Akuma no Riddle – 08 Review
I know, right? These days it’s SO hard to make a killing on the job-market… (Ha, assassin-humour!)
The more episodes pass the more I start to wonder: How exactly did they choose those girls? The first ones to go made somewhat sense in regards to why they would be killers and why they needed to kill Ms. Potatohead… but with each new backstory it seems less and less about explaining a motivation instead of simply explaining why these assassin-girls aren’t as bad as you might think they are. Just remember: They apparently didn’t know that one of the girls they chose for this Black Class wasn’t there to actually do what she was supposed to do. And then there was the girl who was somewhat immortal, just being like “Yeah, that shit sounds like fun, I guess… maybe I even get a cure for eternal mopiness out of it…”. They really seemed to just take anyone who had nothing better to do – but if they had it would involve weird shit like killing people for a living.
A storm is coming…
And it’s coming to a place where drama happens because when drama happens a storm always appears out of nowhere! This time around it’s the school where Tokaku and Ms. Potatohead have to fend off assassins because… finding good education can be a real hassle sometimes, I guess. Anyway, turns out there isn’t much of the Black Class left after it turned out most of the supposedly deadly assassins were kind bad at being exactly that. And Tokaku hasn’t really killed one in cold blood so far… so what the hell is she doing in the Black Class anyway?
With the storm appearing things take a turn for the shitty as the last two assassins gang up on Tokaku and Ms. Potatohead.
Well, not when it’s used as shitty symbolism…
Akuma no Riddle doesn’t really seem to care about creating a straightforward structure with its plot. Assassins have been disposed of at an exponential rate leaving only three to kill Ms. Potatohead at this point and there’s a clear overall mystery attached to who actually organized the Black Class and what the point of it all is supposed to be. But with only three left this series finally cashes in on what its premise actually offers in terms of atmosphere and action.
It’s somewhat heavyhanded to let a storm happen at the same time but what this episode did successfully for the first time is establishing the horror of being targeted by a bunch of killers who are all motivated to kill you. The series really never took off due to those weird rules and limitations it set up in the first episode. There just wasn’t any chaos and this nonsense really peeked last week with the riddle-game at the pool, a scenario that barely had any real tension to offer – despite the high stakes of Ms. Potatohead’s survival. And the backstories of the assassins have never added anything but a little bit of tepid drama to the whole situation. Due to the episodic structure of these murder-attempts, any action or drama just appeared in short spurts and character-wise there’s a clear lack of development or exploration at this point. The assassins get a background-story to make them sympathetic – but also to see them go away once their story is told and their attempt foiled. This way the series never seemed to take the time to build up to something instead of simply shoving it into the audience’s face when it wanted to deliver a story-bit.
But with this episode there’s actual chaos for the first time. Setting aside the whole assassination-part this is a story about a bunch of people desperately wanting something from one person and only one of them can get the thing she desires. As I’ve said in my first review of this show these assassins shouldn’t just try to kill Ms. Potatohead, they should try to keep the other assassins from doing so first. And this episode may not follow this approach but by making one of the assassins only being interested in killing for some reason, a sort of surprising alliance is created and two people attack Tokaku and Ms. Potatohead at the same time. There’s a real horror to this situation of not knowing who is gonna attack them and then realizing from how many directions danger looms. And instead of any idiotic, elaborate traps that are just bound to fail the two assassins in this episode attack Tokaku and Ms. Potatohead head-on.
It took way too long to get into that sort of situation, though and even worse: The time to get there wasn’t spent wisely. In fact the series made a bit of a gamble by focusing more on the assassins whose turn it was to try their hand at, well, assassinating. But the gamble definitely didn’t pay off as the characters explored in the last few episodes are those who aren’t present anymore and those who remain are left rather unexplored. And it’s especially bad in the case of Tokaku who apparently really has a bit of an identity-crisis but since the series wants to say jack-shit about her past or explore her character in any other meaningful way, her characters seems quite inconsistent. At no point do I have an idea whether Tokaku will just abandon Ms. Potatohead, obsessively sacrifice herself to protect her or just be a sane bodyguard for once. It’s never clear what kind of behavior Tokaku will show towards Ms. Potatohead and it really seems kinda spontaneous how practically everything could become a trigger to change this behavior in some way. Tokaku’s behavior is just completely crazy sometimes like in this episode when she has a somewhat loaded conversation with Ms. Potatohead in a hallway on the way back to their rooms. And at some point Tokaku just gives a curt reply, turns her back on Ms. Potatohead and walks away – despite the fact that they are, of course, both headed for the same room! She literally cannot walk away from this conversation and that Ms. Potatohead wouldn’t be more pressing about it really feels like a missed opportunity for character-development and –exploration.
Uhm, there would be kinda no point in protecting Ms. Potatohead if she weren’t a drag in a fight, you know. Does Tokaku actually understand how being a bodyguard works?
Until now I haven’t really talked about the theme of this series and I have even accused this series of not really having a theme. Well, I guess, it does… It’s just that it’s such a dull obvious one, it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking it’s worth going through all the trouble of writing a series for delivering something like this. This series wants to show off how important the ties between people are. Yeah, no shit, right? Two snails could tell that stupid story. All the backstories of those assassins up to this point were all about them having some personal obligation to do what they’re doing because of their ties to other people. And those ties are mostly based on love in some way. The obvious exceptions are of course Tokaku and Ms. Potatohead who have no one in that regard. And there’s the girl from the second episode who was simply crazy – but nobody gives a shit about her anyway at this point. So, it’s the story of a girl with no one to care about who wants to stay that way and another with no one to care about who simply wants to care about everyone now. There’s a hint of a story worth telling in there but the bad pacing and the wooden characterization makes it nigh impossible for the story not to reach the most obvious conclusion imaginable theme-wise.
Nothing gets more hurt by this lack of characterization and thematic depth than the romance in this series, though. The series makes it quite clear that Tokaku and Ms. Potatohead are supposed to be together but the series has been doing a very shitty job of selling that romance so far. First of all, in many ways this relationship is very atypically portrayed for a yuri-series.
The most important part where yuri-series deviate from heterosexual romance-animes is its portrayal of the search for love. With heterosexual romances there’s often a lot of tension and antagonism going on at first where the love is hidden which goes so far as both or one of the two future lovers expressing dislike towards each other. And even when the guy doesn’t realize who he loves his love has to be earned first. The guy in heterosexual romances always wins over the girl first to make her love him or express the love that’s already there. While all the lampshading-jokes about likening these heterosexual romances to what happens in Visual Novels and Dating Sims may be tiresome they do hold true in the way the guy in these relationships always actively works towards finding that love in a linear fashion. And the girls, no matter how active, always accept the choice of the guy. Well, yuri-romances are far more introspective in that regard as most of the girl-pairings are friends from the start or at least support each other (maybe even without the other one knowing). In this amicable relationship then comes the realization of the girls that they are in love with the other girl. And that process of introspective questioning leads to an expression of confusion which is where most of the romance-drama in yuri-series comes from. But the question of it being love doesn’t come as a surprise to yuri-characters as it does to the guys in heterosexual romances. In heterosexual romance-animes the existence of love often changes the interpersonal dynamic of the lovers completely as if before acknowledging that love, it hadn’t been a part of their relationship. Meanwhile the yuri-characters’ love just mostly puts things in perspective that were already there with the romantic aspect mostly just solidifying the already existent amicable relationship.
So, it is somewhat strange to look then at Tokaku’s relationship with Ms. Potatohead and see a yuri-romance there. On one hand the only thing needed for that relationship to become romantic is them both realizing that it’s love but on the other hand due to the plot Tokaku is protecting Ms. Potatohead while also making a point of reminding Ms. Potatohead that she isn’t useful to her. That’s such a power-obsessed perspective on relationships that Tokaku responds to Ms. Potatohead’s affections by saying “Well, what do I get from this?”. And this kind of test really sounds like something you would see in some macho-action-story where the tough, stone-hearted hero-guy has to be convinced by the passionate woman that he needs her despite her not being a tough fighter like him. Of all the heterosexual romance tropes this story could borrow, it has chosen THIS…? Why? Not only that the execution is flawed, the kind of romance is kinda terrible as well with its overt power-dynamics.
While delivering a good action-laden episode the series is still far away from telling a compelling story. Due to never having invested any time in fleshing out the main-characters the drama remains a wooden and inelegant affair leaving the tension to feel somewhat tepid.
- Once more Ms. Potatohead’s life is put in danger due to Tokaku just throwing a fit and leaving her alone. This makes that… what? The sixth time in eight episodes for that to happen? Tokaku is even worse at protecting people as she is at killing them…
- There were some ominous meta-plot-scenes in this one… Is this series pretentious enough to set up a BIG PLOTTWIST NOBODY IS SUPPOSED TO SEE COMING?! Well, I’m okay with it, the crazier the better!
- As for an actual good Yuri-series, how about “Girl Friends” from Miruku Morinaga. That one at least doesn’t believe a love between two girls means turning one of them into a stoic testosterone-powerhouse.