Akuma no Riddle – 01-03 Review
I don’t think there’s any murderer in the history of mankind who has used THAT to get close to his target… Also, Akuma no Riddle’s interpretation of this effect is one of the assassins claiming that her birthday is one day after the day the victim-girl’s birthday is. I’m pretty sure that there’s a bit more to it than that.
I think this kind of mystery-thriller is an actual genre when it comes to animes. Chasing Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None it’s always about a group of people who are in some way involved with at least one of them trying to commit murder. Umineko no Naku Koro ni is certainly one of the better ones in that genre and I think it’s telling that Akuma no Riddle just strips away the mystery-part and just goes straight for thriller-action. And Yuri, it just needed to be Yuri as well, of course. I mean, the Yuri-part just makes as much sense as killing someone by letting him or her attend classes while planning to kill that person.
Ichinose needs to die and it’s a contest. World’s most dangerous killers are brought together to try to kill her! Well, that is if they are highschool-girls because they have to attend classes together with the girl they are supposed to kill. Graduating high-school is important and just on the off-chance Ichinose survives she won’t have to repeat any years.
Anyway, so these girls are in a special class (the Black Class because black is not a color technically) in a special building (THE school for THE richest and most influential kids) with a special dorm where not-so-special people (everyone else) can be easily ignored but one girl is a bit different: Tokaku. Because she has the hots for Ichinose so instead of trying to kill her she decides to protect her. And hell, she does need the protection since she sort-of doesn’t really take all this being-killed-stuff serious.
Sugita Tomokazu (the voice-actor of Gintoki in Gintama) makes a short appearance as crazed teacher who brings Tokaku into the contest and presents the basic conceit of the story but it’s really the most confusing amount of stream-of-consciousness gibberish you could imagine. And my reaction really mirrored Tokaku’s reaction in that moment…
In many ways I think if Ann Nocenti were to ever create an anime using anime-stereotypes it would be pretty much something like this or probably just even worse. There’s something bizarre in how many ways this series just defies logic with its plot and how its characters just seem to spontaneously do stuff without rhyme or reason. Saying that these first episodes have some plotholes doesn’t even begin to cover it. At some point you just enter into this lulled state where you just stop thinking because you’re so exhausted from trying to understand just about anything.
The series may be advertised as yuri and sure, there are only female characters in it (the teacher excluded who isn’t really part of the plot so far) but this is definitely one of “manliest” yuri-series I’ve ever seen. There are still these yuri-tropes of innocence and emotions that need to be delivered in big speeches but there’s all this stuff around it that just seems kinda weird. First of all, this series has a very nihilistic obsession with wealth and power. The series always acts like the audience is supposed to be in awe when characters talk about the exceptional achievements of certain characters. And it creates this otherworldly atmosphere as if everything in this series happens in a vacuum. The Black Class happens in a school where only the kids of the “richest, most influential” people go to and the people in Black Class are even above them and don’t involve them – because why should they, right? When the characters talk about one of the girls in the Black Class is basically Jack The Ripper as a teenage-girl they talk about how her roommate should feel fear but it’s with this undertone of amazement and curious interest you would normally dispense for someone breaking a world-record. There’s just no real sense of morality in this series and while this may be natural with 80% of the cast presumably being sociopaths it also takes away all sense of consequence and dramatic weight. When everybody in the room is acting like something’s not a big deal, I won’t consider it to be such either in the show’s universe – even if it should be one by realistic standards.
And this “masculine” approach continues with the basic conceit: That the innocent-seeming Ichinose is a damsel in distress. More than that she’s literally an objectified prize every other girl in the Black Class fights over. And this includes the main-heroine Tokaku who protects her because she wants a girlfriend. Tokaku is basically the knight in shining armor and Ichinose is the princess that the knight wants to save because she is helpless – and because she sells her soul to whoever saves her, I guess. It’s just so strange to see such a generic trope that basically favors male dominance and then someone thought that it will become any more interesting with it being a homosexual story. Because there’s still a girl being objectified in that story-setup, you still end up with an unequal relationship that pretty much is supposed to carry the whole damn thing. And it gets even worse because Tokaku, the heroine, might as well be a guy. And sure, there are many TV-shows and movies out there with an abundance of male characters where some of the characters could be females without changing the plot overall so the question becomes “So why aren’t there more female characters in this story?”. But that applies only to side-characters, when a main-character just can be either gender it’s simply a sign of shallowness. I don’t mean to say that Tokaku needs to be more feminine or is too masculine, what I mean is that gender is a part of a character’s identity. Ichinose’s problem in terms of characterization on the other hand goes hand in hand with the plot. She really acts as a prize everyone is striving for, either by killing her or by protecting her. And the character is written with this naïve, unnecessarily passive personality where she’s basically just a sitting duck in the midst of all these psychopaths in the Black Class. Also, the romance between Ichinose and Tokaku isn’t subtle at all but overall VERY onesided in these first three episodes. Tokaku mostly gives Ichinose the cold shoulder and despite those proclamations of her wanting to protect Ichinose both times her life was in danger until now it was because Tokaku just left her alone for God knows why. There are actual scenes of her just leaving the room in a bad mood because Ichinose tries to be friendly with one of the other psychopaths. So, despite the fact that a few scenes telegraph this emerging relationship in a very heavyhanded manner all other scenes make it hard to believe that they are even friends.
Well, I guess, as carefree and naive as she probably has been drugged often enough to have that kind of resistance.
I’ve already talked about how there’s this otherworldy atmosphere due to the series fascination with power in an elitist, sociopathic way but another thing that is weird about the story up till now is its almost labyrinthine plot-logic that governs the characters’ actions. There are sometimes these abrupt tonal shifts that just get even more disturbing due to a soundtrack that veers between setting up a tense atmosphere and romantic-idyllic. But then there are times where the soundtrack is just blasting at you like the Inception-horns. There’s this moment in the second episode when Tokaku basically leaves Ichinose alone because she has invited another classmate to their room to drink tea and it switches to this very short montage of Tokaku working out alone on a sports-field with this very drum-heavy soundtrack going on in the background as if she were preparing for a fight or something. And the music then abruptly ends once it switches back to Ichinose and the classmate drinking tea. What the hell did go through the director’s head to do that?! Also, already ignoring how stupid of an idea the Black Class is… “Okay, there’s this girl that we want to kill but she doesn’t have finished school… therefore put her in a school where she can finish school but fill her class with assassins! Two birds with one stone! Hooray for education! And no guys of course because eww, guys, right?” … so, ignoring THAT, there’s this weird decision made among the assassins to take turns at planning to murder Ichinose. And naturally the killer has to announce to Ichinose when her turn to try comes. First, there’s this bullshit-reason for why the outside-world doesn’t seem to be involved with anything that’s happening in Black Class and now any chaos or constant danger that could’ve made this scenario even a little bit interesting is taken away? That’s just bad writing, plain and simple. All these weird, convoluted rules are just ways for the writer to take possibilities away and streamline the plot so that it’s easier to write. For a moment at the beginning I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen when a bunch of psychopaths had to kill this girl but only one of them could be successful. So it would create this interesting dynamic where even the most evil psychopath not only had to try to kill the girl but also had to stop others from killing her before that. And Tokaku would be the only one who only tries to protect Ichinose but she would still have to blend in with the other assassins in trying to take Ichinose’s life or otherwise she would be killed (another plot-convenient rule simply allows Tokaku to act as a protector instead of being another assassin as originally intended). It’s not only that those plot-convenient excuses seem to solely exist for the benefit of limiting the scope of the plot and simplifying it but it’s also the way tension becomes such an overt affair that any danger becomes immediately apparent when introduced and artificially forced as it’s rather obvious to see “behind the curtain” of the writing-process there.
As for the actual events in those first three episodes… The first two episodes acted as a sort-of prologue but the third episode gave the first taste how the episodic killing-attempts are probably going to look like. And boy… that certainly was one hell of a bonkers-killing-attempt. First of all, it seems to me that it should be rather hard to hold onto your belief to want to befriend everyone in class despite the fact that they all try to kill you and that one of them actually has sent you a creepy note proclaiming said intention. Also… I have no idea why she doesn’t tell Tokaku about this. The actual plan of how the first girl plans to kill Ichinose naturally is complete nonsense and I think only a character so naïve that it borders on stupidity would fall victim to such a stupid plot. Well, Tokaku is also to blame for endangering Ichinose for the second time during that many attempts on her life by just leaving her alone for no real reason. Tokaku isn’t very good at protecting Ichinose actually is what I’m saying. It’s a miracle Ichinose isn’t already dead (well, her supernatural, inexplicable resistance to drugs certainly was one, I would say). But hey, at least Tokaku and Ichinose both have flashback-worthy pasts so they must be good people.
Akuma no Riddle’s plot is so gimmicky and streamlined that it barely offers anything interesting in terms of story. The characters are mired in a multitude of bland and stereotypical concepts and there’s barely any effort made to make them distinctive or give them any depth. The attempts at drama are fairly straightforward and mostly predictable which is for a series such as this the biggest sin it could commit. More than actually doing something wrong it seems more like this series was actively avoiding doing anything challenging that could result in a series worth watching.
Episode-Rating: 1st Episode: 5/10 2nd Episode: 4/10 3rd Episode: 4/10
- Those of you who have never read any of Ann Nocenti‘s comics before… good for you! I’m serious… I’m sure she’s a fine person but she writes some of the most horrible comics out there. Her series Katana (which was cancelled after 10 issues) which had a female samurai-superhero as main-character had great lines like “Women are weak from centuries of doubt and humiliation.” and has great moments like when a male opponent grabs her during a battle she suddenly screams “No! I hate you!”. It’s always a bizarre experience to read Ann Nocenti’s work without anyone ever thinking how bad her comics are.
- This series is based on a manga-series… that is still ongoing. If you haven’t decided to drop this series, be prepared for one of those infamous “anime-original endings”. Considering that nothing about this series screams “quality” I don’t really want to imagine what kind of ending they come up with for it.