Akuma no Riddle – 05/06 Review
Yeah, schools are pretty funny that way, I guess…
What if it’s all a big allegory for life at an elite-all-girls-school? Life at home sucks, you’re forced to be in that weird school and you’re peer-pressured into bullying some innocent girl because she’s uncool. And the only girl protecting the uncool girl is too cool for normal life as one day she accidentally lands in the middle of another bullying-attempt so the cool girl is like “Guess I gotta do this shit now…” and with that she becomes the uncool girl’s protector. Also, it turns out cool girl wants to fuck the uncool girl because she has weird daddy-issues (well, I assume that’s what’s going on in this series… anything else would be too romantic for what this series is doing). And the teacher is young, energetic and – male… which makes him completely clueless in regards to the deadly world girls live in. That’s what’s going on, I think… and it all leads to a massacre. I’ve seen Carrie, I know what shit girls are capable of. Haru definitely develops telekinetic abilities in the final episode and murders everyone! All in all, a pretty sound allegory for school-life, isn’t it?
So I guess nobody works for free is the morale of this series, isn’t it? Turns out every mushroom and his snail are forced to be in this Black Class to kill Ms. Potatohead. Oh, did I say mushroom and snail? I meant of course: every assassin and his weapon-arsenal. Because you know what you need for graduation: Weapons. Lots of them. School is a shitty place to be… A lot of tension with few places to go but to be unloaded on other people. But this series somehow never questions the wisdom of showing weird girls who unload their tension via lethal means.
Really, it’s not the notion of trying to kill somebody you should be concerned about, no, it’s of course all about helping the potential killer coming to terms with the fact that she tried to kill somebody. Hey, I mean, how often do you walk into a room in your house and for a moment you go “Huh, why did I go here again?”. Trying to kill somebody is just like that! And the whole realization-process… it all happens SO fast, it makes you wonder: Could it be that killing another person wasn’t really the best choice to begin with? What a bold moralistic stance this series takes!
It’s like they first hook those girls with the cure for puppy-cancer (or whatever those girls desperately need) to join the Black Class and make them promise to kill another girl… and then all of a sudden the killer-to-be-girl tries to kill the girl, fails and she’s like “Man, I suck at this… Besides I really don’t wanna do this, now that I think about it.” And that’s when victim-girl can naturally forgive the former killer-to-be-girl. Because you know how a killer earns forgiveness: By being terrible at killing. Akuma no Riddle: Always tackling the big questions when it comes to killer-psychology.
You think that’s all there is to this series? Oh no, the sixth episode has found a really Shakespearan way to deal with this very deep problem. In a romantic twist that makes furry-porn sound like the most sound romance imaginable the daughter of the teacher of one of the killer-girls is killed by Angel Trumpet so the killer-girl who’s the student of the teacher whose daughter got murdered is trying to find Angel Trumpet but seemingly randomly this killer of the daughter of the teacher of the other killer-girl falls in love with that student of the teacher whose daughter got murdered by her and that killer-girl whose teacher had a daughter that got murdered by Angel Trumpet actually feels the same way about the killer of that daughter whose father is the teacher of that other killer-girl… They aren’t supposed to be in love, okay! That’s all there is to it! So it makes TOTAL sense that those two are seizing the chance to star in a Romeo-Juliet play so that they can kill each other because… talking isn’t dramatic enough, I guess…? Usually a doomed romance doesn’t immediately jump straight to the suicide-phase when these kinds of revelations are involved… I mean, it’s not like you go “Hey, I love you and you love me… but huh, guess we shouldn’t be together. So let’s kill each other, okay?”. Really, there was no confrontation, just confusion, acceptance and then it’s already suicidal depression. Not even Shakespeare dared to shorten character-arcs THAT much for dramatic purposes…
I really wanna know what goes through someone’s head who sees someone killed and then convinces him- or herself that it didn’t really happen. Someone was stabbed for fuck’s sake! And there was blood! How the hell do you convince yourself that a school-production could fake that on a stage…?!
What does this series actually want to accomplish by having Tokaku protect Ms. Potatohead? After six episodes this series still keeps very silent on this matter. There doesn’t seem to be any tangible motivation behind the major conceit of this series’ plot. There are hints, flashbacks, foreshadowing – and nothing. There’s a lot of nothing in the way Tokaku’s and Haru’s relationship is portrayed.
This nothing, though, mostly results out of the series unwillingness to actually show change. There’s no discernable arc for the two-main-characters instead of the repetition and the fighting for survival shown in every episode so far. And strangely it’s obvious that the series does want to say something about that relationship – but it’s treated like a great, big secret. A secret that has to stay a secret until the finale, it feels like. But this secret is actually so essential to the way this relationship works that all we got so far is a dull relationship. Instead of showing how they change during the course of the series, their actual mindset seems to have become some sort of dramatic focus-point the plot is aiming for instead of starting from.
The secret isn’t really the problem here, though. The far more important issue is that there’s literally nothing to build upon for that eventual reveal. Ms. Potatohead is a very obvious mouthpiece for a fluffy worldview that Tokaku is supposed to protect. And that point of view is all about the question of forgiveness it seems. In Haru’s mind apparently feeling bad about a past sin already gives you a chance for forgiveness. A more traditional point of view would ask for some action of atonement to make one worthy of forgiveness but in this case Haru apparently is forgiving everybody just for feeling sorry about the whole thing. It sounds incredibly naïve and also seems entirely unbelievable when you put it into the context of Haru being the target of assassinations. Those people who try to kill her are all good people in her eyes and Tokaku’s typical cold attitude really never turns this into a discussion about what exactly that makes her now that she’s protecting Haru.
Tokaku’s reasons for protecting Haru are quite flimsy anyway. She never seems noble enough to be in the business of selflessly protecting Haru. Rather, there’s some sort of agenda behind her actions but again, her characterization is just SO rigid that the series offers no real view behind the curtain of her emotionless exterior. The fifth episode had a short flashback at the beginning and Haru made a very meager attempt to investigate Tokaku’s background but Tokaku immediately stopped that discussion. There’s just too much unnecessary obfuscation going on! How am I supposed to give a shit about a character who’s almost the entire time a dick towards the girl she’s protecting. Granted Tokaku’s grumpy all-business attitude is one of those stupid stereotypes a cheap macho action-show would use to create some sort of anti-hero. But like in these shows that type of shtick doesn’t make the character seem cool. There’s nothing cool about not being nice and just giving curt commands with the expectation of them being obeyed. Even if such a character at least qualifies in the worth-rooting-for-department by being able to kick bad-guy-asses, the character still needs to have a discernable motivation instead of just repeating some sort of tiresome spiel. And it wouldn’t be so bad if the plot would at least offer some momentum to not make you think about this. But Akuma no Riddle’s story has already jumped through SO many weird, questionable hoops to set the stage that there really is no place for lengthening that moment of confusion by purposefully hiding the motivation of characters in the story. If I’m already questioning why exactly Haru would get an education financed by the people who want to kill her and why her school is then turned into some sort of death-trap, then I really need to be sure about what the two main-characters are doing in this setting and why they are doing this. Because that is supposed to be the momentum of this show: Haru being the target of assassins but not really giving a shit and Tokaku trying to fuck her… and protect her… Not necessarily in that order but you get the point. That’s the basic formula for all the shit happening in these episodes but after six episodes it’s still unclear why those two do this – instead of something else. What has Haru’s idea of forgiveness to do with her Ms. Potatohead-spiel and why does Tokaku feel the need to protect Haru (excluding the obvious reasons of wanting to fuck her naturally). The series never seems to give a shit about doing anything but creating this weird shallow façade.
They really fucked up the sound-direction in this scene because when this sword clashes with the other fake-sword there shouldn’t be any sounds of metal clashing for, what I think, should be obvious reasons.
And in the same way the series doesn’t commit to telling Tokaku’s and Haru’s story, the series never takes the proper amount of time to tell the stories of the assassins trying to kill Haru. Pacing is a big problem in this series as there are way too many scenes concerned with playing around. There’s an unnecessary amount of talking about things that are about to happen, have happened or are just plain obvious and it’s all done in a style that wastes time with platitudes and badly-written wittiness. Also, this show really doesn’t seem to care about making anyone the straight guy so there’s no one around who can be the voice of reason or that can push a dialogue to cut to the chase. Akuma no Riddle just never seems to write dialogues in a way that actually works on more levels than the obvious one the characters are talking about. It gets worse when for example Tokaku the grumpy all-business protector just mostly complains to Haru about her behavior – while following her around and not really stopping her from doing anything foolish. Tokaku mostly just restates the obvious or gives these admonishing speeches to Haru about her foolish behavior. But nothing of it actually has consequences or leads to anything in the plot! It’s like a fucking Groundhog-Day-plot-structure the way they both play a certain role that results in the same sort of dynamic each episode! Each episode had a portion where Haru would drive the plot forward with her stupid gleeful behavior until the assassination would happen and that’s when Tokaku with her ninja-skills would drive the plot to its conclusion by besting the assassin. And in that formulaic framework of pretentious bullshit and repetition the series also attempts to sell the personal stories of those assassins.
No episode of Akuma no Riddle so far made me give a shit about those assassins that disappeared/died/moved away/got ill etc. etc. at the end of it. You might argue that these backstories do an okay job of explaining why these girls are in the Black Class, but seriously this point doesn’t even matter. There just isn’t enough time to give these assassins a compelling backstory. And still being as pretentious as this series always is the series naturally always fails in getting straight to the point. Even worse it’s hard to see any sort of real thematic connection to the main-story. The relationship between Tokaku and Haru is pretty much its own story unconnected to all those little background-stories of the assassins. These background-stories are just melodramatic flourish for why these killers are in the Black Class. There’s no consequence to their actions and their failure. They just appear, try to kill Ms. Potatohead, get stopped, tell their bit about why life sucks and then disappear. There’s no real reason for who appears when or for what their backstory is. And having only one episode to give me a reason to give a shit doesn’t help either. I mean, the backstory of the two assassins in the sixth episode and the actions that resulted out of it were pretty much its own thing and Tokaku and Haru seemed strangely marginal to the events unfolding in that episode. With that level of dissonance it’s hard to even see the point of why this series follows this structure to begin with when it’s more or less just a distraction from… something. I don’t know, whoever wrote this probably hadn’t figured out the whole story when he or she started writing. Lacking any sort of serious direction or focus there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for why anything is happening to anyone at a certain point. Instead the series just creates sentimental backstories for those assassins and throws it at the audience without any objective story-wise, it feels like.
These two episodes really only slightly acknowledge the existence of a story. But occasionally there are these little snippets of a thematic metaphor or dialogue that actually has some meaning beyond the blatantly obvious. For example the assassin-of-the-day in the fifth episode talks to Tokaku about whether they shouldn’t someone like Haru just put out of her misery. And then she adds that nobody in the Black Class is there because they want to. Also, the riddle of that episode was how you free a caged bird (another thing that should play a far bigger role than it does, especially considering that it’s the title of the show). And Tokaku is about to reply “Kill” at the end of the episode but then deletes the answer. Now, the obvious analogue to the caged bird in question is Haru of course but then again everyone in that Black Class is in a cage if you think about it. Nobody’s there by choice and it really seems Tokaku thinks death is the best way to end such misery. Maybe it has something to do with her past, maybe it has something to do with Haru’s idea of forgiveness, I really don’t know. And I don’t know because this series doesn’t really give a shit about telling a story. It’s all about appearances and throwing sentimental shit at the audience in the hope of distracting from the fact that there isn’t anything interesting happening.
The 5th and 6th episode make for a somewhat more bearable watching experience with their respective assassin-stories being a little bit better than previous offerings. But due to the fact that the main-story is still as one-note as ever and that it shows no signs of thematic progress, it’s getting increasingly hard to care about anything that happens in this series. At this point despite the overly dramatic flair of this show the story is shallow when it tries to create empathy and it’s witless when it tries to make a point.
Episodes-Rating: 5th Episode 4.5/10 6th Episode: 4.5/10
- I would really like to say that this is campy enough to be fun… and it IS kinda stupid, no question about it… but there really isn’t enough crazy shit going on to call this a good-bad series (to borrow a rating from the Flophouse podcast). In fact there isn’t really that much happening, period. Maybe it will turn into one but for now it’s merely a bit weird and very flawed.
- So after Tokaku thinking that killing can free a caged bird and this weird allegory in the Romeo & Juliet play for giving Tokaku and Haru roles where Tokaku has to kill Haru… I guess the finale will be Tokaku deciding to try killing Haru after all for whatever reason.
- And Tokaku has daddy-issues. Seriously, all this alpha-behavior when it comes to Haru has to come from somewhere, right?