Where was this all season Akuma no Riddle?
I took on a bit of a defeatist tone last week in my recap of Akuma no Riddle as I worked under the assumption that the show was a lost cause or at the very least exceedingly unlikely to ever resemble what I wanted the show to be. It seems like that resignation may have been premature since this episode was almost exactly what I had been hoping for previously. I like to think I was somewhat justified in my pessimism given we had nothing but anime original content going forward and the anime original content thus far had been pretty lackluster. However, it seems that shows with almost half of their episodes yet to air, much like Touchdown Tom, should not be counted out.
The biggest and most obvious change this week was the extent to which this episode leaned on previously defined plot points. One of my biggest complaints about Akuma no Riddle up to this point had been the lack of continuity from episode to episode. The events in this episode felt like events that didn’t happen in a vacuum but rather events that call back to previous episodes or plot points that are likely to stick around after this week. A good example of this was the additional insight provided into Nio’s circumstances by the scene between her and this mysterious “chairwoman.” It isn’t clear if Nio is related to this woman by blood or merely by circumstance but she does seem to have some level of desire to prove herself to this woman. Her sheepish reminder that Nio herself is still technically part of this competition seemed to indicate a history of being overlooked. There was no surprise or indignity here, it was more sullen acceptance that Nio’s fate is to be overlooked by this woman. This raises the possibility that Nio will become desperate to prove herself at the end and go all out in her attempt to assassinate Haru or that she might potentially fight back against the chairwoman because of being neglected. It’s hard to know which of these routes she will take but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on going forward.
The other big take away from this scene was the chairwoman’s comment about the “queen bee.” It isn’t clear what the “queen bee” role entails here. Maybe it’s the right to be the next game master like Nio is now? Maybe it’s some other role fulfilled by the survivors of this game? Whatever it is, it’s becoming more apparent that this game isn’t exactly what it seems on the surface. There’s more going on here than just “complete the assassination, get your wish and go home.” This fact is further confirmed by Isuke’s comment to Nio in the hallway later saying that she won’t let things “go the way you bastards have planned.” Whatever happens from this point, it’s pretty clear that Isuke isn’t going to go quietly like the past failed assassins have and that Tokaku and Haru better count on more obstacles even after they’ve stopped each assassin.
Isuke herself is proving to be easily the most impressive of the assassins thus far. In another nod to past continuity, she took advantage of her knowledge regarding Tokaku’s inability to actually kill anybody. Confident in her knowledge that Tokaku wouldn’t actually go for a fatal blow, Isuke is able to be far more aggressive against Tokaku than she otherwise could have which leaves Tokaku unable to take advantage of her superior technique to score a decisive victory. In addition to this solid tactical decision by Isuke, she also made the rather clever decision to write Mahiru’s name on her assassination letter. It may seem like a rather obvious move in retrospect but so are most clever tricks. Given the seed had been planted in Tokaku and Haru’s (and our) minds that Mahiru would be the next assassin, the tactic was quite effective.
Rather than stick the only on active assassination attempt at a time formula we’d seen up to this point, Mahiru herself eventually did get in on the action. Her situation is much more like the previous assassins in that her entire character is pretty much outlined in just this one episode after her being little more than a gag character up to this point. The Mahiru/Shinya duality is an interesting concept but I don’t expect the show to do much with it before Mahiru is eliminated. Mahiru, in contrast to Isuke, is pure spectacle, much like Riddle as a whole up to this point. That said, Shinya’s antics provide pretty good spectacle and when she’s played more as a pawn in Isuke’s larger game rather than as the primary antagonist of an episode the formula actually works.
This episode also has the distinction of not actually ending with yet another assassin being sent off but rather with two battles actively in progress. This is notable first because it’s the first time since episode three that we haven’t eliminated somebody and second because the current situation is a significant departure from the previous one attack at a time formula. Rather than always having the safety net of Tokaku to fall back on, Haru will be forced to defend herself against Shinya’s onslaught since Tokaku is otherwise occupied. Whatever happens to (presumably) get her out of this mess it probably won’t follow the same comfortable formula that we’ve seen before.
We also saw at least a slight resurgence of the conflict of Haru’s idealism contrasted with Tokaku’s cynicism. It’s possible that this will be the encounter that finally breaks down that happy world Haru has constructed for herself. She no longer can wait for Tokaku to save her and she needs to do something to fight back rather than hoping people will befriend her in the end. Her optimism in general seems to have been waning in recent episodes as she is becoming less and less interested in befriending her classmates and more concerned with merely weathering the storm without completely giving up her ideals. Now whether this lack of perpetual optimism is intentional or just something the writers forgot to keep in the show week to week is an open question but I’m willing to give the staff at least a little bit of credit for showing character growth here.
On the flipside, Tokaku’s fatalism seems to be breaking down as well. Tokaku was always portrayed as detached and without any sort of thought for the future but Haru’s question regarding Tokaku’s plans once this nightmare is over seems to shake her out of that at least a little bit. It’s starting to dawn on Tokaku that this game might be over soon and she doesn’t have anywhere to go home to afterwards. Does she go back to her assassin school? She doesn’t seem to like it much there despite her obvious talent for it (aside from the whole inability to finish the job thing). Does she have any relatives to return to? Her parents are dead but maybe her aunt that we saw before is still around. However, once again that doesn’t seem like a happy place for Tokaku. Whatever her decision is, it seems that it’s about time for Tokaku to stop running away from her past and move forward in her own direction. That might mean following Haru after this is over but a “Tokaku and Haru find happiness with each other and leave their scary pasts behind” ending seems a bit too easy.
But all that is for the future. In the present we have an actual tense battle for once as well as some interesting plot threads that seemed all but lost a week ago. Much like Tokaku, I find my own fatalistic view of the show itself starting to waver although I’m also not yet willing to let myself be sucked all the way back in yet. Still, this is a huge step in the right direction for Riddle and a much needed one as well.