Welcome to The Avocado’s classic reviews of Assassination Classroom. Note I have minimal familiarity with the manga on which it is based; I can only speak for the show itself, specifically its dubbed version. At the end of each episode I’ll have two spoiler tags to cover material specific to Seasons One and Two; I also ask you be sensitive when discussing spoilers in the comments. Now, with that out of the way, let’s test the Theory of Savage Youth!
Thanks to Lovely Bones for edits.
Assassination Classroom 1.01 – “Assassination Time
Written by Makoto Uezu, Funimation dub by John Burgmeier and J. Michael Tatum, and based on the original story by Yûsei Matsui.
Directed by Seiji Kishi.
First aired: January 10, 2015
“We can’t run; We can’t hide. Slipping between the cracks isn’t an option. The only way out is to kill him.” – Nagisa
“Here’s a puzzler for you, Nagisa. Given that I have no intention of being killed, though of course I have every intention of enjoying our time together before the planet goes kerplooey, what exactly are you going to do about it?” – Koro-sensei
For good and ill, in some ways the act of teaching is inherently a confrontation between two uneven but important forces. A bad teacher will treat their students poorly, let their strengths atrophy, and be rewarded with mutual animosity. But good teachers engage in battle too, just a far more positive kind. As educators, we wish to ensure our charges get the most from our skills and knowledge but may not know the best way to pass them on. As students, we wish to learn but can be unresponsive, struggle with the material, require different teaching methods, or simply do our best fighting the status quo. So in both roles we challenge each other again and again, provide support and criticism, and from this become stronger and smarter together. The classroom is a battlefield of egos, needs, and hopes, a competition ideally free of the zero-sum game because the riches of learning deserve to be shared by all, teacher and student alike. Assassination Classroom, the 2015 anime adaptation of Yûsei Matsui’s 2012 science fiction manga of the same name, merely literalizes this in the most bizarre, frenetic, and emotionally intense way possible.
The cold open to “Assassination Time” – one of the best I’ve seen of recent years – sets this up beautifully. We start in a decrepit school, dirty and ugly. The morning light makes the creaking wood look like prison bars. The students are miserable. And then, the brightest, biggest thing in the world bursts in through the door. This creature, a yellow, tentacled monstrosity with an emoticon for a head, is a mix of hilarious and unsettling. Even more unsettling, though, is not just that every student stands up with assault rifles to spray this creature with oddly pink bullets, but that the monster clearly supports this, impossibly dodging their shots as he calls roll. He’s not an invader but their teacher: he delights in both mocking and encouraging their murder attempts, provides learning opportunities at every turn, and only considers their harming each other as over the line. As a refrain of the show that starts in this episode states, he is both teacher and target, a braggart who is slyly, paradoxically, empowering the very people “with the means and incentive to kill him.” That’s the hook: a class where the teacher himself is the final exam.
Admittedly, getting to that requires some contrivance. Koro-sensei – the name given to the “unkillable teacher” by student Kaede Kayano (Monica Rial) at the episode’s end – is the new teacher for Class 3-E of Kunugigoaka Academy. He’s also responsible for having blasted the moon into a striking crescent and has happily threatened to annihilate the earth March of next year. He can break the sound barrier, wields powers strange and disgusting, and has outsmarted the world’s most powerful militaries and governments. So what is this genocidal beast to do but ask the Japanese government to let him teach a class of low average junior high kids? They’ll try their best at killing him with guns and knives made from his unnamed Kryptonite, while he tries his at teaching them literature, English grammar, and math. If they succeed, they save the world and earn enough dough to safely ignore all the higher learning with which they’ve been struggling. It’s hard to say whose job is harder, though, because as invincible as he is, it’s clear he’s got his work cut out for him. There’s a fatality to the students at the “End of the Line;” even if they’re happy his teaching has been getting their grades up, they’re mostly resigned to either give up and let the world be destroyed or live down to society’s stereotypes of them as “thugs and murderers.”
And with no one is that clearer than class monitor Nagisa Shiota (Lindsay Seidel). We don’t know many concrete things about him, but the passivity to his dialogue and his intense dearth of self-esteem tell a great deal. He desperately wants to learn but struggles earnestly, and that struggling – represented through upsetting flashbacks to his demeaning transfer – has cast him into the worst, most degrading part of the student body; it could only reinforce his already troubled state of mind. It’s unsurprising that, when given a toy grenade with “anti-Sensei” BBs by thuggish class bully Ryoma Terasaka (Marcus D. Stimac), he’d willingly act as a suicide bomber with no self-regard. He’s as terrified of being seen as he is desperate for recognition, and both feelings lead him to the first legitimately good attempt on Koro-sensei’s life. But as much as he wants validation from his classmates (albeit in a way that only legitimizes his sense of worthlessness), Nagisa’s hesitant to lose this interloper. Being the one taking notes on the octopus’s weaknesses and quirks might be the first time he’s felt purpose, and he doesn’t want to lose the one good authority figure in his life who, in protecting him from the grenade, has put to lie his claim about being “invisible to everyone.” More than anything, the boy’s transfixed by the qualities his teacher flagrantly parades (and which he himself wants): bravado, theatricality, and self-worth.
It’s an attitude I imagine most first-time viewers share. Koro-sensei is almost designed to be captivating, so much so that, at least in this first episode, he runs the risk of completely taking over the show. Fitting for someone so cephalopodic, he’s this odd, inscrutable thing with his slimy tentacles and unceasing smile, eye-catching through his visual design alone. Played to perfection by “Sonny” Strait, he carries himself with this hilarious mix of confidence and composure that’s like a marriage of Silver Age Superman, a game show host, and Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society. And while he’s entertaining and goofy – his off-kilter design and characterization go a long way to selling the show – he does come with a sense of genuine danger. The threat of the planet’s obliteration is fairly weak by this point, but that black form of his and the threat he makes on the class’s families are palpable. And we’re still not sure of his motives beyond the involvement of a mysterious woman, or why he chose to destroy three-quarters of the moon. He clearly cares about the students, but there is a wrath deep inside him, one that’s hard to jive with his regular persona or ignore. It means E-Class can’t wait out the year or put off the problem forever.
That narrative tension is what we’re left with after “Assassination Time.” There’s the tension between the unreachable, forgotten students and untouchable, unforgettable teacher. There’s the tension between the life affirming nature of education and the finality of the murder the students want to achieve. And there’s the tension between enjoyable silliness and stark terror, and what kind of tone a show of this nature can even have. Everything about Assassination Classroom challenges expectations of all sorts, from the year-long timetable to its absurd star to the kids under his wing. This episode doesn’t entirely show a clean path forward for E-Class, but it also demands you take notice, a bit like Koro-sensei himself in that regard. And also like him, that sensation is exciting.
- Once again, welcome to the Avocado’s classic review series for Assassination Classroom! This is my first time in the TV reviewer saddle for some time, and for a medium with which I’m fairly unfamiliar. But I adore this show, so I’ll be doing my best.
- It’s important that all of this is – at least in theory – on the up and up. We’re not going to go through seasons of Class 3-E hiding their attempts and pretending to be innocent. Koro-sensei’s not exactly “straightforward” and his powers “fair,” but they’re competitors on a reasonably open field with clearly demarcated goals.
- On a more serious note, it might be best to discuss the potentially triggering, disturbing imagery of a show whose junior high kids are constantly wielding knives and guns in a classroom. I was nervous myself when first watching it about how well it would come off, but I think it works. The extent to which Koro prioritizes their safety and health helps with that a lot, I think.
- Koro is and will always be more than a bit egotistical, but it’s surprising how different his attitude in these first episodes is. It’s not bad at all – the whimsy he puts into “…reminds me of how amazing I am!” is charming – just interesting to see how much he evolves over the course of the show.
- I also like his first put down; “some of column A; some of column B?” just gets me every time, and might have been my first clue that this was something special. Makes me think I should start a “Best Koro-sensei Line” here. Any thoughts on this? Is it a good idea? Should I try to avoid only using comedy lines?
- On a similar note, I was surprised hearing Terasaka’s smoother voice on rewatching this until it turned “normal” as he was yelling; it was only then I realized he’s just aggro all the time.
- Lovely Bones will be writing more about it later so look forward to that, but I want to highlight our first, amazing opening sequence and theme, “Seishun Satsubatsuron” (“The Theory of Savage Youth”). Befitting a show constantly trying to challenge its audience, it’s bold, exciting, and far afield of what anyone might reasonably expect from this premise. The whole concept of “kill your teacher” screams sociopathy, so seeing something not just happy but openly jubilant, even sweet, is striking.
- Half a season from now, Terasaka will be involved with an even less pleasant explosion, while Nagisa’s going to get a lot out of his quiet, unassuming presence.
- The class will have perfected the “everyone fire at Koro” move by the end of Season One, and it’ll be great to see how everyone slowly improves to the point where it’s a legitimate, brilliant strategy.
- Editor Lovely Bones here! Michael (Wolfman) will expand on these ideas throughout this review series, but I’m here because I’d like to help establish a key thematic element of Assassination Classroom: a social class conflict wherein the poor and otherwise unaccepted students are trapped by the E-Class, forcibly kept down to benefit and uphold the elite.
- This is the first – and for the sizable majority of the entire show, only – appearance of Aguri Yukimura. Given how important she is, it’s noteworthy how much the show avoids more fairly introducing her after a clip here (which is reused next episode).
- “Hm…trouble is, I don’t have the sort of name you just give to people.” No, you do not, buddy.
- Kaede’s naming Koro is such an innocuous element, one of many she’ll have. As we go forward, we’ll have to take note of all the little moments she’s given to just fit into the plot enough to not seem suspicious.
- Given how striking and major it was here, it’s noticeable how infrequently the black form gets used afterwards. Narratively, though, it makes sense that Koro wouldn’t be nearly as incensed in the future, and reserving it is smart.
- It’s not necessarily surprising that Nagisa becomes the one to kill Koro, but (and we’ll talk about this more when that happens) it’s worth noting both how different and how similar his approaches to killing are. You can see that innate talent and ability to exploit his targets, but they are clouded in desperation and a sense of worthlessness. That’s something his teacher’s not going to allow.
Assassination Classroom 1.02 – “Baseball Time”
Note: I could not find an actual writing credit for this episode, or any others. I assume they’re the for both seasons, but I won’t add them on here without being sure.
First aired: January 17, 2015
“Yeah…this is E-Class, yo. You gotta lower your expectations.” – Hazama
Typically, most American shows operate on something of a three episode structure at the start. The pilot provides the premise, hook, and chance to enjoy all the (hopefully) lovable characters for the first time, the second restates the premise in a slightly different way, and the third twists what you expect and suggests an ability for the story to evolve. Assassination Classroom follows a similar structure, and while “Baseball Time” isn’t as intense as either the previous or upcoming episode, it iterates on the “teacher and target” theme nicely while adding in more ideas. Specifically, it lays more of the foundation for the plot and develops a two part structure, one the show will use extensively. While we start with another fun, albeit derivative, story about a student learning himself through a failed assassination attempt – the A-plot in the first half goes many of the same exact story beats and plot points – it does make a few additions before the second half explores new directions.
While Nagisa is still our viewpoint character, we’ve switched focus for a bit onto another student, Tomohito Sugino (Clifford Chapin). Unlike Nagisa he actually has a tether – baseball, which he used to play on Kunugigoaka’s junior high team – and quickly zeroes in on using his fastball to kill Koro-sensei. His attempt failing, though, only calls back to how he wound up in E-Class: his baseball skills stalled, it hurt his academics, and he got shunted off to the mountain campus, where students aren’t allowed to join in extracurriculars. So Koro-sensei, of course, helps out by assaulting him, checking his arm muscles as proof Sugino poorly mimics a famous baseball pitcher with more flexible shoulders…a pitcher our teacher, um, also assaulted an hour or so ago during lunch hour to confirm it. And so, we learn a valuable lesson about being ourselves, Sugino learns to exploit his more flexible elbows and wrists instead of copying a form he physically can’t master, and we get to see how seemingly anything can potentially be used against Koro-sensei.
This plot is less powerful than “Assassination Time” for a few reasons: we don’t have as much an attachment to Sugino, the sense of being trapped is not quite as strong, Koro-sensei’s threats feel a bit toothless, or maybe it’s just that there’s no image as striking as a teenager stringing a grenade around his neck (though our “villain” tormenting his student in a web of tentacles does come close, as does Nagisa’s chewing him out). But it’s more than pleasant and does add some necessary additions to the show. For one thing, while Koro-sensei was very active in the first episode, it was mostly in a reactive way, dodging or stopping attacks. His oft-mentioned Mach 20 speed is being used more proactively to help teach a student, while still being a problem the class has to overcome. Having Sugino use baseball as his weapon also shows that any any skill, any passion has value and potential. If the kids are going to survive, they’re going to have to engage with everything they know and love, not just rely on the clearly unfit for purpose guns and knives.
The second half works as a nice counterpoint to the first, with two shorter, lighter and darker plots that dovetail. For the former, as fun as it is to see Koro-sensei as this invincible monster, it’s also enjoyable to see him screwing up, and especially when it’s due to his being said monster. Killing all the tulips the students planted is part of that – it’s a great way to have him be a jerk in a way that’s based far more in a lack of consideration than actual malevolence – but his “apology” by letting the students tie him up and stab at him with knives on bamboo sticks is even better, a weird fusion of affability, braggadocio, and extreme anxiety that makes him so fun to watch. There’s a sizable immaturity to him that we didn’t get in the previous episode, which is why we can go from “shoot and stab all you want, class! Even with this handicap I am too fast for you!” to him freaking out as he tries to roll away from his murderous students. The first “weakness” Nagisa has jotted down is “when he shows off, things get shaky,” and it’s a pleasure seeing that actually come true.
But the shorter C plot is more important, as it brings Mr. Karasuma (Chris Ryan), the stoic government spook and ex-military teacher who’s officially running the Assassination Classroom, more into the fold as a teacher in the class itself. The strongest moment there is when, right after he talks to an underling about how they’ve kept Koro-sensei’s knowledge from the general public, a student passes by crying about how the world’s about to end. Except he hasn’t figured anything out; he’s just a typical junior high kid terrified his low grades will send him to the E-Class campus, which, poorly maintained as it is, is nowhere near the nightmarish hellscape he thinks. It’s an aura of condescension and fear exacerbated by the nasty, terrifying Kunudon (Seidel), the school’s cartoon acorn mascot who ostensibly promotes teamwork and equality while (not so) subtly demeaning E-Class. Kurasuma easily recognizes the discrimination as cruel social engineering, but he’s fine enough with it – after all, it keeps E-Class’s secret comfortably hidden. Both the system itself and his reaction are crucial, because Assassination Classroom is a story about learning; it’s important for the school to be another obstacle.
The three plots in “Baseball Time” are very fun, and together they show the kind of storytelling the series can tell at this point. It can be (especially in the early going) a perfectly entertaining, heartwarming show where each student gets a LOST style flashback tied to their plan to kill Koro-sensei. And it can be an odd comedy series between a deranged monster and students that are more than a match for him, with the classroom’s many personalities clashing. But the few minutes we spend with Kurasuma also show something darker, a story about children fighting an environment designed to keep them down and nourish their worst qualities. That’s going to be hard to escape, especially with the stinger at the end showing E-Class getting a new student who’s taking the prospect of murdering a teacher – maybe any teacher – with relish.
- This is an episode with quite a number of debuts. Firstly, we more formally see class pervert Taiga Okajima (Nick Haley). While he’s definitely not nearly as bad as other anime creeps – lookin’ at you, ball head guy from My Hero Academia – he’s definitely on the more unpleasant side of E-Class.
- More pleasant is getting more of the personality of adorable, souvenir-obsessed Hinano Kurahashi (Kristen McGuire), as well as Koro’s amazingly hideous disguises and love of eating inedible foods.
- And finally, this is the first on-screen appearance of Tanaka and Takada, two hateful students on the regular campus whose hatred of E-Class and denigration of its members only partially obscures their own poor grades. They, Kunudon, and the awful Mr. Ōno (from Nagisa’ flashback last episode) function as Greek choruses for the social climate of Kunugigoaka.
- I talked about it a bit, but AssClass, especially early on, frequently uses assassination attempts to introduce us to a character by having them exploit something tied to their personality, failing, only to learn a lesson at the end. The show will move beyond it eventually, but it’s very useful by this point.
- “Give reasons in English for why this tentacle isn’t quite moe enough” is probably not the most pointless extra credit question I’ve seen in my life.
- I did a cursory search on Google to see if Arita was real. Sadly, no, it seems.
- Also, I want to highlight Nagisa’s English assignment, partially because I appreciate how reminiscent it is of ESL classes I help teach and partially because holy shit; he’s talking about eating Koro-sensei. Shame the newspaper isn’t nearly as well written.
- It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t make this comparison, but re-watching this episode has made me realize there’s just a bit of a Columbo vibe to Koro-sensei, in that you have to wonder if at least part of his freaking out or obsessions might be an act. They’re definitely at least partially earnest (certainly his threat to destroy the Earth is very much real), but it’s sometimes hard to really discern what’s going on with him. This is, of course, a very deliberate decision.
- Best Koro-sensei Line: “Ha ha! What’s the matter, children? Can’t jump this high? Oh, wait; OF COURSE NOT! [laughs]”
- While not the Big Apple, Nagisa and Karma are going to get a world-class trip to the United States not too far from now.
- And soon after that, Sugino’s going to get his baseball themed revenge.
- Lovely Lily Bones here! Something fun to point out, that certainly came up during the Rabbit screenings of this series, is this motif of the “sport episode,” with three appearing in each of the first 3/4ths of the show. Speaking as someone that grew up in Texas, where the stereotypical “football culture” does indeed loom particularly large over any student body, I think this little subgenre of the series is very valuable to its overall themes of public school culture in its competitive and thoroughly unequal system.
- At this point in the show, knowing that Sugino actually becomes a professional pitcher at the end could come across as too easy, or neat. But it works, especially after the baseball episode. Even if it’s not regularly through his pitch, we actually see him develop his own ideas and style. It’s not dissimilar from the rest of the class; it feels earned in a way we just can’t get at this point.
- Fuck Kunudon. I am looking so forward to him getting his ass canned.