Akuma no Riddle is an ongoing manga written by Koga Yun and illustrated by Minakata Sunao. Last year it was adapted into a twelve episode anime series by Diomedéa, the same studio behind Ika Musume and some series I’ve never seen and know basically nothing about. This is my second exposure to their work. Let’s see how they do.
Azuma Tokaku is an assassin in training. She gets selected for a rather strange mission at Myoujou Academy, a girls’ school. She and twelve other girls will make up the school’s Black Class and all of them except one, Ichinose Haru, are assassins. The assassin to slay Haru will be rewarded with whatever they desire. Things shift when Tokaku develops feelings for Haru, vowing to protect her from the others even if it costs her her life.
Let’s start by looking at the issues with the narrative. There’s really only one major complaint I have. The ending is pretty weak. There are parts of it that work but it tries way too hard to wrap everything up nicely and there are some things that really don’t add up as a result. I can’t really go into more details without giving major spoilers but if you’ve seen the anime you know exactly what I’m talking about. I will also say that the pacing isn’t very good and the series quickly falls into a rhythm of having an assassin make an attempt on Haru’s life every episode resulting in a match between her and Tokaku. I will give the series credit for being able to pull this off without it getting really samey and it’s kind of understandable since the series has the same number of episodes as assassins, but it still leads to a sense that things are getting rushed.
On a more positive note, the concept is compelling and it does keep you invested. The tension is really strong and there are a lot of really good sources for it be they mysteries about a character’s past, a situation with one of the assassins that’s particularly perilous or mysteries surrounding the scenario itself. I also like that Haru isn’t a helpless damsel who can’t do anything without Tokaku. She proves herself capable on several occasions and she even saves Tokaku a few times. The romance is also nicely done. It starts off kind of abruptly, but it gets a lot of good moments including a buddy breathing scene that’s on par with Due South’s, and it does develop into something really good. The series also has a really tragic episode about halfway through and it’s very well done and handled.
The cast is surprisingly strong. For a series with more major characters than episodes they do manage to give them all back stories, motivations and make them pretty well fleshed out. There are certainly characters who are better developed than others, but they do do really well overall. That isn’t to say it’s perfect. There are some issues with it. They use the pop culture version of dissociative identity disorder. There’s also a part of Isuke’s background that bothers me. She has two dads, no that isn’t what bothers me, and calls one of them “Mama.” I’m relatively certain that most gay couples do not have their adopted children refer to one of them by an opposite gender term and that that detail was just put in to make their family more “traditional.” In fact, most gay couples just differentiate by using different terms like “daddy” and “papa” or “dad” and “father” or “papa” and “vati.”
There are a lot of good aspects to the art. The character designs, mostly, are well done. Although I still have no idea why that one girl looks like a grade schooler. The action scenes are really well done with a lot of intensity. There are a lot of nicely done background details too. On the downside, the series is overly fond of fan-service
Our leads are voiced by Suwa Ayaka and Kanemoto Hisako (the voice of Ika Musume). They both give solid performances. We also get great performances from Nanjo Yoshino (Canaan’s Maria), Misawa Sachika (Kitakubu Katsudou Kiroku’s Reina), Uchida Mami and Yamada Yuki. Really, there aren’t any badly done performances in this. The music is also really good. Interestingly enough, the ending themes change from episode to episode and all the major actresses get to perform either by themselves or as part of a duet and they’re all really good.
While this is a yuri series, the romance elements are a bit downplayed. About the most you get is going to be a hug here and there. Still, the relationship between Tokaku and Haru is really well done and there is some extra yuri on the side between Chitaru and Hitsugi. There’s also the fact that Isuke has two dads but we never really see them together. So, the ho-yay factor is a 7/10. Don’t come into this expecting a lot of snogging and romantic scenes.
Akuma no Riddle is an interesting series with some really good moments, intense action scenes, compelling characters and an intriguing plot. It’s not perfect by any means and there are some head scratching decisions in it, but I still suggest checking it out since there are so many more things that it does well. My final rating for it is going to be an 8/10. Next week I’ll look at Sengoku Otome : Momoiro Paradox.