Akuma no Riddle – 09 Review
So whoever sees her strength will say the opposite of the blatantly obvious? That’s some strength this Tokaku is supposed to have…
I would really like to know how the author of the manga-series would describe the kind of story she has produced with this. Even putting all the usual anime-stereotypes aside, this series just can be SO stupid at times. And it’s not even very self-aware about it, the story just keeps a straight face when one of the girls destroys a room with a big-ass hammer as if it’s the easiest thing ever and the story doesn’t even flinch when one of the girls just throws another girl across the room as if she weighs nothing. Just a little bit more craziness and this series would actually be campy enough to become somewhat entertaining.
Hallways whose doors lead to rooms like cages with windows looking on other windows behind which are just more cages. Schools can be like that – if you ignore the stairs. And that everybody does as the tense game of cat and mouse continues. Ms. Potatohead fleeing from the insane rage of a psychopath and Tokaku facing the disdain of Isuke who sees killing as a better pasttime than… not-killing, I guess.
Tables are turned time and again as entrapped in that maze of one floor in a school-building as the characters are. So they all have to endlessly run in circles but then…!
In a moment of weakness Tokaku falls through the glass of a window and lands hard on a conveniently placed tree but her head is hurt which means… FLASHBACK-TIME! All the unholy mojo of plot-convenient amnesia undone Tokaku finally realizes that all those adults, whether nice, evil, alive or dead just can go fuck themselves. From now on she’s gonna do this shit called life her way. And thanks to that enlightening train of thought Tokaku is easily able to beat the shit out of Isuke. But she chooses not to kill her – not because her sentimental, naggy aunt told her so but because this whole thing is her fucking show now.
Great move, aunt of Tokaku! Why even bother explaining the value of human life to a kid when you might as well brainwash the kid with the help of an inconvenient-flashbacks-syndrome?!
There’s a scene in this episode where Banba, while cackling crazily, is tearing down doors in a public toilet with a giant hammer while Ms. Potatohead is hiding in the closet for cleaning-tools listening to her killer coming closer. And finally there’s only the door for the closet left and Banba raises the hammer – when Ms. Potatohead suddenly opens the door and hits Banba right in the face, while dashing past her. I think that scene really highlights how this episode basically plays out: There’s a lot of tension and danger is looming over everything Ms. Potatohead and Tokaku do, they act like they’re trapped and can’t escape from being hunted down again and again… but then the tension always gets released for a moment – due to blatant silliness storytelling-wise. This and the last episode may have been the best episodes of the series so far but it’s also clear that there’s a lot of silliness that doesn’t need to be there. The same way the rules for the Black Class kinda arbitrarily streamlined a situation that right from the beginning should’ve been as tense and chaotic as this episode has been, every tense situation in this episode is resolved by a silly moment that pushes the immediate danger away. A lot of scenes are set up as dangerous, only to be resolved by a rather convenient twist. For example, this episode does the whole “seeing the killer in a reflection before he strikes a character from behind”-shtick twice.
What is weird, though, is the fact that this episode and the last one really handled the backstories of the assassins way better than the previous ones. There aren’t any overlong flashback-scenes that offer the audience some convoluted origin-story for why the girl is in the Black Class. The short flashes of Banba as a younger girl being in some sort of cell being photographed by some freaky doctor may not have told a very comprehensive story but these glimpses are more than enough to make the audience understand what the character is about. Characters like Banba who are completely crazy don’t need to be explained. Humans are normally fairly reasonable and there are cultural norms and laws that establish those but a psychopath done right is showing what happens when a human doesn’t confirm to these rules. Banba wanted nothing for the trouble of killing Ms. Potatohead which just emphasizes this sense of chaos and unpredictability that should come with a psychopath-character.
Meanwhile, the other girl Isuke is all about professionalism. She’s an actual assassin and that’s why she originally thought of Tokaku as a sort of competitor because she thought of her also as an assassin. But being this professional assassin she soon realized that Tokaku actually isn’t a fellow-assassin. And there’s this sense of superiority in her character when she talks to Tokaku about her inability to kill someone because for her the ability to kill someone is clearly a sign of power. It’s really important to note here that just knowing her to be a professional assassin and the way she acted towards Tokaku has delivered way more characterization than showing a phonecall to her parents who are also assassins. While a backstory helps the audience to emphasize with a character, it’s not as relevant to the drama of the series as clarifying the conflicts between the characters in the story. Drama is all about conflict and why understanding the motivation of the characters is important, it really is only important for the main-characters. For the rest of the cast it’s more important to establish the conflict between them and the main-character while indirectly characterizing both sides. Not every character on a stage needs to tell his life-story to matter to the story.
I would feel bad about calling her Ms. Potatohead… if it weren’t for moments like these. Why the hell would anyone throw their phone first?! Especially when there’s a ton of other stuff around to throw?!
Naturally Tokaku saves the day in the end and it’s all tied to her big moment of truth as she finally remembers her past. There’s a lot of silliness involved with this sequence and the psychology involved isn’t even farfetched but rather becomes a form of magic (it’s ASSASSIN-PSYCHO-MOJO… I assume, that’s, uhm, a thing). Suitably there’s a lot of talk about curses and the way the aunt talks about Tokaku forgetting the oath she had to swear while still being forced to keep it, it all reeks of magic. But this whole sequence certainly proved why I complained about the glimpses we’ve seen of the “shrine” starting with the very first episode of the show. If you want the audience to care about a character – don’t hide his motivation from the audience! It seems especially ironic in this case because the flashback heavily implies that even though her aunt seemed to be a positive, lasting influence on Tokaku, she’s still left traumatized somewhat by what had happened. So, these flashbacks deliver the information of what a burden Tokaku’s past has been for her – and a few minutes later we’re already supposed to cheer for her getting over her fucking past! That’s the most idiotic kind of character-development imaginable. One moment the story finally reveals why a character acts like he does – and in the very next moment the story already shows the character deciding to change himself. There’s of course that silly element attached to it as well where some sort of amnesia-spell is attached to the whole situation surrounding the oath that forces Tokaku not to kill.
And I’m not even gonna question how a hit on the head made Tokaku remember exactly but the point is: Upon remembering what happened and why it happened – Tokaku becomes an adult. Yep, well… not in a sexual sense… then again, maybe, if you’re inclined to interpret the fact of her being naked that way when she decided to become an adult. There’s definitely a certain coming-of-age element to her turning away from the oath her aunt forced her to keep and making now decisions for herself. And I assume she was also training to become an assassin while probably keeping her inability to kill a secret so she was also keeping the oath her grandmother put on her to become an assassin. And as a coming-of-age-story the interesting part is that when Tokaku decided to take responsibility for her own actions she not only turned away from the career as an assassin that her evil grandmother forced upon her but she also turned away from this noble oath to not kill forced upon her by her aunt. Two things to note in this case: One, this series seems to think that the freedom of choice is more important than doing the right thing, you wanting to do something is more important than doing the right thing on principle. Two, the reason why Tokaku is burdened by her past is because all the adults in her childhood forced her to be a certain way. Ultimately it implies that only you yourself can know what you should do because it’s what you want to do. A rather egoistic interpretation of growing up, I would say, but okay…
Again, I just can repeat how baffled I am by the decision to keep this whole stuff bottled up so that it becomes a reveal in this episode. Letting that whole past play out over time during the episodes without Tokaku conveniently forgetting it (but still being influenced by it because of… assassin-psycho-mojo, I guess) would’ve been a much smarter choice. Something simple like letting Ms. Potatohead find Tokaku’s diary without the latter’s knowledge and letting her read through it whenever she finds the time during the episodes. It just needed a simple storytelling-device to create some form of build-up. That kind of “burdened by the past”-thingy and coming-of-age-stuff needs that sort of build-up. It’s a fucking process after all. I don’t think there are teenagers out there because they haven’t found the magical button in their brain that instantly makes them grow the fuck up or something. You can’t just suddenly drop issues like this on the audience, then immediately resolve them and expect the audience to give a shit.
At this point I will have to point something out, though. I’m rather generous with the interpretation of this episode. The thriller-scenes are somewhat enjoyable and the characterization is somewhat okay-ish. But overall, this whole thing is still a very heavy-handed, inelegant affair. Subtlety and complexity are things this show doesn’t even dream about. Instead it goes for cheap thrills, cheesiness and silliness. And if you look closely, this episode has plotholes big enough for a truck to drive through. Comparatively, though, this really was the best episode to date in this series. Considering what this series is doing I hope that things just become even crazier from now on. It will never deliver a respectable story in any regard so why even bother, right?
Continuing the good start of this little arc from last week, the 9th episode even manages to raise the bar quality-wise by the show’s standards. Mostly it’s thanks to the tense atmosphere this episode carried on from the last episode but it also offers a somewhat satisfying emotional payoff. While the reveal of Tokaku’s backstory was ill-timed and suffered from a lack of necessary build-up, it put the character into perspective. Furthermore, it delivered much-needed character-development for that character in terms of expressiveness. Overall, it’s definitely the best episode to date for this series.
- The weird thing about the action-sequences in this episode was that all of a sudden nearly everyone gained superhuman powers. I mean, the fights were silly before but this episode didn’t even pretend that these girls are “just” trained fighters.
- Well, then again, Banba has the worst reflexes imaginable. To be hit by a thrown phone and a door opening… That’s stuff an average person would at least attempt to dodge. But Banba would just stand still in those moments and take the full brunt of the hit… which is just silly.
- And guess nobody explained to any of the characters how stairs work because all the scenes seem to take place on the same floor in the school-building. If it wasn’t supposed to be like this then the director of this episode should be fired immediately for complete incompetence.
- At least Tokaku got more expressive due to he character-development. She still seems way too masculine, though… At this point you could still reveal her to be a man and it wouldn’t seem unreasonable. Her character really is just THAT similar to a bland male protector-stereotype. Creating a strong female character means a bit more than creating a female character that’s essentially a male stereotype.