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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