is here serving Yuri because the latter saved her. From what exactly, we never learn, but I should have loved to find out.

But she may want out, to be a player on the stage rather than just a stagehand.  It’s a detail we never really got any confirmation on one way or the other.  She’s banging Yuri in my head, and that’s all I need.

I actually thought, at the very start, it would be Nio who was in Shutou’s place, actually much older than her appearance led on.  She certainly seems far more comfortable with the underworld than the other girls.

I guess I was mostly intrigued…by Nio’s intrigue.  She never got the proper treatment though, she was a big clipboard, a convenient exposition construct for most of the series.

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You Are Not a Murder Mystery

Sorry for those folks who wanted a murder mystery style series.  Danganronpa this ain’t.

While there is definitely an aesthetic that leans towards the brooding, it isn’t hardcore.  They might listen to way too much Linkin Park, but this is a series that has never REALLY felt disgusted with itself.

First, spoilers, no one dies. Ever. Pretty big damper on the show about…what was that word? Assassins! That’s it. Yeah. No one got killed.

As was shown in Banba, exploring the story of child abuse would have just cramped Akuma no Riddle’s style.  And I don’t disagree with that. A six year old being tortured for the amusement of grown men…that DOESN’T fit in with the series atmosphere.

Which is one of the biggest weaknesses.

A murder cult that controls the world pitting teenage girls into a life or death game against each other is NOT lighthearted female bonding. It is a grim premise, and the series was too afraid of alienating the shippers to take real risks with their characters.

Most visible is the Chitaru/Kirigaya episode, but other characters suffered just as much.  Otoya could have gone to some very dark places.  She could have even eliminated one of the other assassins in her own special way.  Shutou had a perfect recipe for being a total misanthrope, and a real threat to the girls if she had been trying to put distance between herself and Haru so she could detonate the bomb.

You know, Lyrical Nanoha tends to have villains who aren’t bad people either. But that series manages to maintain a sense of conflict.

Not even Yuri, the mastermind behind this whole ludicrous operation, is really a “villain”.   It would have been pretty cool to see her duke it out with our heroes. But no, I mean, no one got hurt, so no foul, right Yuri? Of course. In fact we should be grateful to her, she set up this wonderful academy for our lesbians to meet in!

Fuck you, show.

Even aside from this, the format the show chose was a poor choice. We knew, KNEW that none of the girls could succeed in their attempt on Haru’s life. And that was supposed to be the suspense.  But when Haruki throttles Haru, I don’t feel suspense, I just feel kind of bored. I know Tokaku will arrive to save her.  I know that Haru will not leave Tokaku to drown and sacrifice the last clue, and I know they’ll figure it out because the stakes were so cartoonishly high, that failure was not an option with five episodes left.

Which is why this show needed darker themes. More Game of Thrones politics between the girls that lets them weave through the Black Class with shifting alliances that pit some assassins against others until it is convenient otherwise.

The girls here, in their safe, consequence free environment, just aren’t fit to survive in the wild.  I can’t take them seriously because if we put them into a serious world they just implode.

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You’re not Romance, You’re just Yuri

Regulars will have heard my rant on this several times, but for brevity’s sake, one of the reasons I loathe the Yuri genre in principle is the attitude that female-on-female romance is pure as the driven snow. Good girls don’t kiss, so if there’s two girls at once, well, obviously they don’t even hold hands. They don’t even have to say they are in love.  It’s the purest form of love!

Putting my thoughts about this attitude into words would be far too long for what is turning out to be an already lengthy review. I fear for getting distracted from the subject at hand.

But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I do believe we have an appropriate image in stock that sums up my opinion as a lesbian. Shinya?

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Akuma no Riddle doesn’t quite hit the extreme of this attitude, but it does fall under the umbrella, even if just barely.

One of the weakest aspects of the series was the romance between Tokaku and Haru.  Even when it initially began in Episode 2, I voiced my concerns that there didn’t seem to be any compelling reason that these two girls ended up together besides the fact they were roommates.  I didn’t get the sense that Tokaku’s world view had been so shattered that she would outright abandon her mission to fight for Haru’s sake.

And these were doubts that were not allayed by series end.  It still felt incredibly shallow and contrived.

Now, I’ll share something. I normally don’t do source material reading before finalizing a review, but this series I DID read a couple chapters (but only a few, as I realized I might start mixing up information in my head).

The manga makes very clear how Tokaku is fed up with the world of assassins treating everyone like assholes. And by simply making that an important point of her monologue, suddenly it made perfect sense. Of course someone like Haru will break through Tokaku’s defenses, someone who thinks the world is full of people who treat each other like shit.

Why didn’t the show do this? Sure, cut for time, I guess that’s understandable….except the motivation of your protagonist is kind of a BIG FUCKING DEAL. They even had the scene where this comes up (that of the charm chucking) be of Tokaku sitting there stoically. Come on. Guys? Just a little?

This crippled the ability to latch onto the girls romance. What little there was, of course. There was a bit of hugging and one kiss (that wasn’t exactly a kiss), and the love confession at the end….that seems to come from basically nowhere.

Ga Rei Zero has a more convincing romance. And that is ENTIRELY subtext. This show had no excuse to make the romantic elements as contrived as they did.

And yet, by doing so, it just fits so snugly into my low opinion of the yuri genre. And it’s low opinion of yuri fans, as the show seemed to keep all the girls alive for fear of losing shipper money.

This could have all been avoided if we’d gone with the next point.

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Orange Cone Heroes

One of the issues with many episodes of Akuma no Riddle is the two leads seemed to waver between being the main characters or just a vague obstacle for the assassin of the week.

And this is where I summon up my comments about Banba from her character section.  This was how assassins should have been handled. A brief glimpse into their lives, but make the action revolve around Tokaku and Haru. Allow their characters room to breathe and grow.

12 episodes and 13 characters is going to strain things, at best.  And we even cut one girl short, and lumped two of them together.  Haru and Tokaku ended up as being little more than guest stars in Lifestyles of the Sad and Sexual.  Keeping the focus tighter would have been a great idea here. Danganronpa is proof enough of how a large ensemble can cripple a show. Akuma no Riddle is the same, the large cast was too unwieldy for a 12 episode series to handle.

The story should have centered around Haru and Tokaku.  You can still throw the other girls a few bones, give us just enough detail to pick favorites.  But as I said, Banba worked very well because the limitation on her backstory forced the writers to draw her personality out through her interactions with the other cast members, rather than giving us an AMV of their private backstory to try and force our sympathies out.  This made her stand out while still making Tokaku and Haru feel relevant to the events on screen. Kouko was particularly guilty of this, being centered around a backstory that, as we said, couldn’t even be concluded due to the fact the series had to continue. While it worked sometimes, it still sucked up a LOT of screentime.  Hell, even Naruto understands that it’s best to devote an entire episode to the flashback story, THEN proceed with your fight. And they are the experts at that, I’d take the tip.

This would even have the benefit of justifying the format of assassin of the week, as we would no longer be watching Assassination Doomed to Fail part 5, but rather, we’d be witnessing Haru and Tokaku’s trial by fire.

They might have discovered this problem in editing. Oh look, that’s our next point.

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“Like, George Wrote the Script in One Draft and They Decided to Film It.”

The rule of Chekov’s Gun is that if you bring something to my attention, it better be fucking important, otherwise you are wasting my time.

This was something Akuma no Riddle struggled with.

Plot points were raised as if setting up for the future, and were either forgotten, mentioned again with a “nevermind” disclaimer, or wove poorly into the narrative. I’m just going to cite a few examples.

When Kouko is introduced she assumes the leadership positions as class rep, hall monitor, basically all the important positions of management. This has zero effect on her attempts to assassinate Haru, and doesn’t seem to stem from anything to do with her time in the ninja-nunnery. This was just about the only line of dialogue she received before her episode.

When we first meet Haruki, she is testing the combat prowess of all the members.  She even seems to outdo most of her classmates. Just her way of trying to fish out Haru?  The scavenger hunt for the target stuff was probably best left cut so we could get the business of characterization done.  Admittedly it served her well.  But Haruki didn’t seem to be an especially good combatant when she went up against the pair.

Kaiba’s presence seemed to exist mainly as a jerkwad because he was in the manga. His strong influence on the early story seemed pointless by the end.

Haru’s line of “Must keep smiling. Or Haru will get in trouble!” doesn’t seem to make a lick of sense in hindsight.

Haru was set up as resistant to drugs and wounds.  Not really important to the series on the whole.

While we’re still on Haru, she was said to have a massive body count.  Really? We’re gonna rules lawyer this into “people died FOR her, so she’s responsible for their deaths” with the bloody flashbacks?

Otoya saw something that made her terrified.  Tattoos? Really?

Mizorogi sneaks up on Tokaku, and this was a huge deal.  It meant nothing. Unless we want to say it was purely that Tokaku was so infatuated with Haru already she had ceased paying attention. But this flies in the face of behavior following this incident.

There is a big sub plot in Episode 8, so we can’t even blame this on the source material, of Tokaku struggling with what she will do AFTER Black Class. Will she choose to stay with Haru? Will she struggle to go back to her familiar life?  Fuck if we know, it all happened off-screen. There was no resolution to this “dilemma”. In fact, in laying out those options, staying with Haru or going back to the assassin school, I am developing this thread MORE than the actual show did. They showed Tokaku thinking hard and making faces whenever the future was brought up, multiple times…and never did anything with it.

And so the list goes on, and on, and on, and giggity giggity goo.

All of this just speaks to a story that wasn’t well thought out.  While KILL la KILL had similar issues of raising points and never touching them again, at least in that show we got the sense that they were examining the ideas. Holding it up to their eye, looking at it from different angles, maybe seeing the different colors in different lights. Then growing bored of it and throwing it away.

But in Akuma no Riddle, the ideas were found, the writers said “Aha!” then threw it over their shoulder into the pile of useless junk. Then when they went back to pick out ideas for the script they just kind of cobbled them together. Greater themes, motiffs, and subplots were not a common element in the series, despite the fact they seemed to set up several. Several dozen.

I’ve heard rumors (but just rumors, no facts) that Akuma no Riddle was intended to be two seasons once upon a time, but a last minute cut back resulted in the single season.

While that could have helped some, it doesn’t explain, nor would it cure, these severe weaknesses in narrative design. This was a bigger problem than just not having enough time.

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The Good

I don’t believe Akuma no Riddle is exactly a BAD show. It’s just kind of a mess.

But there are excellent elements.  The designs and aesthetic were glorious. I loved what they did with the EDs, especially using the voice actors to sing them.  Fights were generally well executed, if not often short.

As I hope some of my character interpretations show, it was rather easy to identify with most of the girls despite their lack of face time.  This was never a show I hated watching, it was always able to hold my attention (except perhaps Shutou’s episode).  But to stick to the manga so strictly in the first couple episodes…well…you can clearly see the dividing line where talent and hack drew their borders.

There WAS a magnificent series in here.  It just needed a LOT of polish and maybe a few more drafts to wring the most out of the limited air time.

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The End

I will give a special note to the finale. It sucked. It framed this series as one without consequences, and in so doing, it made this a slice of life series wearing skulls on its dress. EDGY!

I may dress like a murder lolita, but I also have been known to choke the life out of people while I giggle with glee. Get out of here with this shit.

While I wasn’t exactly surprised by the ending, I was disappointed. I was hoping we’d leave it open to our interpretation how the various girls ended up.  But by sealing the deal in such a definite way…it took away any slight chance for us to think about things.

Far better to tell us all directly how things ended up. People might end up giving our crap show credit where it isn’t due.

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The Verdict

Akuma no Riddle is a slice of life series for people too embarrassed to admit they like slice of life series.

That is my opinion and no one will convince me otherwise.

If you like fluffy series, this is great for you.

But if you want something with a LITTLE depth, maybe it’s best to avoid this one.  It will only frustrate and confound you.

If you were drawn to this series because of the aesthetic and premise…you have my sympathies. The FDA should ban this show for not properly listing its ingredients.

And of all the shows we’ve covered together here, this one, more than any other, reeks of the scent of “You could be more”. Akuma no Riddle could be so much more than we were given, but that is, alas, one of life’s great cruelties. And in fact, I a certain all the really good stuff is carry over from print. I’m hard pressed to imagine the original material contributed anything profound.

Adjust your expectations and you may enjoy this one. I rate it as…average. Below average if we hold the false advertising against it. I like the music, but I won’t be watching this one in full again. It’s a cheap ploy to wring money out of the shipper’s pockets. They don’t deserve your attention.

I’ll be off now to finish the print edition and get myself caught up.

To see my full journey in Akuma no Riddle, you may go here.

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6 thoughts on “Series Recap: Akuma no Riddle

  1. I’m curious to see what I would think of this show if I rewatched it. A lot of the good moments (most notably Chitaru and Kirigaya’s double suicide) seem like they’re undone by later moments in the series. I did see an appeal to its lack of depth created by its aesthetic and whatnot, but now that I know it’s all going to hell, it’d probably be worse.

    Your description of what Otoya could have been did sound pretty awesome, but I still think she worked as a first assassin. Her motivation for wanting to kill Haru was the most basic of the assassins, so she served as a tool for saying “This is how shit’s going down.” It created a tone that the show… never capitalized on. But it could have capitalized on it, and that’s what counts.

    • I tend to watch blog series three times (once to enjoy, second for review, three is a marathon for recap. Yes, I’ve watched each episode of Black Bullet three times). On the marathon, the good parts seemed to get better, and the badness just seemed to get worse. Unfortunately, the good parts are mostly the introduction, and a handful of brilliant insights throughout the hack duck shoot. And of course the “bad ends”, which make you shout “LIAR! YOU’RE A LIAR!” at the screen while your family seriously questions the prospect of having kids with you.

      I particularly rubbed salt in an old wound at seeing Haruki’s “Gomen gomen!”, reminding me how badly I wanted to love that character xD

  2. unrelated but i take a bit of offence at that “goths can only be x” video by L, yeah the guy who made that does not understand what a goth is does he?

    • Well, like many things South Park, it’s a simplification for 22minutes of air time, but in context, that episode was mostly exploring the rise of goth fashion as it related to the Twilight Fad. It was presented in, well, very much the way people who get tattoos in Chinese/Japanese characters without having any affiliation to the culture. Like I said, I couldn’t find the clip that was ABOUT that thing, but I felt the need to invoke that episode, because it was so perfect xD

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