Akuma no Riddle – 12 (Fin)

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“If the will to kill Haru can possibly exist, then that will is mine and mine alone. It would mean that my will is free. That it is not being manipulated by Haru.” This is the crux of what Tokaku has to work out: whether she protected and love Haru of her own free will, or if she simply succumbed to Haru’s inate ability to manipulate others in order to survive.

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When all is said and done, it would seem that her will is indeed free. Even after defeating Nio, who used the black arts her clan is known for to impersonate her, Tokaku still tried to kill Haru. Haru survived, though, since her ribs are made of titanium, and kept the knife from Haru’s heart, where Tokaku aimed. Thus, the show has it’s cake and eats it too.

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As the closing montage shows, Akuma no Riddle was ultimately just as bloodless as Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin, or Sakura Trick, for that matter: none of the assassins I thought were killed actually died; they all recovered from their injuries and live on. Once a means to test Haru’s mettle, now they’re back to their own lives, only Class Black changed them all.

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The class wasn’t all about Haru and Tokaku, as we know. The show went to lengths to flesh out the various assassins in the episodes in which they struck. It showed how they were all in one way or another either running away from their past lives or trying desperately to validate them, but their defeats to Tokaku and Haru led to growth, and now they’re all moving forward.

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While this episode couldn’t quite match the intense showdown with Hanabusa, it was nevertheless a suitable end to the series. Tokaku won, and in the process proved to herself she protected Haru of her own free will. If her wish was to be able to continue being with Haru, it looks like that was granted. We don’t know how she answered Kaiba’s final riddle, but if I had to guess it would be that she told him the thing that the world was full of…was love.

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Final Cumulative Score: 7.75
MAL Score: 7.01 (Fickle Punks!)

 

Akuma no Riddle – 11

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With all of the assassins defeated save Nio, the rhythm of the show changes this week. Instead of trying to figure out who’s going to target Haru and when, she and Tokaku are rewarded for their victory with a “true orientation” that reveals big, hard truths, most of which had been hinted at, but now brought into the light.

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Now theres no more doubt: Class Black wasn’t assembled to assassinate Haru, but to test her readiness to take the reins as the “Queen Bee” of the ultra-powerful clan that “controls every aspect of the world.” That last bit sounds kind of silly, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a good test, and she passed it.

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Unfortunately, the power and potential she exhibited in the process aren’t going to entitle her to the normal life she wants so badly (and apparently had earlier in life), but condemn her to serve. A Queen Bee isn’t designed to live for herself, but to ensure the survival of the hive, even at the cost of her life. Nio drives the point home by taking Haru to a massive clan graveyard deep below the school, full of people who died for the clan’s survival.

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Nio continues to glare and bare her teeth from time to time, but her true motives are still a mystery. Could it be she too is a potential queen, who will kill Haru and ascend if Haru refuses to accept her fate? A few moments of apparent sincerity aren’t enough to make me forget about all the two-faces we’ve already encountered and trust her. She’s still dangerous. Otherwise, why would she have those awesome tattoos?

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Tokaku doesn’t take these new revelations well. She’s been lost all this time trying to figure out the toughest riddle of all; why she wanted to protect someone she was told to kill. She has no way of knowing whether her relationship with Haru was nought but an artifice built by Haru’s innate charisma. Whether she used it to manipulate Tokaku consciously or not is beside the point; it’s possible; likely even.

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It’s with that in mind, and with a great appreciation for the things Haru made her feel and think about for the first time, that she decides to turn on Haru after all. Kaiba tells her the riddles he’s sent have no right answers. Really, they were meant to spark independent thought. After a life of completing tasks and following orders to the letter, Tokaku’s time with Haru and the other assassins has taught her a great deal.

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This wasn’t just Haru’s initiation, then, but Tokaku’s as well. Haru’s purpose was already determined from the start, and Class Black was just a means of validating it. But for Tokaku, Class Black helped her define herself and her purpose. Haru never really needed Tokaku’s protection, but becoming allies facilitated Tokaku’s advancement to where she is now: in the ideal position to eliminate the target.

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Akuma no Riddle – 10

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With Nio apparently content with hanging back and observing (for now), Hanabusa Sumireko is the only assassin still around to threaten Haru, and threaten her she does: with sweet smiles, impeccable etiquette, a gorgeous dress, and an invitation to a very special tea party on the school’s 99th floor. Behind every smile and perfectly-formed sentence lurks an immensity of pridefulness and malice.

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Sumireko’s badassness has never really been in question, but nor has it really been explored thus far. She has demonstrated the colossal wealth of the Hanabusa conglomerate to which she belongs, but this is the first time we see her bear her fangs in earnest, and it’s quite terrifying. The dread builds slowly but steadily as she lures Haru and Tokaku into her web of death and destruction.

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Sumireko’s strength is previewed when Takehi Otoya of all people escapes from prison and sneaks back into school. But not only does Sumi block her best scissor shot with her bare hand, she crushes her scissors into crumpled bits with that same hand. This episode went on to deliver the most complex, intense, protracted, and best battles of the show, and it was everything I could have hoped for.

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The episode was full of misdirection and feints, starting with the possibility Haru could be able to negotiate some form of rapprochement with Sumi; no dice. All Sumireko lives for is to defeat Haru—the “queen bee” of an older clan—and proving her superiority as the one and only queen. Also, Takehi looks like she could serve as a wild card, but she accomplishes nothing and is later dragged away by Nio for committing a “no-no”…gulp.

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The last feint is the first time we see the whole gang assembled at the party; the cameras far back enough that it looks like the real deal, and then Gahh, creepy killbots, all of which turn on Tokaku when Sumireko dispenses with the pleasantries and gets down to business, tearing off her dress to reveal a skintight battle suit. Tokaku hangs around as long as she can, but her guns, knives, and flesh-and-blood limbs are no match against Sumireko, who sheds her suit to reveal a skimpier Kill la Kill-style outfit that reveals she’s bionic. You gotta hand it to her, she has a flair for the theatrical.

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It only takes a few fleeting flashes into Sumireko’s past to know what makes her tick: like Haru, she’s been targeted and scarred by enemies her entire life. The difference is, she’s never had a “worker bee” like Tokaku buzzing around protecting her. She’s borne the brunt, and had entire pieces of herself hacked off and replaced with stronger metal to help her endure even more (whether she wanted that or not, now she believes it. She has to). Her implacability is on full display as she delivers a merciless, bruising beatdown upon poor Tokaku.

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When Tokaku is out for the count, Haru proves yet again she’s no damsel in distress, staging an elaborate counterattack that consists of blowing out the door with a bazooka, luring Sumireko down an elevator shaft, and tossing many grenades down to her. That doesn’t kill her, and the chase resumes to the skyscraper’s rooftop, where Haru makes use of Sumireko’s own extended cables to sends her plummeting to the ground screaming—an unignified death for the self-styled “supremely powerful” royal.

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What’s best about the fight is that it felt really substantial, but Haru’s victory didn’t feel hollow, nor did Sumireko look particularly foolish or tactically unsound; Haru simply got the better of her, mostly by using her head, and exploiting the fact Sumireko was a bit too full of herself and underestimated her prey. And I loved the look on Tokaku’s face when she learns that even after everything she’s done for her, Haru still isn’t ready to tell her who she really is. One thing she isn’t: weak.

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P.S. It’s probably a coincidence, but Sumireko bears a passing resemblance to Takakura Himari from Mawaru Penguindrum, whom Arakawa Miho also lent her delicate, dignified voice, and who also dressed in skimpy outfits.

 

 

Akuma no Riddle – 09

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Isuke may have played Tokaku for the sweetfish last week, but unlike that relative of the smelts, Tokaku probably won’t be fooled like that again. But the fact remains, Isuke is pressing her attack, and Tokaku is not only wounded and separated from Haru, but a hazy memory of another storm continues to keep her from plunging her knife into Isuke during this current one.

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In order to finally rid herself of that “curse”, she has to arrive right at death’s door, where Isuke deposits her by tossing her out a glass skyway. The hazy memory finally comes into focus. Her inability to kill wasn’t a curse; it was a wish, both from her mother and her mother’s twin sister, Mako, meant to protect her.

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The sisters, you see, didn’t want Tokaku to have anything to do with the Azuma family business, which is, you might have guessed, assassination of the finest quality. None of this would be an issue if they were famous bakers. Actually, I might watch a show about a class of people trying to out-bake each other. As long as they know what they’re doing.

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But I digress: Tokaku’s grandmother had big plans for her, and they involved systematically molding her into a soulless killing machine whose name would make the entire world cower in fear. Granny was a monster, and she wanted to make Tokaku a monster too. As Tokaku’s decision to protect Haru proves, she failed. You lose, evil granny!

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Akuma’s murder-blocking memory is of Mako bringing her to a shrine, where she tells her to always remember if she should want to kill something; to remember that her mom will always be watching her, protecting her from squandering her soul on murder. But now Tokaku has found someone to protect. And sometimes protecting means being prepared to kill.

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Meanwhile, many a door was bashed to bits this episode, not from the typhoon, but from Shinya, who single-handedly decimates the school’s door budget for many years to come. But Haru refuses to be taken out so easily. Her scars are proof she’s a survivor, and that’s what she does, even when she’s afraid Tokaku is dead.

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It’s also pretty clever how Isuke uses Shinya’s deep-rooted trauma of bright lights (having been locked in a cellar as a child and photographed by evil men) to shut her down when she no longer needs her. Now even Isuke is out, leaving only the prim Sumireko and Nio, whose body is covered in terrifyingly awesome tattoos. We’ve seen some bad-ass assassins, but Akuma may have saved the best for last.

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Akuma no Riddle – 08

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Speaking from experience, it’s a very bizarre feeling to be in class trying to pay attention to the lecture when the skies outside grow darker and darker from a brewing storm. I wouldn’t call it fear, just unease, since I’m so used to darkness signifying night. When the skies are black in the morning or afternoon, it like nature’s trying to mess with my circadian rhythm.

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It’s under these circumstances that we hear Mizorogi-sensei lecturing about sweetfish, specifically, how they’ll so fiercely defend their territory, they open themselves up to a decoy attack. That sweetfish is Akuma, and us too, to a degree. Previously, episodes were fairly direct about who’d try to assassinate Haru next; this one decided to toy with us a little bit: would it be Bamba…or Inukai?

It’s another example of how this show always does or says something for a reason that will come into play later, rarely wasting its time. Many of the things it does in the first half play with our expectations, which we’ve built up after watching the previous episodes. We even catch a glimpse of the person in charge of the killing game, someone who one a past game herself in just six days.

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With the assassins down to four and victory in sight, Haru asks Azuma what she’ll be up to when it’s over, and Azuma has no answer whatsoever. All this time, she’s been using her time at the school to try to forget or avoid everything outside. Protecting Haru is all that matters: that’s the purpose of her existence. Thinking about the future doesn’t serve that directive.

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But it’s her absolute devotion that opens her up to the same decoy approach used on sweetfish. She goes after Isuke thinking it better to fight her away from Haru, but she never suspected that Isuke was the decoy—despite forging Bamba name—and that Isuke and Bamba would work together to separate the two. Also’s Bamba’s alter-ego’s name, Shin’ya, means “full night.” This is her time.

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Isuke has also figured out Azuma’s Big Secret, that she’s never actually killed and doesn’t seem able to, giving her a huge advantage in their fight. Isuke had a wretchedly traumatic childhood but was saved by her neighbors, one of whom is an assassin. She wants to win so her parents can retire, paying them back for their kindness. It’s a surprisingly sweet and selfless wish, and she’s damned close to getting it, assuming she and Bamba are allowed to share the win.

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Stray Observations:

  • Mahiru/Shinya Bamba is/are a character I wish got screen time. Here we see how her two opposite selves communicate with one another.
  • Despite having not ended in six days like hers, the lady in charge has been impressed with this Class Black.
  • It is pretty impressive that Azuma hasn’t actually had to kill anyone to get as far as she has. Hell, even Haru’s killed!

Akuma no Riddle – 07

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What is it you can never catch up to? Again, “death” seems an appropriate answer, since to catch up with something means outrunning it, and there’s no outrunning death…unless you have Highlander Syndrome, which is like Dorian Gray’s condition without the picture.

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This week’s assassin, Shutou Suzu, has it, so she’s always ahead of death. But immortality has a cost: she’s “stuck” at such a young age, the man she loved grew old and left her behind, and died. At this point, his grandchildren may have died of old age too. She’s forgotten exactly how old she is.

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This gives Suzu the most fascinating background so far. Her reward if she kills Haru is also unique: to be allowed to age normally and die. Mind you, she’s not suicidal; she merely wants the ability to grow old at the same speed as everyone else, which means she still has her whole life ahead of her.

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Her manner of “assassinating” Haru is also novel: rather than slug it out with Tokaku (and, if we’re honest, Haru herself, who’s no slouch) in a physical fight, she challenges them to a battle of wits instead. The bomb collar on a timer is very apropos; when the clock runs out on Haru, it will finally start back up again for Suzu.

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This being Akuma no Riddle, riddles provide clues as to the whereabouts of the four playing cards containing the numbers of the code that will disarm the bomb. The cards are scattered about the school’s…er…water park, making this ostensibly a pool episode, but it doesn’t make a big deal of it.

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Strangely enough, Haru’s life is really saved thanks to Mizorogi-sensei, who crashes the party to wish Suzu a happy birthday (having read her DOB on her dossier). That, combined with Suzu mentioning her true love was only a day younger than her originally, gives Tokaku the fourth an final number. That’s after the card was lost when Haru used it to save Tokaku from a watery grave, during which they share their first kiss.

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Akuma no Riddle – 06

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First and foremost, this was an efficient episode in which three assassins fell, leaving only five (excluding Tokaku) left with seven episodes remaining. But it also happened to be one of the show’s more intricate and affecting episodes, due to the use of the Romeo & Juliet play to serve as a mirror of sorts for the couple of Namatame Chitaru and Kirigaya Hitsugi.

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One of the most famous couples in literature is a very easy well to draw from, but its used effectively here. R&J were victims of their famile’s mutual hate, which is really another way of saying “bad luck”; Chitaru and Hitsugi are similar victims of bad luck, in that the Hitsugi just happened to be “Angel’s Trumpet”, the murderer of Chitaru’s mentor’s daughter, and someone she’d sworn to kill. Had Hitsugi’s victims been strangers to Chitaru, there’d be no reason to kill her.

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But she was, and Chitaru won’t abandon her mission. Still, after some nice swordplay between Tokaku and Chitaru, Hitsugi fesses up, and later forces Chitaru’s dagger into her own heart, killing her. We’ll never know if Chitaru would have actually killed the girl she loved; considering she promptly poisoned herself right after, I’d say probably not. In any case, it’s a suitably tragic end, and we were invested enough to feel bad about it and wish things could have turned out differently.

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It was a good move to combine two assassin’s backstories, though in Hitsugi’s case, we don’t know any more than Chitaru why she killed her mentor’s daughter. Maybe it doesn’t matter; it was a job, and it was the job that made them enemies, even though they loved each other. The short shrift goes to the play’s director, Shiena, who is poisoned by Hitsugi, hospitalized, and disqualified. I guess that saves the show the trouble of giving us her backstory.

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Stray Observations:

  • The reveal of Kirigaya as this week’s baddie is very well done in general.
  • I particularly liked the loud, foreboding music that accompanied the montage of otherwise innocuous candid photos.
  • The civilian students are never shown in color, which may well save cash, but also makes the assassins seem that much more vivid and beautiful.
  • I also approved of the crowd’s predictable swooning at the sight of Chitaru-as-Romeo. She was one debonair girl.
  • There’s just one thing that bothered me a bit: when Chitaru thinks Haru is Angel’s Trumpet and she and Tokaku go outside to duel, Haru was left unprotected, and Kirigaya was free to assassinate her right there. I guess she couldn’t do it in front of the civvies…or maybe clearing up Chitaru’s misunderstanding by telling her the truth was more important. In any case, “the show went on.”
  • We almost forgot to mention: both Romeo & Juliet’s and Chitaru & Hitsugi’s fates served as a kind of cautionary tale for Tokaku & Haru, past enemies themselves. You never know if something about Haru comes up that Tokaku just can’t forgive, or like Chitaru, possibly be able to forgive, but ending up killing her anyway.

Akuma no Riddle – 05

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This week’s riddle is “How do you get a bird out of its cage?” One thing Haru, Tokaku, and this week’s assassin Sagae Haruki share so far has been a sense of confinement due to circumstance. Haruki’s cage is poverty, and she has assassinated to put food on her large family’s table, and she’s promised they’ll be forever free from want if she kills Haru (even if she dies in the process).

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Tokaku’s cage is her name. Even though she never saw her father and her mother died right after she was born, the Azuma family has shaped her course in life and assigned her expectations. Haru’s cage has been built from the bones of those who died so that she could live. Haruki neither gets off on killing like Otoya, nor is she unsuited for killing like Kouko; she’s good at it, but it’s a means to free her family from its cage.

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Yet Haruki doesn’t seem altogether apathetic to Haru’s plight, nor Tokaku’s. She believes it to be a service and a kindness to free them too, but that suggest an inability to fathom that death is not the only way out of those cages. In Haru’s case, she considers it a solemn duty to always smile, be merry, and try to live as normal a life within that cage, honoring those who built it with their lives.

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By the same token, death isn’t the only way out of Tokaku’s cage either. She may be stuck with her name, but by choosing to subvert Class Black’s system by swearing to protect rather than assassinate Haru, Tokaku seems determined to survive in her cage her own way, while building a tunnel from her cage to Haru’s, connecting the two. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. I will stop using metaphors now.

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Akuma no Riddle – 04

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What comes suddenly but never leaves? Well, that would be death, right? And not just the death of a person, but the death of innocence. Once death enters one’s life—as it does every assassin—it also never leaves. Some say murdering takes pieces of one’s soul. If that’s the case, Class Black’s rep Kaminaga Kouko yearned to separate herself from death, to try to preserve at least part of her soul. But to be granted her wish of walking away from assassination, she had to take one more life: that of Ichinose Haru.

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While last week Haru mostly took care of herself against the very impatient Takechi, Kaminaga is a different kind of animal: in short, she’s not a very good assassin, and doesn’t even like killing. She was simply born into the business, and does it because it’s all she knows how to do. But her peers mocked her and she accidentally killed her mentor with a car bomb gone wrong. It’s not surprising that she’d strike as early as possible, out of a desire to get this nasty business over with so she can retire; the exact opposite of Takechi.

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To that end, Kaminaga attempts a series of passive attacks via booby trap bombs. Tokaku either detects and disarms them all, and in one case shields Haru from the blast. This earns Tokaku back some points after dropping the ball last week. Once Kaminaga is cornered and forced into close combat with Tokaku, it’s over for her. Because she’s not a sadistic serial killer, I actually felt kinda bad for Kaminaga, even if it hardly made sense for her organization to bother training her when she was neither practically nor emotionally cut out to be an assassin.

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Akuma no Riddle – 03

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What’s red but not read, and dead but not dead? The Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Azuma’s role as Haru’s protector is accepted by the gamemakers and the mission begins in earnest, with the first advance warning being given by Takechi Otoya. Needless to say, her assassination attempt fails, so she drops out of Class Black by the end of the episode. That leaves ten assassins and ten episodes remaining.

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Takechi starts her morning smashing her roommate’s glasses, and it’s gradually revealed she only gets sexual release from murder and is thus a serial killer. If she succeeds in offing Haru, she’s asked for bulletproof insurance that she’ll be able to murder as much as she likes in the future without consequence. She kills her prey slowly, taking after spiders but substituting scissors for fangs. Her buddy-buddy routine with Haru before striking is pleasantly unsettling, but she isn’t convincing anyone.

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What’s really interesting about this first attempt isn’t that Takechi failed to kill Haru, but that Azuma failed to protect Haru. Receiving her first warning unsettles Haru, but it also steels her resolve to protect herself, which is what she does, with a little luck: when Takechi lowers her guard, Haru kicks the hell out of her, sending her signature scissors flying right into Haru’s binds, cutting them. Azuma has her chance to take Takechi out, but her gun’s knocked out of her hands and she ends up on her back with a saw blade mere millimeters from her eye when Haru rescues her with a nifty sleeper hold.

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In this regard, Takechi gets a pretty raw deal, as she’s expelled for failing, but Azuma isn’t. One thing’s for sure, both of them agreatly underestimated Haru’s propensity for survival. I imagine we’ll learn a little more about that propensity with each successive assassin. It may well be that Azuma is the one who’ll continue to need protecting from increasingly sinister adversaries. Bring on Number Two.

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Akuma no Riddle – 02

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I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the sketchy guy who wears sunglasses in a dark office and is always rolling dice, talking to himself, and occasionally texting Azuma riddles. But despite the ridiculousness of its premise, the show is keeping me invested with it’s thick, threatening atmosphere, and a few interesting twists that surface this week.

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Four of the assassins decided to be fashionably late—literally, as there’s no apparent dress code for the Black Class—and a fifth waits all the way until the assassins’ orientation to introduce herself, and mention how she only sits on her own furniture. It’s weird quirks like that I hope to see more of as the other eleven girls besides Azuma come into focus (assuming they won’t start dying off right away).

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But first, Haru invites Isuke, whom we met last week, over for tea, which Isuke provides and is poison, of course; hoping to get a head start on the assassinating. But the first twist occurs: the poison doesn’t kill Haru. There’s some kind of spell (or curse) keeping her alive. When Azuma storms in we get a nice spot of hand-to-hand combat, but Azuma can’t close the deal, leading to the second twist: she’s never actually killed anyone. Furthermore, it seems as though a distant memory is keeping her from doing so.

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When Azuma arrives at the assassin’s meeting, she drops a third twist: she’s siding with Haru, and won’t let anyone hurt her. Events this week, and the emotions they stirred up, propelled her to abandon her original mission far earlier than we (and possibly Kaiba) thought she would. So, we’ve got a target who can’t be killed (or at least is determined not to be) and an assassin who can’t kill (or at least has considerable difficulty) surrounded by eleven assassins who can. The lines are drawn; let the battle commence.

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Akuma no Riddle – 01

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My Spring 2014 season starts off with Akuma no Riddle, about a “Black Class” of assassin girls (none of whom are black) locked in a battle royale. This is a patently silly premise, but I still enjoyed the stylish first episode, which didn’t waste a lot of time establishing that the main character Azuma Tokaku is a tough-as-nails bad-ass. The balance of the episode mainly consists of introductions, and the girls sizing each other up and exchanging hostile expressions and threats…or in the case of the class softy, Ichinose Haru, beaming at everyone and distributing phone straps.

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While Haru only wants to make friends and graduate, Azuma’s goal is to identify her target and take her out. She believes Haru is most likely her target, as she “smells” different from the others, and gives off a target-like vibe. Haru and Azuma are roommates. They also contrast in many ways: feminine and masculine, optimistic and nihilistic; warm and cool in both mood and color. When Azuma first spots Haru, the latter is gloriously backlit by the sun, throwing Azuma off to the point she doesn’t notice a civilian (their homeroom teacher Akaru) was right behind her.

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Haru’s apparent involuntary propensity for distracting Azuma (or Tokaku-san, as she calls her) and throwing her off her game serves to plant the seeds of a romance between the two, as the whole reason Azuma is so thrown off is that Haru evokes feelings she’s never experienced and cannot describe. Azuma has been a very efficient, businesslike assassin up to this point. It will be interesting to see how she holds her own against the very colorful bunch of mildly psychopathic classmates—while dealing with the burden of those new feelings.

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