This is a manga where a tentacle monster becomes the teacher of a junior high class. No, it’s not a horrific, barely-legal hentai – it’s an upbeat, action shonen manga!
Assassination Classroom is a manga I first looked at because it had an interesting-sounding title, and I am glad I did.
Assassination Classroom is written by Yusei Matsui (who also wrote Neuro: Supernatural Detective – a manga I’d never heard of before and didn’t find too interesting). It’s a fairly new manga; the first chapter was published in 2012 and it’s still on-going now. It had an anime adaptation earlier this year, covering about 70 chapters out of its current 159.
The plot is certainly unique. An average junior high class receives an octopus-like creature as a new teacher. He gives his students a challenge: they need to kill him before they graduate. If they fail, he destroys the world. To prove his point, he destroyed most of the Earth’s moon, leaving it a permanent crescent. Armed with knives and bullets made out of the only material known to mankind that can injure the creature, the students take up the request.
It’s not as easy as cutting up an octopus, however. The creature can fly at Mach 20, letting him dodge any attack. His crazy biology gives him a number of extra defences. He can shed his skin and use the old husk to contain explosions, secrete mucus thick enough to stop a bullet, he’s immune to all known poisons, and he pulls many more tricks out of nowhere.
It’s no wonder he earns the nickname Koro-sensei (from korosenai, meaning unkillable and sensei, meaning teacher).
Koro-sensei seems like a terrible character on paper, but he’s really fantastic. He has a lot of personality flaws that stop him from being the biggest Mary Sue in fiction. He’s trusting and almost naive, despite being as smart as he is. He’s also really endearing by virtue of really caring about the students. You’ll wish you had a teacher as good as this guy!
Oddly, one of the things he supports the students in is finding new ways to kill him. It’s a bizarre relationship; both student-teacher and assassin-target.
The characters overall are pretty impressive. The assassination classroom has twenty-six students, plus a few transfer students later on. While not all of them are complex and plot-critical, each one of them has a couple unique traits, different skills in studies and assassination, and most of them get a chapter or two to show off.
There’s one central protagonist, naturally – Nagisa Shiota. He’s a great character. He’s a relatable everyman, and a likable one instead of just a blank slate. His character development is absolutely fantastic. He learns and shows plenty of new things about himself while staying true to his original characterization.
The next most well-developed characters are, of course, the ones Nagisa spends the most time with. Kaede Kayano is a cheerful girl who mostly stays in the background. For a while, her lack of development was sort of an annoyance for the fans, who thought she took up too much space and wasn’t too interesting. However, when she had her first real time in the spotlight, her story was everything the readers wanted and then some.
Nagisa’s other best friend in the class is Karma Akabane. He’s one of those characters who’s a total douche, but so audacious that you can’t hate him. Since Karma is such a troll and most of the other characters – including Nagisa – try to be friendly, the interaction between him and the other students is really entertaining.
The class has two teachers besides Koro-sensei. Karasuma is an assassination coach turned gym teacher, and Irina (nicknamed Bitch-sensei) is a seduction expert turned English teacher.
Honestly, I don’t like either of them. Karasuma is a decent enough character. He’s the straight man to all of the series’ wacky antics. The problem is that he’s just too strong. He’s inhumanely good at everything he tries to do, and the series has no problem using him to solve problems that the students could solve themselves.
Irina is a fanservice character. She’s got boobs. That’s why she’s in the manga. It’s good to have all the fanservice be performed by the only female character above the age of 15, but Assassination Classroom is not a fanservice-filled manga, so Irina just feels out of place. She has a few chapters that try to justify her place as a pro assassin, but they fall flat. Irina just doesn’t belong.
Each arc is told from Nagisa’s point of view, but his group of friends is normally joined by some of the secondary students. This works great. The main trio is strong enough to support the story on their own, and by shifting the group dynamic every arc, you get to see some of the lesser-seen characters in action. What’s nice is that the minor characters aren’t immediately forgotten when they’re not in the spotlight. They still appear in reaction shots and short interactions every now and then It’s great to be able to have a favourite minor character without them disappearing for 400 chapters like some other stories.
It sometimes feels weird that all of the students get along so well no matter what combination they’re in, but there’s a good reason for it. They’re all reject students. In this school, they send every student with bad marks, delinquents, or are otherwise unworthy to be in the other classes. They’re the E class – E for end.
It doesn’t really make sense that the E students are good, intelligent people when the one thing that brings them together is that they were all the worst students in some way or another. The best explanation is that, since it’s a really prestigious school, even the rejects are good students.
In between trying to murder their teacher, the E class competes with the A-D class in midterms and other exams. This should be boring. It isn’t. Here’s why.
Every test lets the main characters in a relatively mundane high school setting become medieval fantasy warriors or wizards and fight monsters representing the test questions.
It’s the greatest idea that’s ever been idea’d.
The basic foundation of Assassination Classroom is fantastic. Between the teachers, Class E students and rival students, there’s an exceptional cast of characters. The plot is great too. The students share a single long-term goal of assassinating their teacher, but have to balance tons of short-term goals like exams, assassination-focused field trips, new exchange students and rival assassins.
The themes are great too. It’s pretty surprising just how many parallels between assassination and school this manga can create. There are some nice recurring symbols such as the crescent moon representing what will happen if they fail to kill Koro-sensei, and a snake representing a character’s bloodlust.
Then there’s the tone of the story. Assassination Classroom is really upbeat and cheerful. This is a mixed bag, in my opinion. On one hand, a lot of stories seem to dive into dark, gritty “edginess” in an attempt to be mature and cool. Assassination Classroom doesn’t. It has its dark moments, but it never delves into grittiness to try to make itself look more mature.
The problem with this is that it’s a story where middle school students are forced to become assassins. The light-hearted nature of the story interferes with that. For example, the whole idea of having to murder someone you truly care about – that gets glossed over. Instead, it’s practically a game where no one takes into consideration the seriousness of killing.
There’s another flaw with the upbeat tone: when something horrible looks like it may happen to a character, it probably won’t. Assassination Classroom thrives on happy endings. While that makes it great to watch or read as a feel-good story, it all starts to feel samey. It also denies the characters from gaining super-serious motivations to develop, and misses many opportunities for the story to change dramatically.
Now given that it’s an upbeat story and the characters are middle school students, I certainly don’t want one of them to die horribly or be forced to kill someone and have horrible psychological trauma about it. But after the third or fourth time when the story returns to normal after what could have been a huge turning point, it feels old.
That’s not to say Assassination Classroom doesn’t have any turning points. Every now and then, an arc will contain information that changes the reader’s outlook on a character. Unfortunately, this tends to be set aside fairly easily. While the events and information aren’t forgotten, everything goes back to normal much more easily than it feels like it should.
In short, the author plays it safe, and that gets old.
That’s really the only flaw I can find with Assassination Classroom – and it may not even be a flaw for everyone. If you want a light, upbeat manga about kids fighting an octopus monster, check out Assassination Classroom.
The manga isn’t complete and the anime has only had one season, so it’s hard for me to give a proper rating.
The anime has incredible art and animation. Every scene is an improvement from the manga in almost every way. It also expands some characters’ thoughts and dialogue. It keeps a fairly good pace of 3-4 chapters per episode (on average) and simply tells the story well.
The problem with the anime is that it removes a few chapters completely. It’s better for the pace of the anime, and none of the chapters it removes are crucial for the story. The chapters that get removed are some of the more minor students’ days in the limelight.
This is a minor point, but I also found the opening to the anime rather disappointing. The song was catchy, but the visuals are all of the characters doing the exact same dance – as if someone drew out five frames and someone else drew the characters’ details overtop of them. For a series where one of the strongest points is having a great cast of unique characters, it felt like a bad sign.
Despite my worries, the anime turned out fantastic. I’ll give it an 9/10. I recommend it as the way to get into Assassination Classroom. Give it a try – it’s only one 22-episode season.
If you find you want more Assassination Classroom, check out the manga afterwards. The visuals aren’t as amazing, but they’re more than adequate to tell the story. You can pick up right where the anime left off (chapter 73) and it should transition perfectly. I’ll give the manga another 9/10.
Overall, pick whichever of the two you like most overall – anime or manga. Either way, if you want a light-hearted story about assassination and tentacle monsters, Assassination Classroom has you covered!
Korosensei’s weak point #38: hates being reviewed.