Marathon or Drop? Akuma no Riddle

The Spring 2014 anime season was a little bare, but there’s always at least one or two eye-catching titles I want to check out every week.  This season, the only anime I was compelled to watch — aside from Soul Eater NOT!, which I’d been anticipating — was Akuma no Riddle, released in English as Riddle Story of the Devil.

The thirteen girls in the Black Class in Akuma no Riddle.

The thirteen girls in the Black Class in Akuma no Riddle.

Akuma no Riddle is the story of the Black Class, thirteen girls in a single special class at an elite high school in Japan.  Twelve of the girls are assassins of varying calibers; the thirteenth is their target.  At least until one of the assassins, Toukaku, turns around and steps up as a defender of the target, a sweet and clueless-seeming girl named Haru.

I started watching Akuma no Riddle with a certain level of expectation. It’s one of the first yuri/shoujo-ai anime I’ve seen — unless you count Sailor Moon, which doesn’t really count in the North American dub — and based on the variety of yuri/shoujo-ai manga I’ve read in the past, I was curious to see what Akuma no Riddle might do the same or differently.

In terms of the art, my expectations were met completely.  A fast Google search brings up plenty of clips from the manga, and the anime’s color style is a good translation of the black-and-white manga.

One of my favorite things about this anime?  The super-creepy facial expressions.

Facial expressions are usually my favorite thing about anime and manga, anyway, but the expressions in Akuma no Riddle pretty much blast other creepy facial expressions out of the water.  The best ones are from Nio, the small blonde towards the front of the cast picture above, who serves as the main organizer of the girls in the Black Class.  She’s got by far the creepiest of manga expressions, and the anime stays faithful to that as well.

When watching an action-adventure anime, there are really two main aspects to evaluate: character development and awesome action scenes.  Like many action-adventure anime — especially ones with just 12 episodes, as Akuma no Riddle has — this series manages to hit only one of these aspects.  The assassin-on-assassin fight scenes are intense and a ton of fun, even though some of them turn pretty gross, and each girl’s specialty, ranging from sword-fighting to bombs to a pair of giant scissors, makes each episode an exciting ride.

The girl on the left is my favorite character and has a relatively in-depth backstory compared to the other characters.

The girl on the left is my favorite character and has a relatively in-depth backstory compared to the other characters.

Unfortunately, the time devoted to the fight scenes significantly reduces the amount of time available to develop the characters, their personalities, or their relationships to one another.  While one pair of assassins in particular has a pretty cute relationship (for assassins, anyway), their friendship-but-probably-more is the only one besides that of Toukaku and Haru.  I was itching to see more interactions between the characters — they live in pairs in the dorms, with some getting along well and others, uh, not — and more time devoted to each one before she mysteriously disappeared after her assassination attempt.

Akuma no Riddle is definitely the sort of show to marathon when you’re bored or just want to watch some epic fight scenes, and its 6-hour total run time makes it easy to marathon in one night or on a sick day.  But if your anime viewing habits require more character-building, this may not be quite for you.

You can find Akuma no Riddle on Hulu under the title Riddle Story of the Devil.

The Best Anime for Questioning Viewers

So you need to check out this “anime” thing.

There’s more than one reason you’re thinking about it.  Maybe you’re a teen or adult who has never watched anime but heard a lot about it.  You may also want to check out this “anime” thing because your kids’ friends are into it and your kids want to watch it too.

In the latter case, there are a few things you really need to look at before you let your kids watch anime.  While it looks cartoonish and child-friendly, a lot of anime have violent content or sexual content (such as partial nudity) you may not want your kids to see.

That’s where I come in to recommend good starter films and shows for all your newcomer needs!  Here are the top anime I recommend for those not quite sure if they want to try it out.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service

Hayao Miyazaki (or, if you prefer the Japanese way to write it, Miyazaki Hayao) is one of the most internationally well-known anime creators.  He is known primarily for his beautiful style and his films.

You may have heard of many of his films, such as Spirited Away – which won several awards – or Howl’s Moving Castle, based on the Diana Wynne Jones novel.  He also has some very thought-provoking classics such as Princess Mononoke or Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.

Yet even now, after I’ve seen close to every single Miyazaki movie available in America, the first thing I think of when I hear the name is Kiki’s Delivery Service, which I saw at least 10 times when I was a child.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a lighthearted story about a young witch going through magic training.  Besides the elements of the supernatural, the film is very much a slice-of-life piece, evoking the air of a laid-back country community.

Another thing I really like about Kiki’s Delivery Service is that it’s so – well – clean.  There are no “mature” jokes.  There are no sexual references.  The women are not sexualized.  Miyazaki is essentially the Disney of Japanese animation, and it shows.

If you’re looking for a nice, safe introduction to anime for yourself or for your younger children, Miyazaki is the place to start, and if your children are under 13, this movie is definitely where you’ll want to begin.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Edward Elric is the protagonist of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" who is attempting to creat a Philosopher's Stone with alchemy. From Wikia.org.

Before we start to talk about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I will preface by saying that this show can be very violent and graphic at times, especially within the first few episodes, so if you’re reading this for the benefit of your children, this probably isn’t a good show to start with.

That being said, Brotherhood is an excellent starter anime if you’re the kind of viewer who wants a real plot and philosophical content.  It’s even better if you go into it wondering “can this childish-looking show have any value for adults?”

While it contains a lot of somewhat juvenile humor, Brotherhood is an excellent show because it’s so thought-provoking.  The central conflict revolves around two boys – Edward and Alphonse Elric – who have lost parts (or in Al’s case, all) of their bodies because they attempted to revive a dead human using alchemy.

That alone should give you at least a small indication of what’s to come if you choose to pick up this series.  As mentioned before, however, Brotherhood is slightly gory and bloody, and apart from some sexual humor – primarily large-breasted women – there are also mature insinuations that, while not explicit, are a bit complicated for a younger person.

If you can handle that, though, Brotherhood may just be the show for you.

Princess Tutu

"Princess Tutu" is a ballerina-magical girl. Image from Wikia.com.

At first glance, Princess Tutu looks and sounds like a children’s show.  It focuses on the title character, who is a “magical girl”/mahou shoujo type of superhero and the alter ego of Duck/Ahiru, an ordinary duck who was turned into a girl because she is in love with a prince.

In fact, if you watch only the first season, Princess Tutu is a simple good-versus-evil show.  While it can be a bit scary, the first season is still appropriate for children from about age 9 or 10 as long as a parent is watching.  Another plus: Princess Tutu is a ballet-dancing princess, and each episode is themed around a classical ballet.  If your daughter loves ballet, this might be a good show for her.

But if you go past the first season into the second season, you’ll find the show taking a distinctly darker turn as the lines between Good and Bad blur and the rules of Ahiru’s fate start to distort.  Do the characters simply allow their written endings to happen, or do they try to change the unsatisfactory written ending for themselves?

Season 2 is  too complex for smaller children, though teens and college students would probably enjoy it.  I’d recommend Princess Tutu mainly because it changes from a stereotypically sweet fairy tale into the sort of show that makes the viewer think harder about their own lives.

Conclusion

In the end, the anime you pick is your choice – it reflects your own taste in pretty much everything, since the types of anime you can find are very well-mixed and diverse.  Make sure you know what’s appropriate, what offends you, and what you’re interested in, but always keep an open mind: every once in a while, there’s something that jumps out at you and won’t let you go.

Indie Toledo: Seann’s Anime & Comics

The first in a series about independent shops and restaurants in the Northwest Ohio (specifically Toledo) area.

The first time I enter a comic book or anime store, I’m usually not expecting much.  I have been in my fair share of both, and they tend to be a bit crowded and claustrophobic, the counter workers more interested in reading or watching their own thing to make conversation, or – in the case of many anime stores – carry more merchandise than comics, manga, or anime DVDs.

That’s why walking into Seann’s was a pleasant surprise for me.  The store wasn’t nearly as overcrowded as I’d come to expect from a store of that type.  In fact, it was very open and cool (it was a very hot day outside). That was definitely an inviting sign for me to check everything out.

Products

Seann’s carries primarily anime titles on DVD and Blu-ray, though the store also carries a decent stock of new and gently used manga as well as merchandise and snacks.  When first walking into the store, the rows of DVDs are all you see until your eye is drawn to the back wall, which had a rack of cute anime and cartoon plushies.

After browsing the titles – they had quite a few titles that were not as well-known alongside the hot sellers – I headed for the print section of the store.  The print section is for both manga and American comics: the manga titles sit on a bookshelf while the newest comics sit on regular racks.  There is also a table with boxes containing other titles, as well as titles that are a little bit older.

Near the check-out counter, there is a glass case containing sake bottles from local dealer Ohio Kimono as well as other items that are a bit more fragile.  On top of the counter, there are different types of jewelry and other fun stuff, like string dolls and keychains.  (The dolls are made from a single piece of string!)  By the door, there is a rack of Japanese-style candy and snacks, including fruit gummies and ramune.

Services

Seann’s buys back used anime DVDs as well as used manga.  I ended up buying two used DVDs, which are both in really good condition for being used – and they were about half the price of a new DVD, so I got both for $10.

The store also offers comic subscription services for monthly pickup, and they even offer a discount!  If you subscribe to at least 5 different comics, Seann’s offers a small percentage discount on the subscription.  There’s a catch, though: you have to pick them up at least once a month.

One service I found pretty unique, at least for an anime store in the Toledo area, is the rental service.  Patrons can rent DVD titles for up to one week.  The rates vary – you can rent a single title for one night or a boxed set for up to a week, all for different (yet affordable) rates.  This is great for those who never watch anything more than once, or those who love $1 one-night rentals to try out something they’ve never seen before.

Critic’s Conclusion

There is no reason for an anime/manga fan to NOT visit Seann’s.  With a wide variety of items and services, they have something for everyone: my best friend and I can go together, and while he browses the DVD rentals, I can pick up a manga or comic that looks interesting.  They also carry enough merchandise to be interesting for anyone who enjoys Japanese culture or media, from wall scrolls and dolls to stickers and notebooks to sake sets.

Comic fans may not be as inclined to visit.  As far as I can tell, the selection is somewhat small, as it occupies only a very small section of the shop.  However, a sign indicates that store employees can pull comics, and their subscription service is pretty nice.  There are also some beautiful art pieces on the wall behind the counter from a comic artist.  I don’t know too much about comics, but I can appreciate beautiful things when I see them.

Also, though I didn’t mention this in the body of the review, the young lady who was working when I was there was very nice.  She wasn’t pushy or trying too hard to sell anything, and when I asked questions she gave me knowledgeable answers.

I’d recommend this store for any anime/manga fan and anyone interested in comics or Japanese culture.

– Find Seann’s online at their website or simply type “Seann’s Anime and Comics” in the searchbar on Facebook.