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 pass the torch onto a marvelous
Thanks to Lily “Lovely” Bones for edits.
Assassination Classroom 1.09 – “Transfer Student Time”
First aired March 14, 2015
“Koro-sensei, if my information is right, I think I’m being what they call ‘rebellious.’ That doesn’t make me a terrible person or anything, right?” – Ritsu
Thus far, the kids of E-Class – and us in the audience – have enjoyed a world dominated by the singular shadow of Koro-sensei. We’ve got the school and some rival assassins, but thus far it’s all been around the contest between the kids and a chibi Eldritch school teacher. All that changes when Nagisa and friends meet their new transfer student, a cold Norwegian artificial program and monolithic computer known as the Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery (Bryn Apprill), soon to be nicknamed Ritsu by Fuwa. And what’s more, it seems the only level of knowledge she has is based on strategies for mass killing, spending the entirety of every period mowing down the classroom to the point where any actual teaching or learning is utterly impossible. Her being there threatens the Assassination Classroom, but in a broader way she somewhat threatens Assassination Classroom.
The AIFA is a compelling idea, but her introduction also throws the show’s balance for a loop. There’s an argument to be made that having Koro-sensei as the only truly “impossible” thing in the world of the show gave the premise a certain weight. That was the pitch we were given, that it was going to be these forgotten kids against their unkillable teacher, and it helped sell how intimidating and exciting the challenge. It’s not as though science fiction conceits weren’t part of the plot, but they were more in the background. Theoretically, introducing a magical A.I. tablet who can 3D print guns is an extreme shift from that – even Koro-sensei notes that this is taking the concept “a bit too liberally” – and it is going to be followed by a number of other major changes which move it further still. “Transfer Student Time” leaps into this by directly asking the question: can the show “survive” this change?
Thankfully, the answer is a resounding “yes,” and a lot of that has to do with Ritsu herself. Her limited intelligence – she’s an excellent killer and learns exponentially from every attempt, but as a system meant to control military weapons systems, she has no consideration for her fellow students’ needs – means she’s a different sort of challenge. Essentially, Koro-sensei has to artificially expand the ranges for her input and output, for both what what she can (or does) learn and how she can express herself. Except he perhaps goes too far, with the more positive personality helping some of the other students cheat to curry their favor and – even worse – accidentally taking away some of her teacher’s attention. Nagisa suggests at the beginning of the episode that new things have a tendency to get attention in E-Class, and while it’d be hard not to make an episode like this one entirely about the newcomer, she proves to be a fun and exciting addition to the group. Her being a literal weapon makes her engaged and eager about the mission, in a way that you don’t see at all from the show’s most aggressive killers.
Of course, having a machine as the transfer student kind of demands a story based around a question of free will, a concept with particular resonance to a group of disenfranchised kids stuck out in the sticks. Terasaka (who ties her up to stop her shooting up the class) and Karma are suspicious of the idea that a machine can actually think for itself, since she’s still just following Koro-sensei’s prerogatives. The AIFA’s owners are even more extreme, physically tearing out pieces of her monitor to purge her of all her upgrades in a fairly disturbing scene. Thankfully, those still managed to take beforehand, leading Ritsu to actively defy her orders and keep the additions most central for her ability to think and learn on her own. Her first sign of this, making 3D printed flowers for the group to answer some classmates’ request from earlier, is one of the show’s most indelible single images (I’d have made it the header image had her face been in it). Here’s this weapon designed for no other purpose than killing, building something so opposed to her original purpose. Ritsu says she was doing it to honor the request from earlier, but it’s just as much a direct act of rebellion – and an important sign of how the murderous skills E-Class can learn needn’t be used solely for violence.
I’m also interested in the discussion about those upgrades themselves, because they’re one of the few times this show really engages its science fiction premise. As a teacher, it’s on Koro-sensei to help Ritsu grow, which necessitates those upgrades; she actually needs an increase in her awareness to think for herself. At the same time, though, he is artificially changing her personality (and his initial upgrades were made against her will), so is he simply getting rid of a less pliable or psychologically active Ritsu? Is Terasaka right when he suggests her nature as a program makes her incapable of legitimate free will? The show is, unsurprisingly, on the side of the octopus, and it’s hard not to agree with him – especially since Ritsu’s “parents” are commercial executives who only want a tool, not a legitimate AI. At the same time, I do think it’s a compelling question. The show brings in a character this inherently upsetting to the foundation; it’s to its credit it goes all-in on exploring its potential. And I think it’s especially valuable that it’s Ritsu herself that goes beyond both her initial programming or her teacher’s additions to actually become a true AI.
At this point, the show needs to change; its heroes have to engage more with the challenges they face, and the deadline, far off though it may be, can’t be entirely in the background anymore. I’m not necessarily, entirely convinced that introducing more supernatural elements was the best or only solution, but it ultimately does (and will continue to) help the show start moving into a much more narratively satisfying place. Ritsu, who’s already become one of the most interesting members of E-Class, is central to that as well. She’s evolving past what she initially was, and far more than her “parents” wanted. That’s scary, but it’s necessary for us all. It’s necessary for the show, too.
- Far less graceful (though deliberately so) an introduction is the one for four-eyed Koutarou Takebayashi (Scott Hinze), whose first line is so worthless and chauvinistic it leads to Isogai breaking the fourth wall in fury. This will not be the last time this show tips over this metatextual line.
- Fuwa and Ritsu bond over an unnamed manga which just happens to sound like Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, Yuusei Matsui’s last story before Assassination Classroom. This will also not be the last time the show tips over this metatextual line.
- You know, I wonder if my thoughts about Ritsu’s additions come from me rewatching The Good Place and thinking about how Janets artificially increase their awareness and understanding. The process for doing so is cruel, and while the result can ultimately build a better (and more aware) version, does that itself justify going through that process?
- Not gonna touch that thing with Irina and Karasuma.
- It’s hard to hear, but during the montage, Koro-sensei actually says “jiritsu,” the word from which Ritsu’s name is derived, well before the class decides on it.
- Nice Paramount pastiche in the stinger. And a nice stinger in general. It’s fun seeing the kids and Koro bonding over pop culture, especially since Sonic Ninja apparent includes a character actually named “mafia ‘BAD’ leader Gable.”
- I just wanted to highlight Apprill’s superlative work as Ritsu. She’s playing three different variations on the same character – an ostensibly emotionless machine – all of whom are distinct and compelling.
- Best Koro-sensei Line: “If you still want to kill me, and who doesn’t…”
- This is probably a general spoiler for both seasons, but it fits better here; it’s interesting that Ritsu’s weapons never actually get used after she “turns” good. A lesser show would have just had her act as a mobile arms depot, while her working as an AI and mobile app emphasizes learning and more directly working together.
- We also haven’t gotten any prior reference to Itona here, though it’s probably valuable to have him not be present for our meeting Ritsu.
- Thank Christ that “more accessible human face” isn’t the one we get to see Koro actually have in the flashbacks.
- Wasn’t the AEGIS Combat System the thing the Japanese government uses at the end of the show?
Assassination Classroom 1.10 – “L and R Time”
First aired March 21, 2015
“Even if I wasn’t a relic, even if I could kill that man, you’d still be out of my reach. Same goes for Irina when you get down to it.” – Lovro the Assassin
Coming on the heels of one of the strongest episodes and an introduction of a great character, “LR Time” is definitely a comedown into the show’s “normalcy.” It’s a bit shakier, and there are points where it feels more like setup for future stories than something of its own, but it’s arguable that its mostly calmer tone serve as a good way to wind down. It’d be hard for anything to go up against Ritsu’s introduction, so having a space for some breathing room is still worthwhile. The two main plots are structured somewhat around once again emphasizing how invincible Koro-sensei is, but from a slightly different, slightly incoherent direction. We don’t exactly “see the world through [his] eyes,” as Nagisa suggests, but we do get his own perspective emphasized just a bit more than normal.
Given where we are in the plot, it makes sense to once again put the emotional weight onto Irina, whose frustrations with the class and her creep coworker are amplified when her boss suddenly comes back into her life. Lovro Brofski (Kent Williams), edgy Boris Badenov accent in tow, is one more example of the kinds of sub-standard mentor and educator figures for whom Koro-sensei is a foil. He’s not wrong that Irina’s absolutely out of her element as an assassin – her skillset is painfully unsuited to this kind of target – but alongside being demeaning, he’s grossly missing the point. Irina’s actually learning new skills beyond her seduction techniques, given the surprisingly well thought out plan to “kill” Karasuma she comes up with to win their contest and stay with E-Class. And she’s also helping the class improve, even if it’s not obvious how directly English lessons will help. Irina isn’t a cog in a machine, but she is one small but important part of a system that’s slowly working to being able to get all the ground. The people running this class (the human ones, anyway) are soldiers and killers; they’ve got a razor sharp focus but little aim for the long term. The little contest Koro-sensei comes up with is valueless as a proof of strength, and he knows it, since everyone knows their skills aren’t enough on their own. It’s to show how Irina’s changed.
As for the attempts themselves, they’re not exactly imaginative, but they are enjoyable. It’s fun seeing Irina’s attempts almost exponentially worsen and collapse, and it’s far more fun to see her turn it around. The reveal that she’s spent seemingly days, if not weeks, preparing and training for plans that exploit everyone already being familiar with her seduction efforts instead of just relying on them is really cool even if it wasn’t coming from a character who’s mostly comic relief. It’s also a good way to introduce Karasuma’s incredible physical skill, which hasn’t really been brought up before, and to get more of his actual personality. He may not be much more than a government functionary at this point, but he isn’t an empty suit.
The second half, with Koro-sensei physically taking Nagisa, Karma, and Ritsu – now in mobile app form! – is far less thematically rich. It’s more an opportunity to see just a fraction of the teacher’s incomprehensible life, along with getting to see the intersection between the four characters’ interests (Nagisa and the octopus like comics and the latter comely leading ladies, Karma only cares about the director, Ritsu wants to experience flying at Mach 20). It’s the details that take the cake here, with Koro-sensei making earbuds out of his tentacles or sobbing at hackneyed tropes. It’s a small moment, but it does feel notable that he never lets the two kids in on how he protected them during the flight, blocking aerial detritus from hitting them. I don’t know if it was to focus on the lecture, or to not scare them, or to create a more “mythical” aura around him, and I’m not sure we’re meant to know. Even with this attempt to get closer to what’s going on in his head, things are still distant.
It’s a neat idea, but it does suffer from the fact that this episode, fun as it is, is just not perfectly paced. Irina and Karasuma’s contest is fun and has weight, but it doesn’t have enough to carry a full episode. The second half feels too disconnected (neither of the two teachers has any lines), partially because it only has about a third of the episode to make its points. The trip itself is cool, but Hawaii doesn’t carry as much weight – though maybe it’s not supposed to, being just a destination for the flight. This is, I assume, the result of the show’s being an adaptation; we need to introduce Lovro, have the contest, show the trip to the Sonic Ninja premiere, and have the mysterious “brother” show up at the last moment. But “L and R Time” – whose title likely references either the chopped nature of the plot and themes or just the “half wrong / half right” face Koro-sensei makes – doesn’t do as much as it should to bring those two parts together.
Perhaps there is something that ties these stories together: the concept of dilatancy, the phenomenon of liquids or solids changing dramatically under pressure that makes up Koro-sensei’s mid-flight lecture. This story is about pressures, some sudden and others slower, that are constantly bearing down on the students of E-Class and its affiliations. Irina has managed to learn and strengthen herself while her mentor only stiffened at the contest, Ritsu overcame literally impossible constraints, and Nagisa and Karma are both still learning to explore this new world. Will that be enough? When will their teacher have to face this challenge, and is what he is the result of that? And how will they be affected by Koro-sensei’s alleged brother?
- This probably could’ve been brought up in her introduction, but apparently Irina’s teaching style in the manga involves using Sex and the City reruns. And yes, I did have to check that it was “and,” and not “in.”
- Continuing on his crypto-Eastern European mashup, Lovro also exclaims in German.
- Okay, how the hell did Koro spend all that time on a suit of armor just for that situation? Should we assume he’s a master welder on top of everything else?
- For those unfamiliar, Charlotte Corday was a famous one-time assassin of the French Revolution who killed a journalist deeply involved with the Reign of Terror. Her method, stabbing him in his bathtub after “exposing” a non-existent assassination plan, is not too dissimilar from Irina’s methods.
- It’s “champing at the bit,” Koro-sensei.
- Also, in continuing this absolutely needless The Good Place connection, Ritsu’s offer of predicting the plot to the Sonic Ninja sequel by making an algorithm of every movie ever made feels very much like something Michael or Janet would do.
- Best Koro-sensei Line: “Long-lost siblings! Can you imagine? Merciful heavens, how cruel fate can be…[sobs]”
- I’m also partial to Irina using “schmuck,” perhaps unsurprisingly.
- And finally, it doesn’t really do to put this into spoilers, but having this less intense episode is going to be very valuable for next time.
- “I dunno; I feel the director copped out making the bad guy the brother.” This goes into both explicit spoilers for Season One and vague ones for Season Two (and Lily might advise putting this in the next one instead), but one of the most important parts of this show is how it delights in both playing with hackneyed tropes and playing them straight. Characters like Itona and Takaoka, and a number of plot points, often run the risk of being absurdly cliché, but they usually work. Apparently this is a refrain from the manga’s creator.
- From this point on, Lovro will be a minor recurring character, there to provide either exposition or help in the art and politics of assassination.
- And going on the point from the Season One section, the concept of exploring anime and manga clichés will be completely blown out of the water in Koro Sensei Quest.