By Andy Hanley.
There’s something undeniably alluring about the role of the assassin – whether it’s silently following and killing a target without arousing suspicion or bringing them down in a hail of explosions and gunfire, assassination is still viewed as “sexy” within popular culture. Anime isn’t immune to this, and the often mysterious or complex motivations of those who choose to become killers in this fashion undeniably makes for compelling entertainment, whether its narrative is driven by a “kill or be killed” situation such as Assassination Classroom or a mercenary for hire like Golgo 13.
This brings us to Riddle Story of Devil, which takes the glamour of the assassin to its logical conclusion by packing a single class of an all-girls boarding school full of them [how is that logical!? – Ed.]. In fact, of the thirteen girls within “Class Black” twelve of them are assassins, which means bad news for Haru Ichinose, the thirteenth member and also the target of all of her fellow students. Precisely why Haru needs to die is a mystery as the story begins, but the reward for whoever successfully despatches her is boundless, with the promise that they will be granted whatever wish they desire.
Given the kind and gentle nature of Haru – who still wants to befriend her classmates even after they start trying to off her – it seems like her remaining life could be measured in hours rather than years, but that is to reckon without Tokaku Azuma. While this cold and distant girl initial appears to be the most ruthless of Class Black’s killers, she is somehow swayed by Haru’s plight and personality, and rather than her assassin she instead becomes her protector. Even with this turn, can two girls really fend off eleven others hell-bent on killing Haru?
Luckily for both Haru and this series, the reward on offer ensures that her rivals work alone, meaning that Riddle Story of Devil is largely an “assassination of the week” affair with each episode focusing on an individual character as they use their abilities to sidestep Azuma, baffle Haru and achieve their goal. In the wrong hands this could quickly become repetitive, but the series has enough strong and unique characters to prevent that becoming an issue. Every assassin here has a complex and often painful past that can be explored through the lens of their current job, while still leaving time to explore the relationship between Haru and Tokaku. There is, of course, also more to Haru than meets the eye, and there are plenty of revelations waiting in the wings as the show reaches its climax.
Ultimately, it’s the strength of Riddle Story of Devil’s cast which elevates it above what could so easily have become a formulaic show – all of its characters are very much larger than life, but still can offer some surprisingly touching moments as each assassin tries to outmanoeuvre or outthink the combination of Haru and Tokaku.
This focus on each individual character is also smartly leveraged by the show’s music – every episode has its own ending theme provided by a member of the cast in character, providing a plethora of rip-roaring tunes. It’s a notable part of a series that presents itself well throughout – Diomedéa’s adaptation of the source manga upon which it’s based makes good use of its character designs and quirks, and also manages to pull together some surprisingly varied backdrops for a series housed almost solely within the confines of its boarding school setting.
By way of comparison, some elements of Riddle Story of Devil bear some resemblance to Mirai Nikki: Future Diary – the outlandish scenario and cartoon nature of some of its personalities make for a delightfully unhinged and vicious viewing experience at times, yet this series also has a more reserved and restrained air about it. This isn’t simply a tale of death and selfishness, but also one of friendship and trying to fit in as an outsider to a group, and it’s this element of the show that the viewer can more readily relate to that manages to grant it a potency above and beyond the mere allure of the assassin.
Andy Hanley is the editor in chief of UK Anime net. Anime Limited will be releasing Riddle Story of Devil on DVD and Blu-ray.