Otaku USA Magazine
Assassination Classroom is a Surprisingly Warm Underdog Tale

All but the iconic crescent of the Moon has been obliterated, and even less could remain of Earth unless Class 3-E’s collection of misfits and underperformers can kill the super-powered perpetrator. As it so happens, the tentacled terrorist who’s threatening the world just became Class 3-E’s teacher, but proximity means nothing when the target can move from standstill to Mach 20 in less than the blink of an eye and, even worse, is a pretty swell guy. Even if the students hone their assassination skills in time, will they have the guts to pull the trigger or make the fatal knife thrust to reap the ¥10 billion reward offered for their beloved teacher’s head?

Unbeknownst to the entirety of Earth’s populace, save the world leaders, and their sworn to secrecy underlings, the entity claiming responsibility for the destruction of the Moon has negotiated, seemingly out of pure whimsy, an oddly specific deal: he will carry through with his next plan, to blow up Earth, unless Kunugigaoka Junior High School’s Class 3-E (not so affectionately nicknamed “End Class” for their shameful academic performance) can kill him before the end of the school year. The powers that be approve of this, because (a) killing the creature seems impossible as is, (b) keeping track of the octopod is at easier when it’s on a set schedule, and (c) it’ll be under constant threat by every student in the very class it’s teaching.

Every period of every day, those in Class 3-E attempt to kill their new teacher, who they name Koro-sensei, while learning the core curriculum as well as the fine art of assassination from their very target. Not only does Koro-sensei provide top-notch lessons on every subject in earnest, but he is also fast enough to give each student the individual attention he or she needs in their respective problem areas while teaching the class as a whole. And for each attempt on his life, Koro-sensei praises the commendable, points out what went wrong and why, and warmly encourages increased focus and effort.

The intimate guidance Koro-sensei showers upon his adopted students warms over most of the kids. Class 3-E convenes at an isolated mountaintop campus far removed from its reluctantly associated, prestigious prep school, so having a teacher actually care by actively engaging each student as a mind to mold rather than an excellent thing to waste is a huge change of pace for each of those in End Class. And since the children get the feeling that they probably won’t ever be able to kill Koro-sensei due to the gap between his awesome powers and their novice skillset, the random pot shots taken at Koro-sensei’s life come across like affectionate jabs rather than murderous intent.

As their arms are arrested in mid-swing with knife in hand, or as Koro-sensei flitters about the room dodging bullets while calmly delivering a lecture on verb conjugation, the students remain concentrated on whatever scholastic lesson is at hand. These swift and nonchalant executions make for quick chuckles but also portray an almost familial warmth or master-pupil relationship of the utmost respect without having to overstate the obvious. As the show progresses, the kids’ assassination skills get good … real good … and lessons learned in the classroom start to be applied to the students’ interactions with others at the school as a relatively subtle show of growing confidence under nurturing tutelage.

A class of delinquents warming up to a monster sets the stage for highlighting the real monsters: humans. Koro-sensei isn’t the only recent transfer into Kunugigaoka. Throughout the show, professional assassins and military personnel/ equipment are brought in under the guise of being teachers specially acquired to aid or partake in Class 3-E’s education. There’s a blonde bombshell (with a nickname probably unfit for print in this magazine) who becomes the prime example of “those who can’t do, teach” in Seduction 101; a sweet-toothed ape with simian flu in the form of a human gym teacher; and even a potently packed Norwegian AI “student.”

All of these initially rub those in 3-E the wrong way and push them closer to Koro-sensei. Even the regular people at Kunugigaoka are horrible. From the top students in Class 3-A, who perpetually look down and spit upon 3-E, to the Board Chairman, who leverages 3-E as a pointed-to and laughed-at example of those who fall behind or get out of line, these characters make those in End Class cherish the ameliorable atmosphere created by Koro-sensei as opposed to the environment of prejudice and intolerance instilled by the very institution they attend. The message is loud and clear, and watching as the kids grow bit by bit is the warmth of this underdog tale.

This may sound all warm and fuzzy, but that’s only the subtext; mainly, Assassination Classroom is all about the funny. After all, there’s a super-powered octopus teaching a bunch of junior high school students how to be assassins. Koro-sensei’s face changes color according to mood, and he loves taking advantage of his super speed to mock, in good jest and varying ways, those trying in vain to assassinate him. The absurdity of the situation is matched only by Koro-sensei’s appearance and the blatantly ineffective disguises he dons that somehow allow him to go unnoticed in public.

There’s also the grin-inducing irony of Professor B., who, having exposed herself as an assassin, becomes all but useless except as a foreign language teacher for 3-E. There’s also a lot of good-natured otaku ribbing and in jokes. While there’s not a lot of out-loud laughing, there are a ton of smirks, a goodly dose of giggles, and even the occasional jaw-drop. (Koro-sensei in the shed with Professor B. is all I’ll say to the latter.) All this creates a frame for punctuating action sequences, which do not stand out as anything special on their own but definitely balance out each episode’s pacing rather nicely while varying in execution quite refreshingly.

Visually, Assassination Classroom is bright. Really bright. Manga-thick character outlines abound to rein in all that vividness, but it’s a futile effort; fun seeps out of every cell. The world as it’s painted (figuratively) almost makes you forget that there’s a serious deadline looming, and that’s a great use of contrast. The OP is similar, with the bouncy “Youth Savage Theory” by 3-nen E-Gumi Utatan backing a bunch of bouncing 3-E students and their spinning sensei. To the opposite effect, although used sparingly, adept framing occasionally and very effectively brings out the scarier elements, such as Koro-sensei’s painted-on smile melting into a black cavern lined with jagged white teeth. Such sparse interjections really help to remind viewers of the potential behind the bubbly visage.

As of this writing, there are only five episodes left (in this season anyway), and a lot of unanswered questions loom. What exactly is Koro-sensei? Why was this arrangement ever made? What’s with certain talents of particular students? How will those in 3-E deal with the almost unspoken Catch-22 of having to kill the only teacher they’ve ever loved? If you’ve read the original (ongoing) manga by Yusei Matsui, which is being released stateside by Viz Media, you might already know. If not, if there’s a second season coming, and if the crew behind this production can maintain the balanced momentum they’ve built thus far, I advise waiting for and enjoying the ride. It’s completely worth it.

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