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 start here with certainty! You get it? ‘Certain-tea?’ Because that’s chai, you see…”
Thanks to Lily “Lovely” Bones for edits.
Assassination Classroom 1.03 – “Karma Time”
First aired: January 31, 2015
“…I finally get to kill an honest to goodness teacher!” – Karma
If the first two episodes of Assassination Classroom set up the premise, the third and fourth are about challenging both it and the show’s tentacled star. Each brings a newcomer to the class, believing the challenge beneath them, only for their failure at killing Koro-sensei to act as a teachable moment. The first of these is Karma Akabane (Austin Tindle), Nagisa’s tougher, dark friend who seems a world apart from, and far more dangerous than, the rest of the class. This new arrival is as painfully egotistical as he is brilliant, managing to actually land the first hit on Koro-sensei within seconds of meeting him. He’s violent and disdainful – he joined the class late after a suspension due to attacking other students – but not a brute like Terasaka; he carries himself with a sense of superiority (and, fitting with the show’s class politics, is coded as wealthy, though he’s only explicitly so in the manga). He happily steals his teacher’s gelato, barely considers the existence of the other students, and even ignores the dress code. At first glance, he doesn’t seem right for E-Class material, exacerbated by how intensely the little edgelord runs circles around the octopus as though he’s stalking a torture victim.
But things aren’t and can’t be that easy in this environment. Koro-sensei may take a few lumps and pout in the corner, but he’s still Karma’s teacher. Ignoring his own desire to not die, it’s his job to challenge his students’ preconceptions, to make sure their trials don’t come too easy or get finished so quickly. When he says he’s a “giver,” it’s less about feeding his charges some rather tasty looking takoyaki than providing a space for them to grow. It’s worth pointing out that his new student’s efforts steadily become less and less inventive the moment he begins to hit a wall; as smart as Karma is, he seems unable to deal with a challenge or threat that can match him. The boy struggles to recognize the true value of anything around him, be it his peers, his class, or even himself. He treats his life as just as expendable as Nagisa did, but he views other people the same way, throwing out Yuzuki Fuwa’s (Kristi Kang) Home Ec soup and obliquely threatening to kill Nagisa just for two middling assassination attempts. That contempt extends to Koro-sensei as both a target and a teacher, especially; he refuses the idea that this space exists for things other than his revenge or desires.
And to explain why he eschews this idea, the show makes its biggest turn yet when, during Karma’s murder-suicide attempt, we see how the actual circumstances leading to his transfer went far beyond just “violence.” Karma was notoriously violent in the past, but it was always directed in a way the Kunugigoaka teachers found acceptable; he was rebellious, but with grades so strong it hardly mattered to them. What actually sent him packing to the sticks was that his violence was used on the wrong target, assaulting a successful student who’d been bullying an E-Class kid (and by doing so, endangering their teacher’s chance at getting a positive evaluation). That he gets thrown out explicitly for defending a low ranking student – in a way that scarily recontextualizes his comment about his teacher “up and dying” – proved to him the ethical bankruptcy of the system. Jumping off the cliff, in his mind, allows him to destroy the reputation of not just Koro-sensei, but the idea of academics or education as a whole.
It’s worth noting, I think, that Karma’s attempts very clearly force Koro-sensei to step up his own game. The striking, dynamic mid-fall rescue during the murder-suicide attempt is the biggest example, but in general, this is the most proactive and reactive behavior we’ve seen from him yet. He spends the whole day both teaching some rather engaging looking classes and outsmarting his student in ways that are humiliating and silly enough to not come across as demeaning or cruel. We’ve been enjoying his time as a life coach or the one leading the class, but you can start to see his actual teaching side, and it’s rather cool – even though he’s better off not being their Phys Ed teacher. His telling Karma “take that to heart the next time you jump” is such a uniquely compassionate threat, one hard to see coming from anyone but the octopus; he’s openly telling him that self worth (and, to a broader extent, hard work strengthened by it) isn’t deserving of flippancy.
The premise of the Assassination Classroom, of forgotten and exploited kids forced into performing an impossible task, provides greater challenge in its sheer insanity than anything these students will face in the rest of their lives. It doesn’t exist for personal glory, or simple vanity, or treating others or yourself as disposable. It only makes sense when there’s growth on both sides, with E-Class and Koro-sensei respecting their opponent’s strength. Every stronger attempt, every aced quiz, it all feeds back on the class. Although Karma remains cocky by the end, he gets it now…even if he’s still not above robbing his “Teach.” That sense of integration and growth is why the cold open is more than just a way to introduce Kurasuma’s approach to Phys Ed (and to reemphasize Koro-sensei’s neuroses, revealing he’s just as desperate for validation as his students). Their target’s speed means it won’t really matter how fast E-Class can run or stab, but their new training is about building up their fundamentals and skills, all of which is going to help their classes and attempts. But it’s still fun, going by the class’s response to their new teacher. Success isn’t going to come easy in the Assassination Classroom. Sometimes, the failures will be embarrassing. Sometimes, they’ll be frustrating. But those failures beget new opportunities, not simply expulsion or mockery as it clearly does in the main campus.
All of this is why “Karma Time” feels so rich after the previous two episodes: it brings together the main themes of the show. It’s a show about class politics. It’s also a show about classroom politics. It introduces the kind of edgy rival character for which so many anime shows are notorious, but it repeatedly knocks him down while developing a dignity and worth for him beyond being a stereotype. The plot is wrapped up in humor and pathos, integrated a way that never makes one overtake or compromise the other. It’s just a solid, focused episode of a show that always feel just on the edge of being completely unfocused.
- It’s not as much of a spoiler, but Koro’s ability to “change clothes, make tea, and build a model of Osaka Castle” is the first sign of his Japanophilia, something that’ll be present over the course of the show.
- “Every time one of us goes in for the kill, we miss the mark, but somehow end up better off.” Nagisa proves my point from “Baseball Time.”
- We get the return of those two jerks from the last episode, now nicely standing in as a target for Karma’s rage. It’s a good way of foreshadowing that as violent as he is, he most frequently targets those who like to punch down.
- During the flashback, Mr. Ōno “dies” by failing, then hurting Karma, represented by having his skin fall off and revealing only a hateful, black skull. Aside from being a smart twist answering whether Karma actually killed his teacher, it starts another central visual motif for the series: outsized, dreamlike representations of people or events, presenting them as how they appear to our younger heroes. In this case, Ōno’s skin signifies his lack of humanity, revealing him as always having been part of the system.
- I’m very pleased that the missile “yoinked from the Self Defense Force” in “Assassination Time” wasn’t forgotten. It’ll be a fun background trophy for the rest of the show.
- At first, I assumed Karma’s suspension came from protecting Nagisa, but the person in the picture doesn’t look like anyone from E-Class. They’ve got glasses but don’t look like Takabayashi or Okuda, the only students who wear them.
- Best Koro-sensei Line: “Oh, and for further reference? Students do not die on my watch. Ever.”
- Though if there was a division for other characters, I’d have to go with Nagisa’s “I can’t wait to see how we try to kill our teacher tomorrow!,” which is such a succinct encapsulation of this weird show.
Assassination Classroom 1.04 – “Grown-Up Time”
First aired: February 7, 2015
“It’s a bizarre classroom this creature’s created, not a place for easy answers or tidy resolutions, or one where we can fit ourselves into simple categories.” – Kurasuma
And as one new hopeful enters hoping for an easy kill, so does another. While “Karma” and “Grown-Up Time” run the risk of repeating the same story, they live and die by the differences in both their plots and main characters, case in point E-Class’s newest English teacher Irina “Professor Bitch” Jelavić (Martha Harms). Both are stories about a newcomer whose attempts to kill Koro-sensei carry the stench of perceived ease, and who in their failures come to accept the class and challenge as something deserving of their effort. But as characters – and especially the treatment they each receive from the show – the differences between the two are striking.
While Karma is a privileged narcissist and asshole, he’s also a victim striking back at an exploitative system – and, more to the point, one with a few truly devious assassination attempts to do so. Irina, by contrast, views everything about her assignment with somehow even more disdain; it’s a quick, even forgettable job whose subjects are at best an irritation. Her plan sorely lacks imagination, only innovative insofar as her seduction managed to discover Koro-sensei’s biggest weakness yet: his outsized libido. This is a genuinely major find the class of junior high kids wouldn’t have likely stumbled upon, yet it comes out of just a single attempt and is never followed up or explored. How she interacts with the class is far worse, even when discounting her open threat to kill them. She immediately throws off her disguise rather than even pretend to teach them, turns all her classes into meaningless “study halls,” and gropes Nagisa in front of the entire class before forcing him to give up his notes on the octopus, which she subsequently ignores anyway. More on the nose is how demeaning she is, mocking the idea that the kids from E-Class can pass their entrance exams or have any kind of future. We’ve spent just enough time with Koro-sensei that seeing a “teacher” be so blunt and cruel is shocking. Their rebellion against the woman they instantly call “Jellabitch” is pretty much inevitable, with the otherwise stone cold Kurasuma driven to anger over the nightmare the class has become in the one day she joined it.
This episode, then, is based in Irina confronting failures as both an assassin and teacher, and the series – unfortunately following its source material – wildly derails the plot in favor of something far creepier and treated far more glibly. When her target and colleague gives her a disturbingly thorough grooming after telling her he’s “exposed you for the uncreative hack you are,” it’s an odd (and gross) comedy piece out of a more “traditional” anime, one raunchier and sleazier than we’ve come to expect. It’s also, frankly, a deeply horrifying sequence in which our wacky star commits an act of sexual violence for laughs. In defter hands, this could be at least join in with Koro-sensei’s prior threats and actions to show a nastier side of the character, though it’d still not justify the use of sexual violence. As it is, it’s simply wretched and painfully out of place. While it does have something of a narrative function in Irina’s arc, the riot during her English class fulfills that in a way that’s lacking in predatory behavior and high on the participation of the kids themselves, whose voices are the ones we need to hear.
Even with the various assassinations we’ve seen so far, this is the first time E-Class has actually come together as a whole unit (their suboptimal firing squad attempt in the pilot does not count), and specifically to complain about being poorly treated as students. Yuuma Isogai (Jerry Jewell) underlines it when he asks if they can sub her out given her unwillingness to teach: they are actually in class to learn, not just try to kill an invincible monster. And refusing them respect or dignity because of their circumstances or the bizarre nature of the classroom isn’t acceptable behavior for a teacher, regardless of whether it’s just an undercover job. Their acting out could be a cliché of “troubled teen” caricatures, but it comes earnestly from how insulting Irina is to them – and likely how degrading teachers have been to them in the past. If this show is a class struggle, then this is a demonstration, with the children making clear their needs can’t be written off or easily dissected.
Games like “Pass and Kill” and “Assassination Badminton” aren’t there just to be more “on brand” activities for Assassination Classroom the show; they provide the students with an approach to exercise and training that’s both fun and decidedly not conventional for either school and assassination. This is a culture where the conventional will find little success, where “just” a seduction or “just” a set of heavy artillery aren’t going to cut it. And so, the students – and the teachers – have to learn even more and explore the implausible options. In that sense, “a globetrotting assassin-slash-temptress” using her sordid, sexual, and murderous history as the subject of English lessons is silly, but also oddly appropriate and a surprisingly valuable use of her talents (it’s also hell of a lot better than the previous way the show portrayed sexuality). The way Irina tries to make up to the class and prove her teaching chops is awkward and weird, and it makes sense why the kids would laugh at her, but it’s authentic. She decides to not just try her hand once and pack it up, despite her entire skillset being shot when her mark knows the score; she’ll be just as tenacious as a killer and educator as the students who give her as good as they get.
But Irina is important for more than being the show’s newest teacher, comic relief, and target of some disturbing attitudes towards sexual abuse. After having the last episode dive more into the underlying politics of the school, “Grown-Up Time” begins to open up the show’s world to the greater politics of assassination. This is, after all, a story about young adults preparing to commit a murder, and their deadly, new teacher’s presence makes an strong point that the octopus isn’t just their target. While it’s hard to imagine any hitman getting a real drop on Koro-sensei, E-Class is working against not only the school and time limit, but also other, more morally contemptuous players. The episode title has two meanings; it’s about the noxious “grown up time” between two of their teachers, but it’s also the kids slowly being pushed closer to a world that’s ready to actively harm them. Their target and the Japanese government have promised them security in the classroom, but a professor threatening to kill them is a statement: they’re in danger, if not now then soon, and from forces they’ve not yet seen.
- Koro-Sensei’s Weak Point # 5: Boobs. Technically this was added by Bones, but it does kind of stand on its own. I respect Nagisa’s frankness.
- Something Lily pointed out during editing is that Karma’s the first student to tell Irina this isn’t going to be easy. His talk of having been “playin’ the odds” is a bit presumptuous given he just got here, too, but that does fit his personality.
- Kaede’s “No Big Boobs!!” sign is the first sign of her neurosis about her cup size and anger towards ladies who are more well endowed. It occasionally does run the risk of being puerile, but I do like how open the show is with the anxiety teenagers especially have with their bodies.
- Lovely Lily Bones here again! Wolfman and I discussed at length how the dialogue balloons stabbing into Irina is a wonderful and well-realized visual stylistic touch. A good screencap of it would be much appreciated.
- Best Koro-sensei Line: “…There is no lesson two.”
- I failed to discuss it last time (and thought it’d be better near the bottom of the review, hence discussing it in this section), but the show’s first ending theme, “Hello, Shooting-Star” by Moumoon, is a truly lovely thing. The imagery of the students drawing their odd little world on a chalkboard, with Koro-sensei’s head turned into the actual world, is sweet and understated after the hijinx and drama of the preceding story. It’s also a great way for the audience to come down after twenty minutes of crazy hijinx.
- Lovely Bones: As an outspoken survivor of and activist against sexual violence, I am also here in the comments of this review to conduct further discussion of the sequence that could not be included into the review with the constraints we have.
- Just as one related note, unfortunately the glib portrayal of sexual violence won’t end with this episode.