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. Continue reading

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Akuma no Riddle: Episode 12

How did you guys screw this one up so royally?

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Yup, we’re not quite done catching up with Spring.  And as this was the series I most wanted to leave complete, along with a hefty dose of controversy for this episode in particular, how can I resist?

We open with a bit of explanation. Tokaku explains to Haru that the spell that prevented her from killing others has been undone. Implicit is, if she cannot come to kill Haru, it will be Haru’s power that stops her.

Haru is still blubbering about how she doesn’t want Tokaku to be her enemy, but at the slightest aggression from the latter, Haru is all too willing to throw fire at her dear friend. It’s at this point we have to question again how defenseless Haru really is, and how much is behavior she plays at (even if the “play acting” is subconscious) as she “miraculously” trips and avoids Tokaku’s swings.  Remember that, I’m going to drag it up later.

When suddenly, Haru is saved by…Tokaku?

The Tokaku that saves Haru drags her away, and Haru is left looking around going “WTF?” The second Tokaku explains that the one trying to kill her is Nio.  Remember the two rival shinobi clans? Azuma and Kuzunoha? Nio is of the latter, a group  that specialized in illusions and trickery as opposed to the combat prowess of the Azuma.

Of course, we already know this is a lie, that THIS Tokaku is Nio, because we opened on the assassin Tokaku having a flashback. Which kind of gives it away right off the bat so I have no idea what the fuck they were going for.  Are we supposed to be cheering on Haru to figure it out? Yes, nothing says gripping entertainment like watching a ditz figure out a mystery you yourself answered five minutes ago. We should have skipped the flashback, it could have left the element of mystery. Remember how last time I jokingly jabbed we knew something was wrong because Tokaku was emoting? It could have actually had us believing that Nio’s fabrication was the truth if not for this flashback stuff. And of course they’ll show us RIGHT at the begining of the coming fight that this Tokaku is an illusion. I’ll explain why this is crap later.

Haru stops Nio (still in Tokaku’s form) and asks how she could be okay with things as they are.  Her answer is that it may be true Haru controlled her, but the feeling she has is what is precious to her.  I don’t mean to draw anything by this, only that this answer is so nebulous that it doesn’t feel out of place as a resolution either. This whole queen bee bullshit was poorly planned out, makes no sense, and never will be resolved. It’s just a way for us to fill out air time.

Well if you can’t expect to beat the enemy, you know how it goes. MIRROR MATCH! Be just as cheap as that asshole playing the OP character!

They throw some insults at each other that basically amounts to this. Nio says she’s protected Haru all this time, killing her is so out of character it’s stupid.

…Is this one of those bits where you’re being self-aware show? Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 11

Nio ED is best ED.

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Well after ten episodes of, frankly, aimless wandering, we’re down to the wire. Plot! And there’s no excuse anymore, Akuma no Riddle, you’ve run out of monkeys. You have one card left in that barrel, so you’d better make it a straight shot.

…If metaphors ever achieve sapience I will likely be classified as a war criminal.

We’re starting out with a lecture by Sensei, about bees! Convenient as last time Hanabusa used the term “queen bee” to refer to herself and Haru. It’s some drab stuff about how their pheromones work, but for the non-amateur zoologist, it’s kind dry.  The girls aren’t even hiding their impatience with class anymore.

But the big moment…Nio reveals that all will be revealed. It is time!

Finally, some real answers.  Credit, too, to the soundtrack here.  It’s this grungy, dark build up as Nio alerts them of the chairperson’s plans, all while she’s doing her cute little “Nio signing off!” thing.  I don’t know if we’ve handled it this way, but it sticks out to me, and is quite effective.

Nio assures the pair though, no tricks, they’ve won. Tokaku seems to be distancing herself from Haru now, saying she doesn’t need constant protection anymore. She’s mulling over Hanabusa’s words.

It’s a dark night, and Nio welcomes the pair. She introduces the Chairperson! Her name is..! Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 10

Old habits die hard.

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This isn’t even my final form!

…We get that out of our system now? Good. Moving on.

This week opens with Hanabusa handing Haru a note.  Haru’s very dejected expression was excellent.  She began the series full of smiles and optimism, but the events of the previous two weeks have shaken her.  Here there is no surprise. No wide-eyed doe bewildered by the action, merely a sad acceptance, like a child going to the doctors. It will  be done, though she doesn’t like it.  This is the first time it’s felt like Haru has learned anything from her ordeal, and I appreciate it, guys. I do.

However, it is not an advance notice. Hanabusa is inviting Haru to a tea party.

Back from credits, we see an alarm going off.  Oh maaaaiiiii. Otoya returns. With a vengeance!

In the girls’ room, Haru is happy to go the tea party.  Aaaaaand we’re back to the usual.  “Maybe we can be friends!” “No we can’t. Stop being stupid Haru.”  Hell you’ve seen this conversation seven times already, I don’t need to abridge it for you.

Unfortunately for Otoya, while she did make it back to the academy, the first person she encounters is Hanabusa, who insists on making Otoya part of the festivities. And she takes her by force, blocking her scissors with her bare hands.

But when we get to the tea party, dun dun dunnnn! It’s a trap!

…The soundtrack really wants me to be surprised.  Bless you for trying. Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 9

Getting better, I’ll grant you that.

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With the KILL la KILL post RIGHT there, this is an auspicious time to approach this episode.  Because strangely, we find ourselves with parallels between Tokaku and Ryuko. And with about the same level of warm feelings coming from me.

We flashback to Tokaku’s birth, seeing her receive her name from her grandmother.  It apparently means “impossible”, referring to the sensation she is to instill in her enemies when they see her strength. Tokaku’s mother and aunt are sharing how they want Tokaku to be free from the curse of the Azuma clan.  They don’t want the next generation to be murderers like themselves, and we flashforward a few years to that scene we’ve seen so often about how “whenever you want to kill, think of this place”.

Back in the real world, Haru escapes Banba by…throwing her phone? Really? That’s what catches her off balance? I guess, if we want to be generous, we could say Banba isn’t really trying. She’s drawing this out as long as she can. And to her credit, Banba is laughing her ass off every time Haru manages to sneak by.  It’s a very cat-and-mouse attitude towards this “assassination”.  And, having seen through to episode 11, there may be other reasons that we’ll get to then. >.>  But for now it’s still working.

But the good bit is that Banba’s taunting is matched with flashbacks of herself (supposedly the Mahiru personality) as a child pounding on a huge metal door to be let out, all with Shinya saying “You’ll never ever escape,” to Haru.  Banba’s story isn’t going to be addressed directly, rather through these flashbacks, where we get to fill in the details. Admittedly, it does seem a little dark, very likely the child porn route.  Eventually, Banba escapes, which is where she gets that scar across her face, by killing one of the men who was taking pictures of her.

This is a more subdued element of backstory. It is the halfway point between what we are used to, and the way Kirigaya exited the show with no insight into her life. And really these exist as a Chekov’s Gun towards the end of the episode. Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 8

The son of Episode 1.

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Yep, back to back! And how.  Night and day, cats and dogs, Englishmen and Frenchmen…uh…poetic antonym #47.

Spring 2014 is turning into the season of second pilots.  This episode was completely unlike anything in the series so far.  Actually, scratch that, this feels like it follows naturally from Episode 2.  There’s meta plot, there’s character development, and the interpersonal politics are starting to show.  Best of all was the atmosphere, where there really are some exciting fights and thriller moments.  It did a great job of selling the dread of Haru and Tokaku against the world with no allies to turn to, in a sea of ruthless murderers who are after Haru’s pretty little head.  Episode 8 works because it’s about what Akuma no Riddle was supposed to be about in the first place.

In short, this show is ACTUALLY entertaining for once. It’s just a shame it took us so long to get here.

Isuke is on the phone with mother, Eisuke.  And if you’ll remember Episode 2, her mother is a man.  He’s in the middle of a job, and as we surmised, it’s a family business, even casually shooting people while he’s on the phone with Isuke.  Effective is that Isuke is shy of admitting Tokaku outsmarted her once, saying her poison was lost, rather than wasted. This flies in the face of what she used to badger Haruki for, saying family was stupid and pointless.  But I don’t think it’s character inconsistency, it’s sold more as a blind spot that Isuke either doesn’t notice or want to admit to.

And after her display of insight last week, I’m even willing to entertain the possibility her lazy sociopath valley girl (but I repeat myself) personality is just a front she wears to keep others off balance.

After credits, Nio is speaking with the Chairwoman, or Organizer, we’ve never really pinned down a title for her just yet.  Point being, she’s now speculating on who will attack next, Banba or Isuke.  This is a good move because it sets up an audience expectation that it both fulfills and subverts in the same pass, and I’ll admit I wasn’t looking too terribly closely yet because of this show’s history.  She speculates that Hanabusa will be last, “due to the content of her wish”.  So it will probably be Isuke or Banba.  Isuke wants money, and it’s implied she wants to use it to set her parents up comfortably for a leisurely retirement, but being Isuke we really can’t be sure. Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 7

Yaaaawn.

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Last week was a stellar outing.  Naturally, this week we return to the status quo.

…Damnit.

We’re not even trying anymore, are we? Just some cryptic words out of Shutou’s mouth for our teaser.  Even the show is like “Fuck, you’ve seen her face, you know who’s getting offed this week. Credits!”

So, after watching a particularly convincing death scene at the play…Sensei is still not the least bit suspicious.  This asshole HAS to know more than is being let on.

…Maybe the underworld types backing this Black Class outsourced to the Gokukoku no Brynhildr universe for labor.  If he was from that show, I’d buy it.

Even Haru isn’t that naive.

Shutou’s position in the credits, immediately following Kouko, seems to have been more than coincidence, as she has a rather elaborate scheme.  She’s reserved the…I’d call it pool, but it’s a damn waterpark.  As the girls are going through lockers for swimsuits, Haru stumbles into her letter, and BAM! Shutou has a collar-bomb around her neck. She’s given Tokaku a riddle to solve to learn the code.

Interesting note, Nio picks a full-body diving suit.

Really, the interesting bit is between Nio and Isuke.  We get a glimpse as to why Isuke may have been holding back all this time, as she speaks with Nio about the Organizer’s true intentions.  After all, at the start of this thing, she couldn’t wait to get the hell out of dodge.  But hearing about Haru’s “curse” and fighting Tokaku, Isuke has been oddly content to just bide time and watch.  Here she probes into Nio’s defenses a bit, supposing that something is being tested, but she can’t put her finger on what.  Nio, evading at first, finally tells her to shut her mouth and stay in her place.

Savor it, dear viewers.  The rest is going to follow the normal formula.   Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 6

Why for didst thou kick us in the feels?

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I know I’m late getting to this one. I’m also the latest in a long line of admitting this was the best episode so far.

The play is this week, and while there might be a lot of silly festival episodes that lean heavily on the base themes, Akuma no Riddle took it several steps further with many literary allusions that make this episode a treat.  You know, for people way more well read than me.

This week starts with Chitaru and Kirigaya, and if you remember our rule about imprinting, yeah. They’re screwed.  We see how they met, and just like that, they’re holding hands and happy to play background lesbian couple.  We see them at the Anniversary celebration, carnival games and the like. Kirigaya says she remembered that Chitaru said Haru was not her target here.  Chitaru says her target is someone known as Angel Trumpet, “angel’s trumpet” being a very toxic plant. And there is a tremor in Kirigaya’s expression.

Yes, we know how this can only end in tears.  But, in true Shakespearean fashion, it is not the story, but the way it is presented that engages us.

The girls are all having fun bonding, and Shiena continues to be awesome.

The reason this is, sadly, is because she’s prepping to drop Haru her note.  Kirigaya knocks her out with a spray of poison.

…I don’t mean to rules lawyer our completely arbitrary competition, but I feel like this is dirty pool. You mean I just have to knock out a fellow assassin and leave her where Haru can find her with an advance letter and it counts? This whole game should have been over in a week.

Kirigaya remains the badass we hoped she’d be.

Chitaru, in a very Shakespearean moment of Hillarious Sitcom Misunderstandings, assumes just by the accusation by Isuke that Tokaku dealt with Shiena, and the knowledge that Shiena was poisoned, that naturally Tokaku must be Angel Trumpet. Right. How did you get in this class again?  The best way to rationalize this is…somewhere, deep down, Chitaru already knows. But she is misdirecting blame to anyone convenient so she doesn’t have to outright confront Kirigaya.

Then again so much Shakespeare is founded on misunderstandings, that it seems like the assumption is intended to be genuine.

Chitaru and Kirigaya are getting ready for the play, and the subject of motivation comes up.  Chitaru’s master had a daughter killed by Angel Trumpet, and the reason remains unknown.  Chitaru only met her once, but it’s clear she’s doing this for loyalty to her superior.  Much like the Romeo and Juliet encounter, Chitaru throws everything she has into a quest for someone she only ever met once.

Isuke steals the show as the announcer. That is all. Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 5

You need to kill the bird? Don’t you need the cage?

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It’s a shame we played this card so early. Yes…Haruki.  Best girl is gone.  How do I know? It’s like a macabre imprinting, the first assassin you see will be offed this episode.

This week opens on flashback. Tokaku is ignoring her aunt, whom Tokaku’s grandmothers calls the disgrace of the family. Whatever. This development is coming so slowly because we have to focus so hard on the assassins.  Like Black Bullet, pace is hurting Akuma no Riddle.

In class, it’s festival time! The girls are going to do Romeo and Juliet.  And Shiena is just adorable, taking the director’s chair and just bossing people around…so cute…

Haruki is helping Haru with props, and she seems to be legitimately bonding with her and Tokaku.  Tokaku confides that it’s silly when they’re all murderers.  Haruki seems to agree, but says there’s nothing wrong with fun.  Well that’s cue for the pathos machine, she gets call from her siblings.  She looks back despondently.  She’s going to have to kill Haru.

Poor family is a good motivation.  It’s enough to get us to understand why Haruki might be a good person ultimately, but feels compelled to partake in this game.  It also is simple enough that it doesn’t require a lot of exposition.

Haruki confronts the pair in the bath, implied she purposefully is trying to force a bit of a confrontation.  While Otoya (episode 3) went after Haru’s emotions, Haruki seems to sense that it’s Tokaku’s emotions that are easiest to prey on.  Get her angry at Haru, let her make a mistake when her compassion feels strained.  She says she heard about her history from Nio.  She asks how Haru can smile after people have died all around her.  Haru says she has to, what else can she do?  Haruki laughs at this, telling Tokaku “You hear that? She’ll smile even when you’re dead.”

Tokaku takes Haru away, but in their room it’s clear she is pissed.  But she can’t express it.  She tells Haru to get angry for once, but Haru, as always, is able to shrug it off.  But Tokaku is pissed.  And really it’s hard to blame her.  Protecting Haru was an impulsive decision, and Haruki basically just said Tokaku wasn’t special to Haru, just the latest in a string of dead friends.  And Haru did not disagree.  It’s a good strategy by Haruki, because this IS an emotional commitment by Tokaku.  It’s not logical, and it’s not her mission.  There’s wiggle room here beyond professionalism. Which leaves enough room for Tokaku to make a mistake. Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 4

One little, two little, three little Indians…

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It’s time for mid-terms on Akuma no Riddle!  All the girls are studying (well, all of them except Isuke I’m sure).  Of note is that Kouko steps forward to help out Haru with a math problem.  We notice she’s carrying one of Haru’s lucky charms.

Later that night we get treated to her flashback, so clearly, she’s going to be the one who tries to kill Haru this time.

With the benefit of hindsight after Episode 6, we know that this Danganronpa plot is being pushed aside for…something.  Whatever that is is unclear, but quite frankly this has been a very weak middle section so far primarily for this reason.  The pattern is obvious and knowing that any attempt on Haru’s life is final (because of the 48 hour rule), seeing Kouko talk about how she “mustn’t fail” we know she’s going to try. And because it’s episode 4, we know she’s going to fail and leave forever.  This makes it hard to, frankly, give a fuck.  We’re seeing her backstory here, about how she was raised to be a killer and the kids made fun of her for being a bad assassin…but why do I care?

Arguably, it’s harder to sell me on this point since…well…she’s GOING TO FAIL, kind of justifying all that shit people talked about her, right?

I’m going to spoil this for you ahead of time, Kouko’s prize, should she win, is that she gets to walk away from the underworld forever. That is her dream.  Do you see the problem?  Not only is there nothing compelling me to root for her to kill Haru, to say “Yeah, you show them, you really CAN be an assassin!” the fact that, if she did fail, it would only be because she, judging by what we see, couldn’t hack it as a killer.  That…that is not inspiring.  As such, of the girls who go up against Haru, Kouko has been the weakest.  Which is a shame because there was lots of room to maneuver here, and her actual attempts on Haru’s life themselves were some of the more intricate and clever on the show.

We see the class doing their mid-terms, and a brief bit of development for Kirigaya and Chitaru, who are still holding hands, Chitaru explaining that she doesn’t want Kirigaya to get lost.  She also explains she isn’t here for Haru, but for a different reason.

Later in the study we have a very cute scene of Nio bonding with Haru.  I like to think this isn’t Nio being completely manipulative, though it very well could be, but I like to imagine it’s just her natural personality that she uses to her advantage, because frankly…she’s just so cute when she gets all buddy-comedy with Haru. What’s being shared is that in a super secret room in the library is a super secret book that if you write your name in the check out line, eternal happiness will be yours. Continue reading