One day an incredibly powerful yellow-skinned tentacle monster destroys 70% of the moon, leaving it in a permanent crescent shape. He then threatens to destroy the Earth after a year, but he allows humanity a chance to avoid this fate. He becomes the homeroom teacher of Class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High School. The creature teaches the students not only the usual school subjects, but also in the various ways of assassination, for they are humanity’s last hope. If any of them manage to kill the monster, they will be rewarded with 10 billion yen. But the task is easier said than done, as the creature can move up to Mach 20 speeds and is only harmed by a very specific material. As a result, his students started affectionately calling him Koro-sensei, a pun based around the sheer difficulty of killing him. Does Assassination Classroom pass with flying colors, or does it need remedial lessons?
It is fitting that the yellow tentacle monster the series revolves around is the character that ends up stealing the show. Koro-sensei is a many things. A massive troll, an effective motivator, a being with out of this world powers. But the most surprising thing that he is, is a compassionate and excellent teacher. He often uses his Mach 20 speed to do something that is normally impossible, he is able to create tests and lessons tailor-made for each and every student in Class 3-E that works to their strengths, whatever those may be, and actively seeks to improve their skills, regardless of it those skills pertain to the classroom or to killing him.
Because Koro-sensei is such an excellent teacher, this puts Class 3-E in a very precarious position. On the one hand they are being tasked with saving the world from this destructive being of unknown origin. On the other hand, that same being is the best damn teacher they’ve ever had while at Kunugigaoka, and is the only teacher on the campus that remotely cares about them and hasn’t written off their academic future simply due to the class they are in.
Small spoiler alert that honestly shouldn’t even be a spoiler because of how the show’s narrative is structured, but the students in Class 3-E fail in their assassination attempts over and over again. But rather than just continuously plugging away time and again with the same strategies, the students slowly but surely adapt their methods as they collect more knowledge on what works and doesn’t work against Koro-sensei. This is all made possible by Nagisa (the blue-haired boy above (and yes that is a boy)) who diligently takes notes every time they discover something new about Koro-sensei. Whether it is something stupid or not, Nagisa writes it down, never knowing when it might be useful.
I personally like it when little visual tricks are used like this. The students in Class 3-E are designed in a way that makes them stand out in stark contrast from the rest of the school, which especially becomes abundantly clear when they have to be in the same room with students from the other classes. The kids in Class 3-E are generally speaking presented as looking attractive and have lots of color to them, be it their hair, their eyes, or even simply their skin tone being a less gloomy shade. The rest of the students look anywhere from homely to down right ugly, and have more toned down colors with them.
Assassination Classroom has an insanely large cast, and that’s just counting the students and teachers of Class 3-E, the ones we see the most. The sheer size of the cast would prove to be a daunting task when it comes to developing them as characters, but the show does an admirable effort. Only a few characters so far have any real substantial depth to them, but nearly everyone in the class has enough traits to at least be recognized as actual characters, regardless of how little their roles are. On top of that, nearly every student in Class 3-E got at least one or two brief moments in the spotlight this season.
This is something that Lerche’s extremely solid animation helped with. This series has a very clean and colorful artstyle, yet it can still be just a tad grim in some areas. This is still a series about teaching kids to become killers, after all. And it creates a great clashing, with my absolute favorite visuals in the series being when the tone and the clean, colorful art style crash into each other head on.
Irina “Bitch-sensei” Jelavic is one of the more entertaining side characters in Assassination Classroom. Her nickname amongst the students in 3-E was well deserved at first, because there is no getting around it, she was quite the bitch at first, just sitting around trying to plan new ways of killing Koro-sensei, rather than teaching them. Actually Bitch-sensei being a teacher for 3-E at all shows how desperate and short-sighted the government was when it came to killing Koro-sensei. They simply picked the best assassin who can use seduction that they can find, hoping she’d deal with Koro-sensei in one go so they didn’t bother factoring in the fact that she’d have to actually teach something as a cover in case she failed. Thankfully she came up with her own way to teach the students, and she was actually teaching them something useful.
Kotaro Takebayashi is a usually quiet, bookish member of Class 3-E, and in fact was one of the students to take the longest to speak their first line in the show, but the wait was worth it, as his first line was pure gold, and for that matter everything he said, few as they were, was amazingly funny and to the point.
And saving the, in my opinion, best for last, my favorite part about Assassination Classroom is not the culmination of the students’s assassination training, but rather the fruits of Koro-sensei’s labor as a teacher; the mid-term tests. See it is during these mid-term tests that Class 3-E actually has a chance to stick it to the other students. I mean what better way to take the smug ass students and teachers on the main campus down a peg or two than by potentially besting them in the tests when you are supposed to be “inferior” to them intellectually? Another thing I love about the mid-term tests in this show is that they are presented as fantasy gladitorial fights, with all of the students, regardless of their class, being shown fighting giant monsters in a massive arena.
This is just a personal preference of mine, but as I already said, the mid-term tests were my favorite part of this season, in effect making the classroom part of the show much more engaging to me. Sure the assassination part was always there, lingering in the shadows, but when it is finally brought back to the forefront, it kind of lost a bit of the momentum that it had before the show really started to focus on the school aspect. Not to say the assassin stuff is boring, just that I feel the show’s real potential is in the academic stuff is all.
Assassination Classroom is based on a still ongoing manga series. Obviously that means this season doesn’t wrap everything up. But that’s ok! There is a second season coming, so the way this season ended doesn’t hurt as much as it could. On top of that, this season ended by wrapping up an arc, so the ending still had some satisfaction to it. In terms of “But our fight continues” endings, there have been far, far more egregious examples.
Assassination Classroom is, like its iconic tentacle monster, a very strange beast of a show. It is truly damn hard to describe the show in a way that gives it justice. I’ve tried my damnedest with this review and I still feel like I failed on that front. This is the kind of show that I think needs to be seen by your own eyes to see if it is really right for you. For me personally, I had a blast with this show, and even its lowest points were still easily amongst the best parts of the Winter 2015 and Spring 2015 seasons. This is a show that can equally be enjoyed as a big dumb popcorn series and as a show with some deeper meaning and themes. I may not know how to properly describe this show, but I do know one thing; this is one of the most fun and surprising series I’ve seen in quite a while.
Assassination Classroom can be watched on the FUNimation and Hulu streaming services. Assassination Classroom is based on a manga by Yusei Matsui that is running in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine.