Upon the understanding that a film, book or television show will feature assassins as its fundamental aspect, it’s likely that the immediate set of expectations we receive from this falls along the imagery of thrill, excitement and aesthetics. Akuma no Riddle is very much a show that exhibits these types of expectations. It sets the stage for a high-school battle royale well enough by introducing 12 female assassins, each with their own desires, and one target, a girl striving to survive the oncoming ordeal. The assassins and target must all participate in Myoujou Academy’s elusive Black Class, where they’ll assume the guise of high-school students, and whoever is able to successfully kill the target may have their any wish granted. However, due to a twist of events, one assassin successfully defects to the target’s side, vowing to protect her at all costs. It is quite an exciting premise and definitely promises those characteristic expectations of assassins. Unfortunately, Akuma no Riddle falls short on delivery of said expectations and is ultimately a weak series. That is not to say that it fails solely because of its lack of deliverance. Rather, the series’ shortcomings can be directly attributed to a much greater, fundamental flaw located right at its very core. That and one particular misfire that brings down all hopes of the show had of being redeemed.
The particular assassin that defects to the target’s (Haru Ichinose) side, is Azuma Tokaku, the central character of Akuma no Riddle. We are affixed to her presence from the show’s very beginning and quickly learn that she is stoic, reserved and not the most determined assassin out of the bunch. Her reason for defection is not initially made clear by the series though this is not a hindrance but a gateway for speculation that Tokaku has become subtlety attracted to Haru. Tokaku is very much the protagonist of the series though, due to her newfound predicament, she finds Haru, the series deuteragonist, in her company more often than not. Haru is a surprisingly cheery and optimistic girl for a girl of her position, and her grand desire is to achieve friendship with the assassins and graduate from the Black Class, not as enemies but as friends. It seems to be a vain goal but, we learn that through Haru’s past experiences, she has been shaped to think like this. The main characters don’t have the strongest or most convincing characterization they could but, it is done well enough to make them interesting to follow. What’s more interesting than their individual characteristics is their relationship. Tokaku and Haru share an inevitable bond that grows stronger with each assassination attempt, which is a pleasure to watch. It is probably one of the the series’ greatest strength. It’s not long before the series sets us free to discover the other 11 assassins and their motives. The quality of their characterization varies, but Akuma no Riddle sets out to define each and every assassin to their distinct character. However, the success of this greatly hindered by the great limitation of the series; its very own formula.
Harkening back to the rules of the Black Class, assassins must hand in an advance notice to Haru in order for their assassination to be considered valid. From there, they must successfully execute their assassination within a 48-hour limit. Failure upon doing so means expulsion from the Black Class. In retrospect this is where the series limits itself. This is not an apparent limitation but it’s how Akuma no Riddle handles this rule that causes the series to become restricted. From the start of the assassination game, the series decides to formally focus on usually one assassin and their assassination attempt per episode. This type of formula of focusing on a different character each episode is a familiar one, so it’s all up to the execution to make sure that it’s a effective episode with strong characterization and memorable moments. Akuma no Riddle fails to deliver here. With the confliction of the show’s premise (Tokaku protecting Haru from her assassination), the 48-hour time limit and only one assassination attempt per assassin, it’s obvious that there can be only one outcome. For the sake of the show to continue, it should be no surprise that Haru and Tokaku are able to prevail over their opponents, resulting in the opposing assassin being disqualified, never to be seen at Black Class again. This type of formula can get tired fast and yet, Akuma no Riddle decides to let it dictate nearly the entire series. It gets old seeing the same thing twice, nevertheless the 8th time as well. By deciding to have this formula, the series allows itself to become entrapped in a web of predictability. It doesn’t matter what happens to the protagonists in each episode because you know what the outcome will be. Surprise is effectively killed, despite the series’ best attempts to shake it up now and then. It is a breathe of fresh air when the series does this but the problem is that the formula is still there when it really shouldn’t be. It’s probably the most roundabout & counterintuitive way to execute the series’ premise.
Predictability is not the formula’s sole crime however. A very important and much focused on aspect of this series is affected as well; characterization. Each episode has a focus character and the show wastes no time in its attempts to characterize them and flesh them out. However, with solely one episode to work on a character (who probably didn’t get a lot of spotlight because prior episodes focused on different characters) Akuma no Riddle’s attempts at characterization are ineffective and insubstantial. There’s just not enough time to develop these assassin-of-the-week characters who won’t be seen again and any attempts that are made are just shallow. Usually a good option for this one-episode-character trope is to have these characters leave an imprint on the main characters and have them develop instead. However, Akuma no Riddle has no desire to do this. It solely attempts to develop these side-characters who will ultimately have no significant outcome on the story. It is entirely futile and the series doesn’t do a particularly good job at making us care for these characters anymore than we did before, no matter how tragic or reverent the character is. It’s thanks to this formula of strictly focusing on side characters that the series forgets to focus on the more interesting aspects of the series, like Tokaku and Haru’s relationship. If Akuma no Riddle had focused more on their relationship, we generally would have gotten character development that mattered and watching it would’ve been more rewarding.
With surprise taken out and weak characterization in abundance, surely Akuma no Riddle should be able to soar with exciting, thrilling and aesthetic action. After all, the formula is not strict enough that it needs the action to subscribe to it. As I said earlier, Akuma no Riddle is not able to completely deliver upon these expectations. Assassinations are not as clever or exciting as one would expect. Most assassinations don’t have much effort put into them, they lack effectiveness and creativity, almost as if the assassins aren’t really trying to seriously kill Haru. Though this is unconvincingly addressed by the series later on, it doesn’t make it any more engaging. There’s a point where the series understandably breaks free from its formula, and surprisingly enough, it is almost able to redeem itself. The final three episodes are able to deliver thrilling revelations, truly exciting action and well-built momentum for an engaging, albeit confusing, finale. However, it is what directly follows the finale that permanently sinks Akuma no Riddle. An epilogue that is meant to give closure to the series, while also attempting to please the viewer ends up becoming a complete misfire. It’s confounding in its own right, but as a direct cause of being an immediate follow-up to the climax, it becomes incredibly jarring and backwards. The finale sets up a definite ending, one that is understandable, and a good one for the series. The epilogue completely rewrites this climax, undermining it as well as everything else the series had built up prior. The bizzarity of this epilogue is outstanding that it’s almost surreal and its disparity with the rest of the series is too apparent.
Akuma no Riddle had all the pieces, but assembly led to mistakes that ultimately brought down the series. It is still has its enjoyable aspects however. Animation, while not incredibly impressive overall, conveys the fight scenes and action quite well and is without compromise. OST accompanies scenes well, and while nothing stands out, it fits into the background nicely. Character design does stand out thankfully and each assassin has a memorably distinct design, setting them apart from the rest. The OP ‘Soushou Innocence’ is notable in delivering a fittingly moody & energetic tune filled an aesthetic visual experience. Regarding the EDs, Akuma no Riddle generously gives nearly every assassin their own song which can serve as further characterization as to who they are. For example, the 8th ED ‘Mayonaka no Toubou’ is able to effectively exude the melancholic delusion of a character through its lyrics, tune and visuals. The art for these EDs are in good quality as well, matching the characters nicely and further indirectly characterizing them. It’s a shame that the series was not able to deliver the same level of characterization with such conviction.
Even with Akuma no Riddle becoming a slave to its own formula, it can still be enjoyed. Tokaku and Haru’s relationship is pleasant to see (when it is actually focused on), the action is decent, reaching an all time high near the end, and some of the characters can still be entertaining (notably the ones given more prominence than others). However, its formula is its greatest enemy, bringing down the deliverance of expectations, characterization as well as the effectiveness of its story. Along with a questionable epilogue, Akuma no Riddle is weakened and restricted from crafting the exciting, thrilling and aesthetic battle royale it wanted to be.