That was… not what I had in mind.
For the first 15 minutes of this episode I thought Akuma no Riddle might have actually done it. After a very uneven first ten episodes the eleventh episode and the first half of the twelfth had finally been what I had been hoping to see from this show way back when I expressed so much excitement over it in our spring season preview. There were a few brief moments early on where I thought they were going to invalidate everything Tokaku was going through via Nio’s shape shifting abilities. Fortunately it turned out that the “protector” Tokaku was actually Nio and the “aggressor” Tokaku was Tokaku herself. The final struggle between Tokaku, Nio and Haru was as thrilling as it was heartbreaking. We knew that there was the distinct possibility of a bittersweet conclusion in which Tokaku has to murder Haru in order to prove her own free will. When that finally came to pass and Haru’s eyes closed for seemingly the last time it was an extremely well executed moment. When Tokaku was asked what her wish was and broke down into tears my heart cried out to her because I felt the pain she was going through knowing that the one thing she wanted was also something she can’t have.
Then… well, what had just happened suddenly wasn’t. Haru wasn’t dead, far from it actually. She was completely fine. The entire emotional impact of the previous five minutes was completely invalidated because what we thought was lost wasn’t actually lost. Don’t get me wrong, there is a right way to handle a return from the dead but it involves making the character’s death actually mean something first. If Tokaku barely has to go through even the mourning process it really doesn’t mean anything at all. I think the best word to describe this ending was cowardly. The writers wanted to kill off Haru and get all the emotional mileage that comes with that without actually having to go through with killing one of the main characters. They didn’t even offer up a good explanation for how Haru survived. Instead they just said “lol, titanium bones, Haru’s fine.” I suppose this explains the source of Haru’s scars but come on, the existence of those scars isn’t nearly enough foreshadowing to justify this epic ass pull.
The whole thing smacks of a staff unwilling to make a difficult choice with their story and instead trying to please everyone. Try to give the people who want the emotional high points of a tragic death their fill while also not upsetting the Haru fans out there who want to see her live. However, in the process they fail to resolve anything related to Tokaku’s free will because if she doesn’t actually kill Haru what has been proved? Haru’s primer powers could very much be in control here but Tokaku seems completely conflict free by the end despite getting no final answer to her doubts.
As if that wasn’t enough, the staff was also unwilling to give any of the side characters a bad ending, much less actually kill them. Even the Romeo and Juliet couple that died in episode six weren’t actually dead. I’m sorry but you can’t throw a giant Romeo and Juliet metaphor at us and then top the show off with “Just kidding, they’re alive too.” There’s no epilogue to Romeo and Juliet where we find out that the two are off in some hospital room holding hands and gazing dreamily into each other’s eyes. That would be absurd and completely against what the whole point of the play was. Yet for some reason it’s cool here to take all the failed assassins and say that they’re fine now. I don’t know if they wanted to keep people happy or give a second season hook or what but there really is no excuse for the type of retcon done here.
Given the ending was clearly horrendous, what does this mean for Akuma no Riddle as a whole? Are the good parts of the show completely undone by the way things ended? To me, the answer is yes. The ending to the show undermines all the things I liked about Riddle prior to the final ten minutes of the show. Any greater thematic significance or character growth is thrown aside in favor of making everybody happy. There’s no real message worth taking away from this because anything useful the show had to say about free will or idealism versus cynicism was forgotten by the end. I don’t know that the ending even works with what the show was trying to do. After eleven plus episodes of senseless violence with a side of yuri they decide that a happy ending for everybody is what this show needs? I mean maybe they want the shippers out there (which includes myself) to see their ship intact by the end but I don’t think that is even necessary. I ship the heck out of Madoka characters and most of them died.
Overall, Akuma no Riddle comes off as a very poorly planned show. Occasionally it had some good ideas or some worthwhile action sequences but the show doesn’t really hold together very well at all. Plot lines and ideas are often forgotten or not adequately explained. The obvious example here would be Haru’s magical life-saving skeleton but there were also things like Suzu’s convoluted assassination plot or Nio’s shape shifting that really needed some more exploration. Nio’s shape shifting in particular could have been a really interesting plot point throughout the show as it would offer her an opportunity to manipulate people to further her own goals. There’s also examples like the teacher sneaking up on Tokaku in episode one. At that point it seemed like they were making a big deal out of the fact that the teacher, who was ostensibly a normal civilian, had managed to sneak up on a trained assassin like Tokaku. Then twelve episodes later he’s… still a civilian. Things like this are probably the effects of adapting an incomplete manga but it doesn’t make your show look good when moments that feel like they should be something get forgotten and major plot points come off as little more than afterthoughts thrown in for plot convenience.
While I can’t help but consider Akuma no Riddle a failure, it did have a few stand-out moments and there was enough right about it that I believe there’s a good show hiding in there somewhere. Unfortunately, the lack of planning and the limited airtime that the show had to work with was ultimately its undoing. I think a twenty-six episode Akuma no Riddle, created to coincide with the conclusion of the original manga would have the potential to take this premise and do a lot more with it than was done here. Regrettably, we didn’t get that an instead are left with this mostly mediocre and incomplete adaptation instead. Such is life when people are in a rush to cash in on their fledgling manga I suppose.