This is review number two hundred and ninety eight. This anime is part of the Spring 2014 lineup. I’m ending the year watching only two lineups. Isn’t that miserable? I am actually glad I fell out of the seasonal cycle so I don’t have any more pressure on myself to churn out reviews. I’ll take my sweet time even if my viewership dies down. Anyways, I’ll be reviewing Akuma no Riddle. It’s a twelve episode anime about a bunch of girls taking way too many baths and also trying to kill one of their classmates. This is a decent anime but I really had a hard time finishing it. The main reason is because the whole thing sucks but that’s just me. Let’s read on.
Myoujou Academy is a private school for girls. On the special Class Black section of the school, thirteen girls gather. Twelve of them are trained assassins who gathered to kill the same target. Tokaku Azuma is from a renowned family who came into the school unaware of the situation. After learning that twelve girls are going to kill one poor girl, Tokaku decided to change the play of the game. She will protect the target rather than kill her. It’s going to be a tall order for her because the eleven assassins tasked to kill her are all doing it for one wish. It is one wish that will be granted, no matter how absurd, and all the girls are going to make sure their target is dead before she graduates.
Taking the Pants Off
Akuma no Riddle has a really wonderful premise. It features thirteen girls out to kill each other. The awesome collection of characters with their own preferred method of killing trying to kill this one suspiciously vulnerable girl had me really excited. Each character also had a nice background story to tell so there is a lot of interesting things to expect in the anime. To top it off, it has a lot of shoujo ai elements to it as you see different pairs get a little bit frisky from time to time. Akuma no Riddle feels like an amazing show just by the initial premise presented. Something in the equation did not work for the show though. Upon learning of their target, a rule was created to make it fair to the handicapped participant. That’s fine. It just means that the action will be evenly presented in each episode. The problem is that once the girls fail at defeating the target, they’ll have to leave the class. I don’t really know why I hated that bit so much but it completely derailed the anime for me. Knowing that the collection of awesome killers will eventually dwindle down somehow restricted the show to doing something epic. My otaku gut was immediately telling me that this show is going to be bad. It’s ridiculous, right? I was somehow turned off by just one small part of the story. Please understand though, I’ve seen this format done before from two other shows. Danganronpa and Mirai Nikki also had the same structure of a bunch of characters trying to kill each other. In the two shows, characters are actually killed off though. This gave us the satisfying exit of even the most one dimensional character. Akuma no Riddle didn’t have that. The characters had a time limit and if they can’t kill within that limit, they’re out. That’s it. No death required. So this show about a bunch of assassins immediately turned sour for me. The excitement found in Mirai Nikki and Danganronpa is only just one fourth in Akuma no Riddle. The other three fourths are dedicated to some rather questionable content that isn’t really as good as its initial premise. So, yeah, I kind of ruled this anime a bust three episodes in and the rest of the episodes didn’t really help change my opinion of it.
The show is centered on two girls. Tokaku is the assassin that decided to protect the target. She was given the go ahead to risk her life to save the target. The one she’ll be protecting is Haru Ichinose. She seems like a normal girl who just wants to have a normal school life. It did strike odd though how she keeps telling herself that she’ll graduate this time. The game is now a two on eleven handicap match with the odds definitely against them. A rule is established though to keep the game fair and more interesting. The eleven assassins must first give an advance notice to Haru before they attack her. They can give their notice anytime and anywhere they desire. In fact, two or three assassins can actually send their notices at the same time. There is a downside though. If you fail to kill her within forty eight hours then you already failed and you’ll be kicked out of the class. There are no second chances here so you’ll have to pick the right moment. I mentioned before how I hated this particular part of the story. The main reason is because options are now limited for the assassins. With an advance warning and a time limit, the game no longer sounds fair. It also feels a bit limiting. In Mirai Nikki, you can kill anyone anytime with your powers and a lot of people used that to their advantage. They attacked during school hours, in a crowded mall and even in a hospital. You see, the game is played fairly with attacker and defender on equal grounds. This wasn’t the case for Akuma no Riddle. The attacker is given a set of limitations while the defender can basically just hide it out until the time limit expires. It doesn’t really sound all that fun. The twelve episode anime is no longer about the two people trying to survive but actually a story of how eleven assassins will fail. With an episode focused on one girl attacking, this exciting battle about killers, with their own unique method of killing, devolved into a predictable story that lacked a lot of action.
I think conceptually, there is also a problem with how the battles are presented. The time limit isn’t all that bad. It just means that you have to give your all in the small time frame. You are encouraged to skip the foreplay and head straight for the intercourse. The killers are welcome to attack with their best shot first instead of feeling out what Tokaku can do. If one excels in explosives then she can rig the entire school with booby traps. If one excels in poison then she can poison the entire school. If one prefers smashing their victims head in with a hammer then they can just swing with all their might. The killers actually have the advantage of perfecting their plan before giving their notice. So really, the battles should’ve been more epic. Instead, the fights are a bit lackluster. The killers still prefer to be sneaky and lay out complicated traps when all they really have to do is just bring a machine gun to class and go insane. No one is really that bold in this anime. I don’t really know why. It’s a bit frustrating knowing how good this anime could’ve been. I was expecting epic showdowns upon epic showdowns where Tokaku would have to claw her way to victory and it would feature flashy back and forth between the characters. It doesn’t really happen. Sure, the later fights escalated things a bit but not enough to really give justice to the initial plot. The thing that sucks the most is that the action filled story is actually reduced to a boring sob fest when the show would highlight the killer’s backstory during the fights. Flashbacks and various monologues of why the killer is in class Black is shown to give sympathy to the killer. Some of them don’t really want to do this and some are desperately doing this for someone else’s sake. I think it’s a good thing to flesh out characters but it serves no purpose if the girls leave the show after the episode ends. The flashbacks seem to indicate that the assassin will really fail and her loss would just be devastating. Except it really isn’t. Where’s the desperation? Where’s the do or die nature of the fight? If the flashback does establish that you really want your wish granted then why aren’t you fighting tooth and nail to kill Haru? Why wait time hiding in the shadows before attacking her? Why not just get a f*cking katana and attack her while walking on the hallway slashing at her and chasing her until the time expires. I didn’t expect the show to be so boring and I think my gut made the right call.
So without the exciting premise of a survival anime, what exactly is this anime about? In all honesty, I have no idea. I’m not sure if it’s Diomedea churning a bad adaptation or if it’s the author just really giving us a detached feeling with her work. If there’s one thing I know full well about Yun Koga, that I recently confirmed with this work of hers, is that I have no idea how she thinks. Dissecting this anime feels like a waste of time. She started it with the typical survival game premise then shifted the focus on some exciting Shoujo Ai scenes then gave us this story of the woeful world of assassins then seemed to have hinted at how this cruel world works then reinforced the shoujo ai by developing the two main character bond then somehow ending the show with a message that the world isn’t that cruel after all. You know, I once watched another anime of hers called Loveless. It’s like a weird shotacon anime. I was in high school when I saw it. While I was begrudgingly exposed to yaoi at this point in time, I seemed to have hated Loveless simply because I do not understand it. The show gives off this feeling of pointlessness while it focuses on the two main characters making love or some stupid sh*t. I didn’t finish it. I was shocked though when I read various reviews of the anime. Everybody loved it. They seemed to have found something of depth in Loveless while all I see is a shallow pointless anime with no real feeling behind it from the author. Yun Koga is a deceptive author. Most people would write a story to convey their feelings or to deliver a point or to tell various experiences in panel format. A lot of us also watch anime to understand what the show is trying to say. Mirai Nikki is about a pathetic boy with no backbone forced to enter a deadly tournament where the winner becomes gawd. It’s a clear and simple point that the writer wanted to present to the audience. With Yun Koga, she doesn’t write to convey what she feels. Instead, she holds a big mirror up in your face and asks you to tell her what you see in it. Loveless felt like crap to me. Others were deeply enthralled by it though. I see the same approach in Akuma no Riddle. Did you find the relationship between Tokaku and Haru to be a bit transcending? Did you like the little stories of misery and cruelty among the assassins? Did you find the theme of life and the theme of a beauty and ugliness forced to rub faces with each other? Did you pick your favorite pairing already? Or did you simply find the anime crap after knowing it isn’t an exciting Mirai Nikki re-imagined? Or did you really just don’t like the anime as a whole? I can tell you one thing: you are drawn to one aspect I mentioned. Why? Because Koga let you see what you only wanted to see. She’s a scary person to somehow rob her works of meaningful experiences and force the audience to find one on their own. I think that’s what makes her both an interesting and a bad author at the same time. I, for one, watch an anime for a decent pay off and I can only really achieve that by seeing the girls kill each other. Let’s entertain this mirror held up against our faces though when we watched this anime.
First of all though, this anime operates by the short sighted storytelling style. It means that it only focuses on one thing at a time and never really builds up any plot point that doesn’t involve its main focus. If it was focused on the survival game then the episodes will just be about that. There are no foreshadowing, no subtle hints or any buildup of the other important things about the show. If the anime want to showcase the assassins then Tokaku and Haru’s relationship won’t be fleshed out, the mysteries behind the game won’t be develop and basically anything that isn’t part of the survival game won’t be mentioned. Short sighted storytelling is really a bad thing that I absolutely cannot stand but the writing feels deliberate since it lends to the mirror help up against your face. This will be a bit frustrating at times though since you can’t grasp the big picture to truly appreciate the story. I certainly had a hard time with it since I can’t really critique it fairly as it seems to hold back everything needed to actually analyze this damn anime. I also think this is deliberate because it wanted you to take it in one at a time. It wants you to be attached to one thing and then continue looking for it throughout the rest of the show since this one thing spoke to you the most. It is smart but also a bit connivingly evil as if it doesn’t really want you to enjoy the anime.
Anyways, the show presented a lot of things while you gaze at the mirror. The first one is about the assassins and their different stories. The survival game is really just a smidge of it. You can call it the cherry on top of the cake. It tastes pretty great but it’s only a small part of it and now you’re forced to eat the actual cake. The actual point of the survival is not to witness a bunch of overly violent killings handed out by a bunch of cute and sexy girls. As I said before, it’s not a story of how Haru will be killed but a tale of how the assassins will be defeated. I think every episode featured one of the assassins doing their best to kill Haru and their reason for entering Class Black will be revealed or just various event that makes them who they are. The one episode story doesn’t hold much weight but it does humanize the characters as you see them unable to fulfill their much grounded and deeply personal wishes. It demonstrates that the girls are not killing machines that do this just so they can kill. Some of them are forced to be one often to uphold their organization’s name. This grounded story counters the very premise of the survival game. I do get it. It’s a nice approach but I still wanted to see more action. Mirai Nikki was able to ground a lot of the psychopaths in the show and still deliver some solid action/gore so there is nothing stopping Akuma no Riddle to do the same. This whole woeful tale is just a bad cop out that I personally find a bit forced.
Another focus of the show is the relationship between Haru and Tokaku. This one is actually pretty enjoyable if it was presented decently and normally. Haru is this girl that just wants to graduate. She tries to befriend her classmates knowing full well that they want to dig a dagger to her heart. Haru is this little lamb that unwittingly wants to play with the wolves. Tokaku then stepped in to be her protector. The two then had this relationship where Haru would always cling by her savior’s side through everything thrown at them. It really just stops there and the audience is asked to fill in the blanks. I do hope something more fleshed out happened between them but their relationship has always been questionable from the start. Still, all the hurdles they overcome gives you the idea that they have reached a form of mutual understanding that people should appreciate and accept. The short sighted storytelling hurt their relationship badly but I think the main gist of it is easy enough to understand. I did love this one aspect of their relationship where Tokaku couldn’t kill someone despite being an assassin and Haru helped her complete the act of ending someone’s life. The moment the show layered on the various elements of their relationship, I really started to enjoy this show. There was build up towards the end of the anime with a fulfilling payoff and a nicely executed twist to really seal the deal. Of course, enduring ten episodes of unremarkable one shot stories just to see this particular relationship hit a climax is not really as fun as it could’ve been.
I know a lot of you will argue that most anime is very much like Akuma no Riddle where the value of the experience is only as great as the amount of thought put into watching it. A lot of shows leave things up for the viewers to decide whether they find something meaningful in the experience. After all, otome anime would never exist if people receive anime the same way. There are also a lot of people who overly focuses on one aspect of a show which means we really only watch what we want to watch. Akuma no Riddle is different though where the main goal of the story seems to be intentionally muddled. I’ve only seen two other anime with the same muddled approach. It’s Melody of Oblivion, which is gawd damn confusing, and Loveless. I guess I only came to this conclusion because of the rather topsy turvy ending that feels intentionally littered with a lot of loose ends. I’ve seen way too many anime to know when an adaptation is bad. Diomedea seems to really just translate the unique style of Yun Koga which is really a good thing. At the end of the day though, if there is no question mark hovering on top of your head after finishing the show then it’s probably because the mirror reflected something you really enjoyed. I think that’s a good thing all around.
The characters are all one dimensional. Some characters had development but it’s really just part of the short sighted storytelling that ultimately didn’t really do much to improve the character. Tokaku had this conflict where she can’t kill people but it doesn’t really do much to develop the character. Her actions are as mysterious as the rest of the cast. The anime opened with an already established plot so you didn’t really have time to truly get to know her. All I got is that she thinks differently and her boss, who she talks to through e-mail, is an assh*le. Other than that, there’s really not much to go on. She does have a super serious personality which is pretty cool. This goes great with her rocking tight flat chested body because it just gives a pretty strong tomboyish aura. I like short haired tomboys and it’s really what makes her attractive for me. Haru is the typical damsel in distress type. She doesn’t think for herself, she always has her guard down even in a room full of killers, she actually befriends danger and she is constantly walking into the enemy’s hand as if asking them to kill her. Her attitude is explained pretty well at the end though but I think she is also a pretty poor character. The show established her as a mysterious enigma yet it doesn’t build up on it. It just wants to present this weird shoujo ai relationship with her and Tokaku that I really didn’t care for. This relationship is also badly presented because it’ll only intensify with the survival game element and it’s already been established that the show doesn’t want that element. So all you have is this weird vibe between the two with no clear indication where it’s heading into. I am a bit pissed to discover how great of a character she really is. At the end, it’s revealed why she was the target and I loved the story behind it. If the show sprinkled some of that in the other eleven episodes then I could’ve cared more for Haru. I honestly wished she’ll die or kill herself by the time the anime ends because I really don’t give that much f*ck about her.
The rest of the cast is also miserably one dimensional. From the other eleven killers to the faculty staff of the school, none of them really did anything remarkable. I blame the story of this one because they are pretty cool in their own right and the right kind of character development within the story could really do a lot to make them more memorable. The assassins are like pants the show change into every episode. I think the backstories on them also serve as an insult because it just drives the hammer home that they’ll lose even more. I didn’t mind with the first three but the rest could’ve been more special since we were expecting an escalating insanity in the show. I do appreciate how they all have their specialty killing method which makes them slightly unique. Some uses poison, one uses bombs, another prefers a rapier, one even love saws like an awesome mad man. Their personalities were also really decent. One is a deranged wolf dressed as an innocent lamb, one likes to befriend her victims first, one has split personality and one is frightening just by the way she invites people to her tea parties. It’s really just a shame that they were only introduced in one episode each and then failing hard before that episode ends. What exactly is the point of this lackluster venture? Seeing decent characters turned bad is not really something people can enjoy. The potential they have seemingly flushed down the toilet is a bit hard to take. I wanted some of them to stick around. The main reason is because I was itching for some shoujo ai girl on girl scene that isn’t tame. I think if we let the failed killers stick around then they could help establish the rest through commentary or just encountering them in battle and they could also fool around in the many bathroom scenes this anime presented. My favorite girl was off at the fourth episode. I literally lost motivation watching this anime afterwards.
I really wanted to love this anime. The premise is promising as it features the ever exciting survival game format but the show didn’t really want to go there. The characters are interesting as well but the show seems to hate fleshing out its characters. The short sighted storytelling and the confusing ending also didn’t do much for the show. There are a lot of positives starting out and yet they all turned out bad in the end. It’s like watching food spoil. As I said though, maybe there is more to this than meets the eye, I think the author is really asking its audience to look pass the things presented in front of them. I honestly don’t care because this anime is still pretty bad but maybe other people feel something different when it comes to Akuma no Riddle. One can only wonder. As for Diomedea, I am actually a huge supporter of this small time studio because they give out some solid anime. I still remember the wonderful Fall 2013 entry called Gingitsune that they gave us. Akuma no Riddle is actually a step in the right direction because this anime can actually get people talking. Diomedea often does shows with very little voice but this one is completely loud demanding attention. If they polish things up a bit and try to present longer anime like twenty five episodes of it then I’m sure this great studio can be even better. After all, explore your boundaries and try to expand it, right? Sadly, you can tell from the animation that this studio really is small time. I bet they can polish that. Shaft isn’t the best in terms of animation but it didn’t stop them from making a lot of mongatari anime. Anyways, this anime is decent but it really could’ve been better.
Sight and Sound
Character design is pretty outstanding. Sunao Minakata knows how to make very pretty characters. I particularly love how intense Tokaku looks. Her face looks sharp but her fierce eyes and the way her hair points down also adds more depth to the character. Coupled by a very nicely proportioned body with the right mind to be flat chested and you have one wonderfully defined character. I also love the little nuances the school uniform and the skirt gives to her character as well. A lot of characters look really awesome in this anime. They all share the same flashy style that Tokaku have with only slight variations. I also love how detailed the characters are in the actual manga. Sadly, Diomedea’s animation didn’t quite capture Sunao’s awesome designs. They all look amazing though. There is wide range here from sexy characters with long legs and big breasts, short haired characters with fragile bodies and curvy figures, small characters with loli type bodies and everything in between. They all have strong facial features that also looked sharp since they are all killers but the small details in their hair or in the accessories they have really makes a load of difference. That’s how diversely awesome the character design is. Coupled by their rocking sexy bodies, it makes it all the more frustrating to know most of them leave the show quite early on.
The animation is decent. There aren’t a lot of fight scenes but they aren’t presented that well though. I do love the movements as they do move quickly especially during hand to hand face offs but it’s really not enough to call the animation outstanding. They often end quickly and the camera work is pretty sloppy. It doesn’t present full range motions and I’m not a fan of fixed views in fight scenes. The animation also lacks some decent shoujo ai scenes. When two characters hug, they often don’t feel that special. I’m guessing the story makes it confusing but a good director knows how to make a high point look great. Keizou Kusakawa’s directorial style feels a bit lacking. He wasn’t able to make Yun Koga’s confusing style look pretty, for one thing. I guess you can’t expect much from the dude that directed Genei wo Kakeru Taiyou. That anime also lacked style that the director should’ve utilized to at least salvage the show. I do love the various effects in the show though. When guns fire, buildings get destroyed, bombs explodes and classrooms get wrecked, the show was able to capture the intensity of the fight through its surrounding. Of course, it’s not much considering how unexciting the anime felt throughout its run.
The anime’s OP is “Soushou Innocence” by Maaya Uchida. I love this opening song. The lyrics nicely capture Tokaku and Haru’s position in the game as the song talks about things uncertain. But really, it’s the way Maaya sings the lyrics that is awesome. The great instrumentals and the rock rhythm blends well with her voice as she sings it in amazing fashion. The OP sequence gives a short summary of the initial premise where eleven assassins are out to kill two girls. This OP is a massive bait though that ultimately leads to nowhere. It had the girls with their advance warning cards but they are all wearing leather and posing suggestively. It had the survival game element presented in an all-out melee between Tokaku and the girls. It then ends with Tokaku holding a bloody knife with blood spatter on her as she smiles for the ending scene. Absolutely misleading since none of it happened in this gawd damn anime.
The anime has a lot of EDs. Each ED is sung by the assassin that left that episode and it’s really the only great thing I like about the show. The songs all have different elements to them that makes them memorable and the characters were able to stand out if only by a brief moment in the actual anime. The songs are all really impressive and it does connect well to the characters singing it which makes you appreciate the character’s exit. I also love the wide range of songs presented here. There are your typical pop rock songs for those feisty characters like Tokaku, there are simple slow paced bubbly songs for characters like Haru then there are techno pop styled songs with heavy remixes in them. The types of songs are really just canvas for the character’s great voices though. The ED songs vary as well often matching the character’s personality, the type of song and the mood of the episode. They often play certain scenes of the episode as a montage for the ED making it more personal. The animation style varies per character and ED sequence as well. It’s like a bunch of youtube vocaloid videos each with their own flair and unique style. There is the typical style of the anime with characters looking bad ass then there are episodes with a soft palette style with a dreamy sequence that counters the other styles presented. Here is a link of the entire ED sequence compiled. They’re all great. Probably the only thing in this anime I will recommend.
5/10 “I’m giving this anime a higher score than it deserves mainly because I liked the idea presented but the direction it took is frustratingly questionable.”
It’s a decent anime destined to be so much more. It had a lot of exciting elements that ultimately turned mush. The shoujo ai elements, the survival element and even the action look dull. Coupled by a short sighted storytelling and badly developed characters then you have one unfulfilling anime. If you enjoy girls hurting each other then try this one out. If you like girls teasing each other then check this out as well then immediately tell me your favorite pairing. Don’t expect a lot of action and awesome yuri scenes though. This show does not have them and it’ll only lead you to disappointment if you expect too much from it. It had some positives but it is overly outweighed by the negatives.