“Assassination Classroom: Season One Part One” – Animation Scoop

“Assassination Classroom: Season One Part One”

Based on the manga by Yusei Matsui, the series Assassination Classroom has a premise that’s bizarre, even by the freewheeling standards of anime.

An alien destroys 70% of the moon, leaving just a permanent crescent. He threatens to do the same to the Earth unless certain conditions are met. The creature insists on being made the home room teacher of class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High, a kind of dumping ground for kids who have been written off as academic duds. If the students can manage to kill him within a year, the Earth will be saved, and the kids will share a ¥10 billion reward. If they fail, kablooie!

The students dub the alien (voice by Sonny Straight) Koro-sensei, a pun on korosenai (殺せない, unkillable) and sensei (せんせい, teacher). Koro resembles a cross between a big yellow octopus and a smiley-face button. He’s too silly-looking to appear dangerous, but he can move at Mach 20, he’s immune to seemingly all poisons and can’t be harmed by ordinary bullets. He’s vulnerable only to special government-issued pellets, but no one can get near enough to him to use them.

The students are initially as confused as the audience: Why does such a powerful alien want to teach a passel of losers? Their initial assassination attempts fail: They can’t come close to shooting or stabbing a creature who can move fast enough to pluck bullets out of the air. When the kids prove inadequate as killers, the government sends in some ringers, including Karma (Austin Tindal), a violent delinquent, and the hard-boiled professional assassin Irina Jelavic (Martha Harms). The students refer to her as “Miss Bitch” as they can’t pronounce name correctly (there’s no “v” sound in Japanese).

Like ex-biker gang leader Eikichi Onizuka in GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Koro-Sensei conceals the soul of an effective, caring teacher beneath a rough exterior. He makes the students work, uncovering their hidden potential, often without their realizing it. When a girl tries to poison him, he suggests experiments that bring out her love of science. A class trip to Kyoto offers chances for assassination attempts, but researching them forces the students to steep themselves in the geography, history and architecture of the city. To help their studies, Koro-Sensei compiles a reference volume so all-encompassing, it makes the Junior Woodchuck’s Guidebook look sketchy. He slowly wins the affection of the students and government agents.

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The most interesting aspect of Assassination Classroom is the pointed criticism of the notoiously high-pressure Japanese educational system. Beginning in elementary school, kids are subjected to a mercilessly gantlet of study, cram school, parental pressure and all-important exams. The aim is to get into a top-rated high school, then earn the grades to gain admission to one of the elite universities that have traditionally offered direct paths to jobs in big corporations, government ministries, etc. The program is so grueling and stressful that every year, children suffer breakdowns and even commit suicide.

Many anime characters have grappled with the relentless pressure to excel: Yukino and Soichiro in His and Her Circumstances discover the real individuals behind their model student personas; honor student and classically trained pianist Kaoru longs desperately for a friend in Kids on the Slope. Even kids whose lack of academic achievement is a source of humor—Serena in Sailor Moon or Tenma in School Rumble—are pressured and aided by their friends to do well on tests.

The administrators and higher-ranking students have written off the kids in 3-E as worthless losers who need to be kept in their place. Koro-Sensei makes waves when he raises their grades and encourages them to believe in themselves and their futures.

The weakness of Assassination Classroom is the kids in 3-E fail to emerge as individuals who can hold the audience’s interest. Slender, soft-spoken Nagisa (Lindsay Seidle) keeps a notebook of Koro-Sensei’s quirks that may indicate vulnerabilities. But he and Karma are the only ones who really stand out from the herd in the first 11 episodes; their classmates remain minor supporting characters. And the filmmakers have yet to suggest a way of resolving their outré storyline. That may change as the series continues: Assassination Classroom was popular enough in Japan to spawn a second broadcast season, a TV special, two live action films and a video game.

BS-XXXXX 111001C1 Combo Pack LE BD13

Assassination Classroom: Season One Part One
Funimation: $64.98, 4 discs, Blu-ray, DVD

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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