You interrupted my girl-of-the-week format for this?
Whenever you start a project, whether it’s in software development, manufacturing, business or directing an animated television series; it’s important to have a solid over-arching plan. If your actions don’t have an end goal in mind you’ll inevitably end up finding yourself trying to adjust on the fly to disparate parts of your project that don’t truly mesh. This might not seem like a terribly novel concept but it can elude people who don’t want to get bogged down in the planning phase and instead want to press forward with the project as fast as possible. I bring this concept up because I see a lot of these issue in Akuma no Riddle. It just doesn’t feel as if the team working on this has any real plan for where they’re going with all this.
To provide something of an unfair contrast, I would contrast a show like Akuma no Riddle with 2011’s Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. I consider Madoka to be one of the most well-constructed TV anime I’ve ever seen. With each passing episode, and even more upon re-watching it was clear that the writers and director knew exactly where they were going with this and each episode built on the previous, revealing exactly what they wanted to reveal and telling you exactly what was needed to make the following episodes work. It was an excellent example of a writer who had a perfect vision of what he wanted to do and executing it nearly flawlessly. Now, not everything can be Madoka but it provides an example of what a properly executed storyline looks like and Akuma no Riddle stands in stark contrast to the unified vision of Madoka.
The primary problem with Riddle’s construction continues to be the fact that each week the events of the previous episode are almost entirely forgotten. It’s nearly impossible to build any sort of coherent narrative progression or real over-arching message when nothing that happened before matters. I hate to beat this point into the ground but it really is crippling any semblance of coherent storytelling that Akuma no Riddle had. That’s not to say that an episodic storyline can’t result in quality. We need only look to works like Mushishi or Cowboy Bebop to see the episodic format used to great effect. But those episodes still were unified in tone and largely unified in message which Akuma no Riddle is not. I see a storyline here that could benefit greatly from a story that actually builds on itself as it moves forward and the anime is doing none of that.
It might seem unfair to compare Akuma no Riddle’s storytelling to anime originals that had the benefit of being specifically designed for a series of twenty-two minute episodes whereas Akuma no Riddle is an adaptation of an ongoing manga with all the baggage that such an adaptation brings. However, Akuma no Riddle’s pacing and overall structure are so divorced from the source material that it might as well be an anime original. The creators obviously didn’t particularly care about faithfulness to the source material and instead just wanted to play around with this premise so I feel the comparison to anime original works is warranted in this specific case. Unfortunately, despite having almost complete freedom to do what they want with the plot, Akuma no Riddle comes off as lost and lacking in any real direction.
Which bring us, finally, to this week’s episode. After last week eliminated a full three assassins I said that I really hoped that the staff had something they wanted to do with this extra time they bought by killing off so many characters in what felt like a very rushed manner. If they do have a plan this week showed absolutely no signs of it. When it first leaked out that this was a water park episode I was horrified to think that the show might use the extra time to create an episode that would have been more at home in an OVA. While what ensued wasn’t that terrible, it was only marginally better than an entirely wasted episode. The assassination attempt, if you could even call it that, was so hilariously contrived that I had a hard time taking any of the episode seriously.
Assassination attempts that leave one slim chance of survival based on our hero jumping through a series of improbable hoops never sit well with me. If Suzu can get a bomb around Haru’s neck, why did she offer an out? Why didn’t she just design it to explode on a short timer with no mechanism for breaking it. I could accept this if Suzu had been built up as a character who loved puzzles and loved watching people struggle to solve puzzle’s she constructed I could understand her methods. However, we had seen virtually nothing of Suzu before this episode and have no reason to believe any of that is part of her character. Instead this comes off as an incredibly cheap way to offer Haru and Tokaku an out rather than Haru simply being killed without any chance for escape. At some point this lack of characterization can’t just be chalked up to lack of time and has to be attributed to a lack of skill/effort on the part of the writers and director. The show certainly doesn’t seem to be lacking in time at this point. We have six episodes left in which to eliminate four assassins. However, none of the preceding assassins, with the arguable exception of Haruki, has been given sufficient time to explore their motivations and personality and I have to think that lack of development isn’t out of necessity.
The ultimate result of the attempt was similarly underwhelming. The supposed sacrifice of the last card ceased to matter shortly afterward much like the events of any given episode of Riddle seem to stop mattering once the credits play. Tokaku made a very questionable deduction that turned out to be nearly correct except for a twist placed on it by Haru that was so minor as to be irrelevant to the overall story. Once the escape was complete, Suzu bowed out without any fight at all. There was no indication that she particularly cared about actually assassinating Haru at all in the first place. Again, if we had some time to establish that she was a puzzle-master who cared more about the chase than the actual end result that would probably justify a lot of this but we got no such thing and instead are left to wonder what the heck was going on with her.
This is the point where I’d usually move on to my positive takeaways from the episode to avoid being all doom and gloom but there really weren’t any positive aspects of this episode. The best I can come up with was the underwater kiss between Tokaku and Haru, which… yay for yuri? I guess? But a single yuri kiss isn’t going to get me to give a show a passing grade. Not when there are shows like Sakura Trick who do that to excess (and do it much better to boot). I was holding out hope that Akuma no Riddle might right the ship at some point and that all of this rushed content was part of some larger plan but right now it’s looking less and less like this is part of some grand scheme to have an epic finish. All the threads I had some interest in: Tokaku’s backstory, what the teacher’s deal is, what Nio’s deal is, are being left on the sidelines for the sake of uninspired assassination plots with a side of yuri bait. It’s sad to see a show I had such high hopes for succumb to this fate but that seems to be where we are at this point. If only they had a plan…