Well it looks like I finally got what I wanted out of Akuma no Riddle. Too bad it took 11 episodes to get there.
It was time for Akuma no Riddle to put up or shut up this week. Now that every single obstacle except Nio and “the Chairwoman” had been removed, the show could no longer lean on the insane assassination attempt of the week crutch. Either we were going to see something different here or the last two episodes were going to be a massive disappointment. Fortunately, it seems like the people in charge got the memo because this episode certainly switched things up. After several weeks of pulpy action, things really turned reflective quickly.
The seeds for this were planted last week with the “queen bee” comments indicating that Tokaku may have been manipulated into helping Haru. It was a shocking change to see her go from resolute to deeply conflicted in the space of what seemed like a day. The conversation with the chairwoman served to confirm Tokaku’s worst suspicions as it became clear that the decision to defend Haru may not have been her own. Haru’s ability to influence the people around her, even if it was unintentional, likely had an effect on Tokaku’s choices.
This raises some interesting questions about the issue of free will. If Tokaku didn’t make the choice to defend Haru but instead was influenced by Haru’s power then does that invalidate everything Tokaku worked for? Certainly if this was intentional deceit on the part of Haru that changes things, but this question isn’t as easy because it appears that whatever influence Haru may have exerted was passive and was not malicious. Still, Tokaku thought she was doing something noble by defending somebody who appeared to be powerless against her surroundings. If that altruistic decision was actually part of a larger plan, even if that plan was passive, then that choice suddenly looks less altruistic. However, if the force causing Tokaku to make that decision wasn’t a conscious decision on Haru’s part is it even distinguishable from free will? If all our actions are predetermined either by a myserious power around us or the mere chemical composition of our bodies does it make any difference if we can’t see or influence the forces causing our decisions?
I do think you can make a compelling argument that it shouldn’t matter. Whatever the cause, the feelings Tokaku felt towards Haru are still something she genuinely felt. The primer ability doesn’t change who Haru is as a person. Sure, she may influence those around her but there’s no malice there. The sweet girl that Tokaku fell for still exists. Of course, that’s easy for me to say from here. Tokaku is being hit by this crippling doubt over whether this is really what she wants. If she isn’t in control of her own actions, is this really what’s best for her? If the feelings she has are artificial then are the liable to suddenly disappear as soon as she’s no longer needed? There’s also the issue of whether being close to Haru will turn out to be a death sentence for Tokaku. There are so many complicating factors that it becomes tough for anybody to think about something like this clearly.
Internal conflict on its own doesn’t mean much if the show can’t sell it to us and this episode did a really good job of showing us how much this was affecting Tokaku. You could feel the way it was tearing her apart inside as she wondered whether everything she had worked for since she got to the black class had been meaningless. She got mopey and short with Haru but it was okay because we as viewers could understand why she felt this way and empathize with her as she goes through her despondent phase.
Haru, for her part,is conflicted as well as she doesn’t want to believe that she could manipulate those around her in the way she’s told she does. However, what she treats as a burden that she’d rather not bear is seen by others as a responsibility. Nio’s presence brings this into focus for her. While she’s terrified by the idea that every bit of kindness she’s been shown her entire life might not have been real, she also is faced with the fact that this power and the power of the clan can be a force for good that may mean salvation for some people in the same way it means damnation for others. It’s under this cloud of mutual doubt that we reach the climactic reveal of this episode.
I really like what they did here with Tokaku’s choice to give her advance notice to Haru. It was an unexpected twist but one that makes a ton of sense when you think about it. Tokaku wanted to break away from the control of her assassin family/school and chose to protect Haru as a way of exerting her own free will. However, now that she’s confronted with the possibility that she was merely trading an unwelcome master for a slightly more welcome one, she has to wonder if she’s made any progress at all.
Thus, she decides that the one way to prove that she doesn’t have to protect Haru is to make the choice not to protect her. In doing so Tokaku can exert her own free will and prove her independence from whatever influence Haru may have had over her. It’s a tragic decision though because if she actually manages to assassinate Haru she’ll at the same time prove that her feelings for Haru were real but also lose her in the process. She’s faced with a situation where the only way to prove that her affection is real is to destroy the object of her affection.
With only one episode left to resolve this, I don’t expect any additional major twists. I am curious what Tokaku’s request turns out to be, assuming she gets one. I have to think Nio and maybe even Takechi still have roles to play in all this. Wherever things go, I’m really happy to see something resembling what I wanted out of Akuma no Riddle after weeks of disappointment. It doesn’t make up for all the failings of the show but it certainly makes me feel a little better about my enthusiasm before the show aired. We’ll see if they can follow through on this next week but having something to be excited about in Riddle for once is a nice change of pace.