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Akuma no Riddle Halftime Report

May 19, 2014
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akumaBad people doing bad things to each other. Killers killing killers. The scum of the earth clawing and scratching at each other, doing their best to escape from this terrestrial hell and failing in the process. I love this sort of shit– morally repugnant characters facing off with one another in metaphoric gladiator combat, fighting for the amusement of the audience who believes itself to be morally superior. They bloody themselves so that our hands need not be. We get to feel rotten without being rotten.

At its halfway point, Akuma no Riddle makes me feel that rotten. I kinda love it.

You have a classroom filled with assassins, murderers, serial killers, and the like. They all just happen to be teenage girls, each one fulfilling some character type on that Platonic archetype checklist imbedded in the global otaku subconscious. They’re in this class for one reason: to murder one of their fellow classmates. Whoever kills the mark will have their wishes fulfilled. Everyone else is “expelled,” whatever that means. The catch is that one of these killers decides to defect. She’s going to protect the mark. The horrible people behind the scenes of this game are cool with this, and so goes the story.

A lot of what’s making this thing work is on the structural level. The first two episodes are all about setting the mood of the thing. We have a lot of what you’d expect from an anime with an all-female cast. There’s some wacky school stuff and talk of friendship and moments for each character to briefly establish their archetype. It’s a whole lot of nothing to be honest, but all of that nothing is undercut by a hell of a lot of seething tension between the characters. They may be playing nice and feigning a high school life, but they’re also sizing up one another. They do little things to measure someone’s reflexes and awareness. They push boundaries and effectively determine power levels. It’s as banal as all gets out, yet that banality is turned into passive aggressive nastiness. It probably didn’t have to last two entire episodes, but I think it works pretty well.

After that, the thing turns into a monster of the week show. Y’all know me. I think this is a pretty legit format when utilized right. Akuma no Riddle uses it right. Each episode has the assassin of the week deliver her warning. Said assassin now has 48 hours to do the deed or she looses and is expelled from the school. During that time we kinda get to know each of these characters. We get to know their assassination gimmick and we get to know something about their personal lives that contextualizes why they do what they do. There’s some manner of showdown, and in the end the assassination is thwarted.

This formula ends up working because each iteration plays out in a completely different way. The first assassin is a serial killer who seems to only find real pleasure in torturing and murdering people. She’s in it for the sheer joy of things, and she wants her prize to be a clean slate. She wants the authorities off her back permanently, so she can kill freely without any consequence. She also cleverly utilizes the mark’s good nature against her. The mark has already been befriended by one of the would-be assassins, and she’s hoping that everyone can come to the same conclusion. So yeah, the serial killer girl pretends to be friends with her in order to get close enough to strike. It all plays out as you’d expect– the mark comes close to being tortured but is saved before any real harm can be done. I do think the series is pretty smart to start with this sort of character. You get the obligatory “kills for fun” character out-of-the-way. That sort of character has the least to bring to the formula, so you may as well start there and go up.

Each subsequent assassin does a pretty good job of answering questions we as the audience would raise in this sort of thing. Why don’t you just blow the girl up and get it over with? The second assassin tries just that. Why do these characters deliver the announcement and then wait to strike? The third one hands the mark her card and then immediately goes for her throat. Are the assassins willing to take each other out if one of them gets in their way? We’ve already seen it once and it may happen again. If one of the assassins was willing to switch sides and protect the mark, is there anyone else here with an agenda separate from this game? Yep. Not everyone is here to kill an innocent person and reap the rewards. Updatedude pointed out that trend to me, and that shows that whoever is writing this thing is thinking ahead of the audience. They know we’ll ask these sorts of questions, and several of them get answered right around the time we’d be asking them.

And each of these assassins does a good job of not overlapping with one another. The one who tries to blow shit up was an orphan raised in some super assassin church where the nuns and priests taught little kids how to make bombs and who knows what else. The catch is that she sucked at it and ended up accidentally killing the only person who seemed to care about her. She’s here as a way to get a permanent out from the only world she’s ever known. The next girl does it as a part-time job to help get money for her rather large family. She doesn’t seem to like what she’s doing, but it seems to be the only thing she’s good at. She’s all too aware of this and tries to off herself at the same time as she tries to off the mark. She sees it death as the only real out for any of them, and they might as well die together and finally escape from this wretched life.

Things get progressively crazier from there. One of the assassins gets offed before she can reveal her gimmick or story. She gets in the way of the little girl who uses a poison gun hidden in her stuffed animal. Said little girl happens to be best friends with this typical stoic tomboyish girl. They have one of those “are they just friends or is there something more” sort of relationships you see in a lot of this stuff. And of course these two are fated to kill one another, since the little girl assassinated the daughter of the stoic girl’s boss. Stoic girl is there to find and kill the assassin out or revenge. Their whole spiel plays out while the class is putting on a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and once things play out they kill one another on-stage and in character. Their story is the best sort of high melodrama shoujo shit that we don’t see much nowadays, and it may be the best anime episode I’ve seen this year.

All of that is nearly topped when the next girl turns out to be a literal immortal suffering from “Highlander Syndrome” who wants the means to grow old and die naturally. What’s awesome about this is how everyone just shrugs and acts as if this sort of thing is perfectly normal in their world. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that. It must be great to be immortal!” Up until this point the series had been relatively grounded, but this is out-and-out supernatural shit going on here. It’s introduced in such a nonchalant way that makes it seem as if we should have expected it just as much as the characters. And since that isn’t enough of a shtick, said immortal girl has her scenario play out as a game. She straps an explosive necklace onto the mark’s neck, and she and her protector have to play a game of riddles and stuff to find the PIN to turn off the explosive. It’s almost like something out of Kaiji, where this ancient, out of touch noble toys with someone below her stature. Despite her talk of being physically weak, she could have easily killed the mark without giving her a chance like this. You gotta wonder how many people she’s put through such a similar scenario. Given her advanced age, she probably has an entire series worth of gamed murders we’ll never see.

But damn, she was my favorite of the Akumas. Up until this episode all she talked about was what expensive bath salts she was gonna use that night. That’s character development, people.

And that’s where we are. Halfway through this murderfest. I’m really digging this show. It’s nasty. It’s creative in its attempted kills. It’s kinda funny, especially with the antics of the arbitrator girl– the one in contact with the peeps running the show. It’s almost as if she’s intentionally trying to bring levity to the situation by cracking a joke about choosing a diver’s swimsuit during the pool episode because she wants the “bondage look” and stuff like that. And given the reaction the serial killer girl had when she tried to attack the arbiter girl and clearly failed, I think there’s something up with her.

Updatedude and I have our money on her being a robot. Hey, if we can have Highlanders, we can have robots too. Maybe this is the same universe as Highlander 2: The Quickening.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2014 11:47 PM

    No, YOU have money on her being a robot, which Highlander Girl sort of indicates can be a possibility. Since she acts like Nyarlko, I’m gonna say she’s a Deep One.

    It’s probably not a big ol’ scar, since the seriel killer is used to those. And the last ep sort of indicates she’s not a he. So either her chest is eyeballs and mouths, or yeah, robot.

    With presumably 6 episodes to go and seemingly 3 active killers, looks like the ending might be somewhat drawn out.

    • May 20, 2014 12:05 AM

      Maybe this whole “game” will be ditched after the last akuma is expelled, so in the last few episodes they go after Haru personally. She and Tokaku would go on the run forever and stuff. Or maybe Haru will HAVE to be sacrificed in order to save the world by satiating the lustful hunger of some eldritch abomination asslords. This might make me look stupid for stating the obvious, but I also get the feeling that the homeroom teacher dude is that guy who sends those riddle texts. But I can easily see him being a normal dude or something like that.

      Also, I liked that underwater kiss/air transference thing.

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