If you’ve ever been in a class, in a school, somewhere in the world, you’ve probably encountered a class clown. You know the one, that student who loves to cause chaos for the sake of comedy, to place themselves in the sights of everyone for the benefit of a joke. Of course, it isn’t too often that said clown happens to be your teacher. It’s probably even less frequently that it is your government mandated task to keep an eye on said teacher…because you have to kill them. Of course I can’t generalise too much, though I will admit that if this situation sounds at all familiar to you, you attended a very strange school…and might also be an anime person.
Assassination Classroom…the title says it all really. It’s a classroom…and assassination is involved. Slightly more specifically, this particular class deals with the eradication of a global threat, a being of such immeasurable power that there is no doubt they could tear the Earth asunder with minimal effort, a villain who is so devious, so diabolical that they have labelled themselves…a teacher. Now, before your disbelief ceases its suspension, keep in mind that this is an anime and this is probably not even close to the weirdest setting to occur in that particular faction of fiction. External doubts aside, let us dive into a world where Junior High School students are tasked with saving the world through the age old practice of murder…which sounds kind of bad, but they’re totally doing it for the right reasons. Well, most of the characters are. I’ll admit there are a few whose motivations drift close to the darker side of emotions, however they serve as a nice contrast to the students who have been thrust into this world at the behest of the government. As a nice bonus, the more methodical approaches of these more weathered assassins present a reminder that this is by no means a perpetually dark series, as what would amount to a solid attempt on ones life is rendered comedically moot by the not-so-human target who helms this series. One particular example that comes to mind revolves around stopping a high velocity sniper bullet with a snack. Like, an average, run of the mill piece of food. Let that give you an idea of the tone this series is going for…most of the time.
When we delve into the titular classroom, we find ourselves face to face with one of the most symbolically happy looking creatures of all time. Simplistic features, large smile, yellow skin…this guy is the smiley face image that has existed since before emoji was even a made up word. Regardless, it is also immediately made apparent to us that you should not judge a book by its cover, as this happy seeming chap is the engine of the planets destruction; the soon to be named Koro Sensei. With the promise of Earth’s end marking the calendar in March, the students of Class 3-E find themselves with one year to figure out how to kill the unkillable and, if that wasn’t hard enough, ace their exams. This all culminates in the odd agreement made by Koro Sensei that he will allow them to do their damnedest to assassinate him as long as he may teach their class. Thus begins a series of violence, tactics and regular school activities that create a tumultuously conflicting, yet somehow beneficiary, environment that allows us ample time to learn about the students who populate our primary backdrop. It is from this beginning that Assassination Classroom delves into a “Student of the Week” style that hones in on one particular student and details their personality, motivations and methods of killing all in one fell swoop. Through this method, the series is able to flesh out its cast whilst simultaneously progressing the story, allowing for character development that does not stagnate the flow of the plot. That being said, it is easy to see how some may not enjoy this approach, as it dictates a very strict amount of time to each character and increases the possibility of expository fatigue setting in. However, the major factor that holds this feeling back for me is the notion that what has been established remains so. Though a character may drift out of the spotlight, they are still very much a presence in the class and it does not feel as if their story has been put on hold, merely that we are not witnessing each and every aspect of it. It is a comforting feeling that slowly sees a cast of unfamiliar faces shift into a class of characters whom we understand a little more each day. Of course, it still is a little tough to remember 24 names, so I won’t think badly of you if you can’t…because I also couldn’t.
Despite the initial insanity of its premise, Assassination Classroom carries a much deeper meaning to its perpetuating madness. Through the guise of improving their assassination skills, Koro Sensei manages to impart wisdom on each of his students, allowing them to better understand themselves and seek out the height of their abilities, a feeling stolen from them by their particularly brutal school. Long story short, Class 3-E is home to the lowest scoring students in Kunugigaoka Junior High School, a position which sees them ostracised and bullied by not only the students who wish to avoid a similar fate, but the teachers who are too frightened to go against the methods of the principal. It’s pretty terrible, but, as is the case with this series, it is a not so subtle jab at society itself, told through the microcosm of weirdness that is this series. With this in mind, the small improvements that the 3-E students make throughout their school days is ultimately satisfying as it serves to not only strengthen the characters we like, but also put in place those who we would like to punch in their stupid faces. However, in yet another display of its self affirming life view, Assasination classroom does not entirely throw these villainous figures by the wayside. Though nowhere near as important as the 3-E crew, these background characters are allowed the opportunity to grow and come to see that maybe shattering the fragile dreams of those whose lives they do not even try to understand may be a mean thing to do…though the petty part of myself still loved seeing two particular bullies cower in fear the second their unearned bravado was questioned.
When it comes to action, this series handles itself pretty well. Though still in the early phases of training, the animation does not lack intensity or detail. Each anti-Sensei bullet fired, or knife maneuver enacted carries a satisfying weight the expresses the effort each student puts into their training. This is tenfold for Karasuma (the government’s representative) whose honed body and demonstrations showcase his superior abilities, whilst also serving as a viewable goal for the students. This also however further expresses the gap between humanity and their declared target, whose nimble, near-weightless form contrasts and exceeds all who face him. A certain lesson can however be gleaned from protagonist front runner Nagisa, who sees through the ridiculous comedy of their daily life and details the strengths and weaknesses Koro Sensei reveals on a daily basis. Who’d have thought that witnessing a throwaway prat fall would reveal that this nigh-immortal teacher can become easily flustered? Not everybody. Which is exactly the point. Never stop trying, never stop learning and never stop working towards your goals. Is it a little trite? Maybe, but wrapped in the rollicking romp of assassination Classroom, I don’t think you’ll care at all.
For the sake of transparency, I have to admit that this was an interesting review for me, as I have already seen Assassination Classroom in its entirety. Thus, I found myself realising just how early some plot threads were pulled along with how subtle references slowly snowballed into what would become much more important later on. With that knowledge in mind, it is clear to see how this is very much Assassination Classroom in its early stages. That being said, it is these foundations that allow the series to become only stronger as it progresses. Somewhat unfortunately however, I’m not here to talk about what this series will be, but what it is now, in this release. Still, even knowing what is to come, assassination Classroom still stands strong where it is. Though the episodic nature may deter some, along with the succinctness of these stories, and there are still quite a number of faces without personalities, what we do see is solid. Nagisa manages to stand up to a bullying duo, a shy girl learns the power of communication, a Russian bombshell comes to see the world as more than just a place where her targets live and a bio-engineered teacher manages to form connections with the very students sworn to kill him. It’s a goddamn weird series that relishes in its insanity, propels its messages of compassion and inner strength and looks good doing it. Simply put, this series has heart. And when that heart lies in a solid body of work, you’ve got yourself a winning formula.
A Madman once taught a class…the madder ones attended it