Assassination Classroom 1.05 / 1.06 – “Assembly Time” / “Test Time”

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, you have one second to solve this puzzle!

Thanks to Lily “Lovely” Bones for edits.

Assassination Classroom 1.05 – “Assembly Time”

First aired February 14, 2015

“Sadly, the best way to ignite their potential is to let them see it extinguished in others.” – Principal Asano

In “Assembly Time’s” cold open, Koro-sensei admits to Isogai and Meg Kataoka (Morgan Garrett) he feels “incredibly at home” as their teacher (and target; after all, “we ought not to separate the two”), and by this point in the show viewers are likely starting to feel similarly. He helps out the kids, everyone learns a lesson, and we get to enjoy a few eager murder attempts that punctuate the journey along the way. At the same time, though, things do feel just a bit safe, and it’s clear E-Class is going to need other challenges for their growth. So, much like “Baseball Time,” “Assembly Time” splits its plot to give us both a more typical story of our weird star helping a student – in this case insecure Chemistry wiz Manami Okuda (Felecia Angelle) – and a grimmer look at how brutal and threatening the school is.

Despite the latter story carrying more of the narrative heft, I don’t want to underscore the importance of Okuda’s poison attempts. Her issues – her comfort level and knowledge base is limited to chemistry – aren’t necessarily as dynamic as Sugino’s or Karma’s, and it’s still a plot that’s familiar (it even revolves around the importance of communication, the centerpiece of Irina’s first class), but they’re real and relatable; a teenager’s insecurity with expressing themselves or their needs is far from rare. It’s also a problem that demands she use both a skill she has and one she lacks in concert; her knowledge is what she can best contribute to the cause at this juncture, but she also can’t contribute it at all without learning something new. It’s a good prelude to what happens in the next episode, that as much as they have to hone and employ the things they already know, that won’t be enough. It’s an important corollary to past few of these plots, that while you should still use what you love, you’re going to have to integrate it with new skills or interests.

Koro-sensei’s deception of Okuda during this lesson is also important, because it’s the first time he has truly, explicitly, lied to and exploited the kids. It comes across as better than it maybe should for a few reasons – he’s supporting her learning, emphasizing her safety in handling toxic substances, and teaching the important lesson that you can’t expect others to understand you and have to understand them, too – but it is also a welcome return of the threat he posed back in the first episode. His gross, new slimy form, something Okuda helped him develop under the assumption she was making an all new poison, is a new bizarre power and another symbol that just as they’re learning from him, the class is making him stronger as well. But it’s a power that he reached with the help of an unwary student, an important plot point that makes clear he’s got at least one foot on the side marking him as an actual antagonist and opponent to the cast. They can trust him to help them improve and learn, but he’s not going to just let them harm him, nor does he consider his survival unimportant. And it’s necessary having that more negative side of him reemphasized in an episode about the kids facing the brunt of the school’s discrimination during one of its awful monthly assemblies.

As we learn from both the students and Kunudon, the drill is one more tool made to humiliate E-Class: the kids have an hour-plus walk through the snake and bee-filled forest to get there (though I’m slightly doubtful the trek, dangerous as it is, featured Okajima being chased by actual falling boulders), they’re openly belittled by the dean and other students, and the school newsletter is printed in insufficient numbers for them. But Nagisa also says something I suspect might be inaccurate, when he says Karma only gets away with ditching due to his grades, and that he’d simply be expelled were he to try. It’s clear by this point that everyone in E-Class is unwanted as it is by the other students and teachers, and that they’re clearly not enrolled for their academic gifts, but yet they’re allowed to stay in their demeaning circumstances. While we’re not entirely clear as of why that’s the case, we get an early explanation courtesy of Principal Gakuhou Asano (Chris Rager).

The most striking sequence in “Assembly Time” is when the principal, in his darkened office with one teacher, extols his zero sum view of education and obliquely confirms that Kunugigoaka is deliberately structured to keep the “lowest” students in a beaten down place that will motivate their peers. The demeaning dean, E-Class’s being physically isolated, and even a ban on air conditioning in the mountain campus (after Irina complains she and the students can’t function in the boiling, stuffy rooms, Kurasuma says the school has repeatedly denied requests to add AC units, “officially” due to low funds) are all part of it. It’s a disturbing social exploitation emphasized by the fact that Asano seems to have cameras literally all over the main campus; there’s a sense of crushing control and order on the main campus we’ve never gotten at all in the forests and fields of the mountain. Koro-sensei is a monster of curvy, slithering tentacles, but Asano is one of sharp edges and definite structures. Even the shadows in his office are straight lines and hard shapes. And all of this has clearly been successful at reinforcing E-Class’s sense of worthlessness.

However well designed the assembly is as a system to bring the students down, though, it’s beginning to show the slightest cracks from the few short weeks since Koro-sensei started his tenure. Kurahashi and Ryo Nakamura (Apphia Yu) are excitedly showing off their personalized (and “totes adorable”) knife sheaths, the class managed to get in line first, and the rest of the student body is shocked at their eccentric teachers. It gets to the point where the idiots Tanaka and Takada, uncomfortable with how happy and energized E-Class is, pick up and threaten to kill Nagisa after assembly. And more than anything else, it’s his response – a calm dare that they even try to follow through – that shows how much things have changed, at least for our class. The morons are legitimately scared over his sudden show of self-respect, terrified of him just walking past them to return to the mountain. It’s an exciting moment, seeing our viewpoint character stand up to the kids, but also carrying just a bit of fear. The episode ends with Nagisa, both our viewpoint character and one of the kids most obviously harmed by the E-Class system, being singled out by Asano as a “problem” student. It’s an unique kind of threat for a series so focused on the art of killing, but a spooky one nonetheless.

Errant Thoughts:

  • We’re starting to see the beginning of Irina and Kurasuma’s ongoing romantic tension here. It becomes an odd character beat, with one killer overcompensating to win over her comically emotionless coworker, but not a distasteful one.
  • Ranking Koro’s head changes: angel, white, Sonic. Even in this universe, Sonic still sucks.
  • While it makes sense some of the other students would find Irina’s latest groping of Nagisa to be arousing, it’s still pretty gross to see it used like that, especially after the last episode. At least Nagisa himself is upset by the assault, even if the show isn’t.
  • Best Koro-sensei Line:
    “If you hate me, I understand, but please don’t hate assassination.”
    • …Stupid limitations WordPress has on goofy (or any) fonts. Bones and I tried for a whole few minutes trying to find a good one on Google Docs.
  • Possible plot hole, but why would Asano use “assassination” as an example while talking with the nameless, faceless instructor?

Season 1 Spoilers:

  • That student council head is Teppei Araki, one of the members of Kunugigoaka’s Big Five.
  • The dean will, I believe, only appear once again during the assembly after finals, where he’ll be talking about E-Class a little differently.

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Season 2 Spoilers:
  • Alongside giving him extra speed and melting powers, Okuda’s “poison” will ultimately be the concoction that minimizes the risk of Koro-sensei destroying the world. Of course, how much practical use it gets is another story…

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Assassination Classroom 1.06 – “Test Time”

First aired February 21, 2015

“THOSE WHO CAN’T WIELD A SECOND BLADE…

AREN’T QUALIFIED TO BE ASSASSINS!” – Koro-sensei

Koro-sensei says this line in the middle of the episode, when challenging his students on why they care so little about their upcoming midterms. It’s after Kurasuma and Irina, at his request, explain their own histories of planning and killing…and their obvious need to have backup plans, new techniques, and a general understanding that things often fail to work out as expected. No plan or skill, they argue, is devoid of problems, and survival in their profession is dependent on countermeasures and backups. The idea of the “second blade” – any additional tool or strength or focus to balance and aid what you know – is one of the main motifs in the series, and it’s important that it get introduced here. The fifth and six episodes are the ones that clarify how central the work of academics is to this universe, and having the midterms so early gives E-Class another, equally intimidating danger they’ll have to overcome.

After the cold open (which highlights how funny and serious Koro-sensei is as a teacher), we finally get the first meeting between him and Principal Asano, after the latter shows Kurasuma and Irina his destructive “solution” to solving a Rubix Cube. He’s humble and deferential when discussing Koro-sensei’s threat to the world, only showing his true colors when discussing academics. It’s been hinted at in prior episodes, but Asano spells it out here: E-Class exists solely for the warped “benefit” of the student body at large, an educational ghetto meant to scare the rest of the school into shape and provide an easy target for their bullying. His extreme variation on the “Worker Ant Theory” has allowed him to turn Kunugigoaka into a top-tier school in record time. It is, however, dependent on the ostracized part of the class being seen as lazy, stupid, thuggish from afar but docile up close, and destined for failure. If the students are happy, learning, and – as Nagisa did last episode – willing to stand up to abuse, the Rubix Cube won’t break (the reimagining of the altercation from last episode as Nagisa threatening those jerks is both funny and dark, given its implications). Thus, Asano, who’s otherwise happy to let his zero prospect students have free reign of the mountain campus, draws a line in the sand; he will simply not accept when their attempts to learn and better themselves can be felt by the rest of the school.

This short visit wrecks both Nagisa and the octopus, reverting the former back to being an “E-Class nobody” after hearing his speech and revealing huge weaknesses in the latter with an efficiency we’ve not seen at all before. Specifically, Koro-sensei struggles painfully to help his students catch up in the upcoming midterms, increasing his “shadow clones” to so great a number that they become too visually oppressive to be useful. He pretty much always overcompensates, but his façade of confidence is slipping. It’s obvious his reason for improving their grades, that he wants them to not want to kill him, is a lie (though his creepy fantasy of college women excitedly asking for tutoring help…). As he has since the first episode, he has always held the teaching to be its own, highest goal. But he’s flustered and unsure about how to teach, and upset realizing he’s the only adult who appears to actually care about the kids. It makes sense he’d be angry hearing that much of the class, most vocally Nakamura, Okajima, and Kouki Mimura (Joel McDonald), thinks that all that matters in the Assassination Classroom is the the reward, which would certainly make the need for academics less valuable.

His threat and rant to E-Class would never have worked. Whipping up a soccer field-building tornado and threatening to leave the school if his students don’t all place in the top fifty during the midterms is intense, but it couldn’t help turn their grades around in one day or help them take pride in the schoolwork. It couldn’t even come close to shaking Asano. This gambit is painfully sloppy and ill-thought through, borne of a desperation to both teach his students and prove their worth to his boss. The principal suggests Koro-sensei seems “to be torn between embracing the role of savior or villain,” and he’s right; at this point the monster fundamentally doesn’t seem to know what his role even is, at least not entirely. At the same time, he’s not wrong at all when he notes that E-Class has been preparing for this, whether they knew it or not. If we’ve seen anything over the past five episodes, it’s that Koro-sensei does not rely on the kind of “dull, rote learning methods” that the school at large employs, and the mixture of assassination and regular schooling has given them an edge over the miserable, ceaseless cramming that’s implied to reign over the school at large.

We also need to discuss the midterms themselves, because they kick off one of the more compelling visual and narrative tricks of the show in the depiction of tests as monstrous battles. It’s often been a challenge to portray people performing stationary actions – writing, test taking, programming – in a compelling way, and turning tough questions into these brobdingnagian grotesqueries spices these scenes up and helps get inside the kids’ heads. It also shows how good learning and teaching can pay off, with the math sea monster slowly devolving into an easily slayable fish. When Mr. Ōno (of course their proctor is the guy who kicked out Nagisa and Karma out) is shocked to see E-Class actually working with confidence and speed, it’s gratifying…until even more impossible questions, added by Asano two days before the midterm and too late for E-Class to even know about, throws their streak out of whack. It’s a gutting example of how rigged the system truly is, and how offensive Koro-sensei is to the school’s ideology simply due to the worth he places in his students. It’s hard to see the octopus facing the wall, too ashamed to even face the class.

The emphasis on the test and the school makes the ending of the episode feel different, even if it retains the sense of lighthearted uplift from the previous episodes. Karma – who managed to be the one student in E-Class who aced the tests – makes his usual assassination boasts, and that element is of course still there, but we’ve really gotten an entirely new focus for the show. Even if the story has (deliberately) downplayed the threat Koro-sensei gives to the world, it and the assassination plans have understandably taken precedence; that is, in the end, the most important narrative plot. But it can’t be the only one. And seeing the actual culture of the school, and brutality of its practices, and the effect it’s had on the students, it’s satisfying and good for us to now get another, at the moment more powerful direction. Their teacher may still be the final exam, but he and his students are going to have to start working together to take down a mutual enemy.

Errant Thoughts

  • I tried looking through all the books Koro-sensei was teaching. Nothing I could note in particular as being an actual, real-world book, though I do appreciate the detail on them.
  • Koro-sensei Weak Point #6: subservient to higher ups. There’s something really funny (if sad) about seeing someone so powerful and intelligent nonetheless acting in such a servile manner to his awful superior. That’s not gonna get you that pay raise, man.
  • One small detail I like is how the midterms are held on the main campus. Nagisa compares them to away games, but they create a sense of discomfort for E-Class; they literally have to take a test in a place they’re not wanted.
  • It didn’t start in this episode, but I rather like the occasional imagery in the show of Koro-sensei being accompanied by butterflies. For all his constant movement, he also has a side of quiet, disconcerting tranquility.
  • Best Koro-sensei Line: “Take your midterms by the gills, smiling, your heads held high. Be proud, be bold, and never forget: you are assassins. You are E-Class!
Season 1 Spoilers

  • Those test scores between Karma and the rest of the class get a bit reserved during finals.

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Season 2 Spoilers

  • “Your speed certainly lives up to the hype; I can see why most attempts on your life would be an exercise in futility. But bear in mind, my friend. In the grand scheme of things, there are many problems for which speed is of no use at all.” Let’s remember that quote for Season 2, from the government’s final attempt to Asano’s own assassination gambit.
  • I’d also like to note Koro’s tacit defense of the E-Class system to his students, even after privately decrying it to Asano. Nagisa will mention it in the final episode, but the octopus doesn’t want them to see its inherent unfairness as an excuse or a burden. I also think it’s important that the character feels that way, but the show itself clearly finds the system fundamentally wrong.

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