This show has a way of leaving you with more questions than answers.
As I said last week, Akuma no Riddle is not a subtle show. That trait carries over into the way it presents the things we don’t know in addition to what we’re explicitly told. Specifically, the fact that both Tokaku and Haru have some serious trauma in their past is no secret. However, we are blatantly not being told everything about what that entails. The writers make a big show of indicating exactly what it is we don’t know here. One key gap is what happened to Tokaku back at that shrine when her mother (?) told her not to kill. There was no effort to hide the fact that her mother said something that we don’t get to hear yet.
Aside from the obvious question of what that brazenly omitted line was, It seems odd to me that Tokaku would move towards being an assassin given this particular hang up. I guess it’s entirely possible that she wasn’t aware that this would act as a circuit breaker since she hadn’t tried to kill before. Still, it doesn’t make complete sense to me. I do think that’s kind of the idea though and we just have to hope that the eventual explanation is satisfactory. Assuming we get one that is, and given the manga is ongoing there’s always a chance we will not get an explanation for a lot of this during the anime’s run.
The more explicit inconsistency lies in Haru’s past. To hear Haru tell it you’d think that the world has always been out to get her. If we’re being fair, that’s pretty clearly true at the present but it’s less clear whether that was always the case. When Nio describes the same events she frames it as Haru killing her entire family instead. This could theoretically be consistent with Haru saying that they died to protect her but somebody here isn’t being completely honest. Thus far Riddle has gotten considerable mileage out of portraying Haru as somebody who isn’t capable of doing bad things meaning it would take some significant re-characterization work to turn her into a secretly murderous monster. There’s something to be said about blatant misdirection to add impact to a later event but only if that initial misdirection is consistent with where you ultimately take things. Who knows if that will happen here but it’s certainly a concern if Akuma no Riddle goes for plot twists just for the sake of plot twists.
The big “reveal” came at the end of the episode when Tokaku declares her intent to protect Haru rather than assassinate her. I put reveal in scare quotes because, come on, who didn’t see that one coming? The real question this raises is why Tokaku chose to switch sides. The way I see it, Tokaku is protecting Haru because she represents the idea of “hope in a hopeless situation” that Tokaku has almost completely given up on. The two are arguably similar in circumstance if not in demeanor. If Haru dies then in some sense that would also mean that Tokaku’s last bit of hope dies with her. We don’t actually get to hear any of this though as Tokaku isn’t about to offer up some big declaration of Haru being “her hope” at this point. I think it’s pretty clear that her explanation of “I’ve decided to defect to [Haru’s] side” isn’t telling us the whole story. I hope we get more explanation eventually because I really like the relationship between the two of them and I’d like it to get some in depth exploration of their motives as the show moves forward. There’s always the fear that now that we’ve established everybody’s role this will devolve into a simple chess match between the assassins and the protector rather than a real exploration of the characters and their world-views. Based on what I know about the manga I’m inclined to believe that we’ll get more than just assassin games though.
Aside from the main pair, Nio is really starting to grow on me. She definitely hams it up for her role as the vaguely evil game master and the way she delights in that role is a joy to watch. I am a bit confused by her status in this game since she acts like she’s in charge of the game but in order to get to the proper count of twelve assassins we need to include Nio herself. Sagae’s comment that Nio is “on that side of things” in particular indicated there’s something else going on here. It’s unclear though whether she’s just a very interested observer or if she’s actually playing the game while also running it. Either way I expect her to be pulling the strings throughout the show and she will likely be a force to be reckoned with before this is all over. Like the rest of Riddle, there’s clearly more to Nio than we’ve been told at this point.
For all the swagger and panache of Akuma no Riddle it can come off as a tad bombastic at times. In particular, when Sagai and Nio were talking about Haru’s past it felt like they were saying quite a few things that should have been obvious in what amounted to a weak attempt at appearing clever. I sometimes feel like every conversation in this show that doesn’t involve Haru turns into a contest to see who can score the most style points. I can see this from the angle of all the assassins all being slightly boastful and slightly broken people but at times it can be a bit much. I also wish they wouldn’t lean so heavily on the red color filters and haunting piano music. We get it. This is a pretty dark and sinister scenario playing out here. You don’t need to beat us over the head with it. The fact that Akuma no Riddle doesn’t do anything by half measures is part of its charm for sure but it can also be its undoing if it isn’t handled properly.
While the plot is certainly moving right along, I’m happy to say my concern that they would rush through the manga by doing a riddle a week seems to be unfounded. The pacing is quite agreeable and the adaptation team seems to know what they’re doing with this. The feel of the manga is preserved in the anime but it’s also refined to make it work better on the screen. In addition, I thought the new ED sequence was really nice. I’m a big fan of series having multiple EDs so that the ending song won’t be off-tone from how an episode ended. With a show like Riddle that can have intense combat scenes but also some touching private moments this seems like almost a necessity. I’m glad to see they aren’t neglecting this issue. Overall, this was a solid follow-up to the premiere and I look forward to more from Akuma no Riddle.