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.