Our hero has made a huge mistake.
Confession time: I may have been a bit premature with my declaration last week that Akuma no Riddle had moved on to anime original content. The actual transition didn’t occur until the second half of this episode. Last week’s content occurred over chapters 14-15 of the manga, which means I either accidentally skipped that part of the manga or I completely blocked it out of my memory. Neither option is particularly flattering for me as somebody who is supposed to be giving you useful commentary on this show, but it also doesn’t reflect well on an arc that was either so forgettable that I didn’t even remember it existed or so unimportant that I could skip it and not notice that anything was amiss. Honestly, this doesn’t do much to change my opinion of last week’s episode. The episode was still largely inconsequential and Kouko’s situation was not very well realized. The fact that this happened to exist in the manga does, however, somewhat lower my opinion of the source material and increases my hopes that the anime original content we actually will see going forward will be of higher quality than that of episode four. Anyway, as Mark McGwire would say, I’m not here to talk about the past. Let’s get into what actually happened this week.
One aspect that immediately made this episode more interesting than last week’s was the new information we got about Tokaku’s history. It was already an open secret that she came from a family of assassins but we got confirmation of this plus some additional information about her family. The most interesting thing to me is the existence of Tokaku’s aunt, who appears to not care for this whole family of assassins thing. The fact that Tokaku had some influence in her past discouraging her from moving down this path could help explain her hesitation towards actual killing from episode two. It isn’t clear yet whether this was triggered by her aunt’s influence or something said by her dead mother but my guess is that it’s one of those two who said whatever she flashed back to there. Tokaku’s mother being dead in particular interests me because I think it could do a lot to inform her character down the road. Hopefully they actually do something with this rather than leaving it by the wayside.
Riddle seems to be settling into a familiar formula at this point. Episode opens with some slice of life-ish stuff building the relationship between Tokaku and Haru while also introducing our killer of the week and her backstory. In the second half, the killer makes her move and attacks Haru only for Tokaku to come in at just the right time to save the day. A sample size of three doesn’t actually confirm anything and I expect that dealing with Chitaru and Hitsugi (or is it Romeo and Juliet) and eventually Nio herself, will not be nearly as straightforward as the first three assassins. Formulaic on its own isn’t necessarily bad if it’s a good formula (debatable here), but it does mean that the episode quality will hinge heavily on the quality of those components week to week. Whereas a show with a strong overarching narrative might be able to shrug off a poor choice here or there, having self-contained episodes like these means that Riddle could be either an excellent show or a complete flop week after week (think Space Dandy from last season).
The good news is that the components used in that formula this week were a vast improvement over last week’s version. This week’s villain, Sagae Haruki, had a much more well-articulated motivation than Kouko did last week. Haruki’s family situation made her infinitely more relatable than Kouko and even sympathetic (when she wasn’t actively choking Haru). Things can get kind of boring when every enemy is categorically evil with no real positive motives or actions but in Haruki’s case she’s really just looking out for her family. Now she’s chosen a particularly distasteful way of keeping her family’s finances in order, but she doesn’t strike me as a naturally bad person the way the first two failed assassins did. I don’t like having to hate characters so an enemy with some amount of sympathy going for them is far preferable to one who simply exists to be hated.
That said, the actual assassination attempt was a mixed bag. It was certainly less contrived than last week’s overly convoluted bomb attempt. Haruki simply got Haru alone and went straight for the kill. Tokaku seemed to react more quickly to the plot this time compared to her blundering in episode three and was able to save Haru before she was choked. It’s in the actual assassination attempt this week (as well as the previous two weeks) that the formula inherent in Akuma no Riddle becomes a burden. Everybody knows that Tokaku is about to arrive since there would be no point to the show anymore if Haru dies. The foiled attempt is inevitably followed by some middling action sequences after which Tokaku is victorious. Haruki’s attempt to take herself out along with Tokaku and Haru added a bit of a wrinkle to the proceedings but in the end it doesn’t really change much. It didn’t help that Tokaku seemd to borrow the speed of Hinata from Haikyuu for a few moments to save Haru from the falling beams.
I have a bit of trouble deciding how I should feel about Akuma no Riddle at this point. The characters and their backstories (when they’re good) are fairly well done and can do a good job of getting me invested in what happens to the characters. However, because the show has been so formulaic there really isn’t much suspense since we know with near certainty that each new assassin of the week will fail and be expelled by the end of the episode. I personally care more about the character relationships and how they develop so Akuma no Riddle is actually good at the things I care about which should work in its favor. The problem is that the format we’re getting each week doesn’t really play to the show’s strengths at all. If this was going to be a character-driven show about competing worldviews we’d have more than one episode per character and each episode would build off of the previous one rather than each episode becoming more or less irrelevant the minute it ends.
The anime seems to instead cater to the action-oriented battle of trained killers each week but that aspect is not at all a strength of the finished product. Emphasizing your weakest points isn’t generally a winning strategy so I have to wonder what they’re really trying to do here. I do think that things can improve if we get more than one episode devoted to some of these characters or if somebody actually tries to play outside the currently defined confines of the game. However, if the current formula ends up being repeated several more times it will inevitably be to the detriment of the show overall both because it’s predicable and because it won’t make good use of the best parts of Riddle. I’m more hopeful at this point than after episode four because of the additional time given to Tokaku’s backstory and the characters at least hinting that the rules might be bent at some point in the future but I’d like to actually see that happen before I declare Akuma no Riddle to be good again.