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!)

 

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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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