Two thirds of the moon has been destroyed by a yellow octopus-like alien that has demanded that he teach the 3-E class of Kunugigaoka Junior High, a prestigious school that brutally neglects its bottom class. The Japanese government has tasked the class to kill this alien, Koro-Sensei, with the prize of 30 billion yen for anyone who ends his life.
Koro-Sensei has a rounded head that looks like an oversized tootsie roll sucker and tentacles like some kind of modified octopus, and no it’s not THAT kind of anime. He has a laundry list of “weaknesses” that the pseudo main character, Nagisa, keeps track of that include, getting embarrassed easily, liking porn magazines (still not that kind of show), being extremely overprotective, hyper inclusionary, and more. But the single thing that defines Koro-Sensei is empowering. His entire character is focused on taking those who have been left behind by the education system that they are in and convincing them that they are valuable in their own right. He is admittedly an infectious character despite his laugh being rather annoying and him always having an ace up his sleeve to keep himself from being killed by…anyone.
Class 3-E is the bottom of the academic barrel. Any kind of trouble maker, bad actor, or academic weight on the class average is going to end up here. What the show does is try to show the highlights of these kids. Through their attempts to kill Koro-Sensei we find that some are master chemists, some have incredible strength, some are natural tacticians, and anything else that would convince you that indeed these students have value beyond the exam scores that they were either not helped with or had a personal barrier that was preventing them from achieving their best. Together, these students plot any way they can in order to get a cut of the thirty billion yen promised for their teacher’s head. It is hard to pick any of them out because the show itself hardly picks a favorite student out of the twenty or more that is has, although Nagisa is the vague main character of the show. His character is so illy defined for so much of the show however, that you feel like you are watching a character adapted from a video game rather than one thought up from the mind of a creative. Nagisa is very neutral, happy, and confirmative, perfect for a game character so that players can superimpose themselves into the classroom of killing. Heck, they even make jokes about androgenous Nagisa looks. So overall none of the characters really shone, because they shared the spotlight like they intended to share the prize pool.
What is a classroom without teachers? Class 3-E gets support from the Japanese government through the forms of Tadaomi Karasuma and Irina Jelavić, the latter affectionately referred to as Bitch Sensei. These teachers teach physical education and English, respectively. I have to admit, the teachers of the class are far funnier and more interesting characters than the rest of the class. Tadaomi is the classic government type and Irina is the stereotyped black widow type with a rack big enough to store whatever you need to throw out in the garage. Not only are they fun and useful characters, but their dynamic actually evolves over the course of the show in a way I found more entertaining than most things.
I felt like I could walk away. Subtitled shows are how I prefer to watch because I want to get as close to the heart and direction of the original meaning as I can. Because of this, I feel a little tied to the screen because I, in fact, don’t speak a lick of Japanese. I am a mere American who knows English enough to think I can write a blog and have ugly conversations with toddlers in American Sign Language. But Assassination Classroom wasn’t quite like that. If I was thirsty, I just didn’t pause it because I would get an episode recap of the end. If I had 15 minutes left in lunch, I just watched 15 minutes and let the episode hang for a few hours. With so much of the emotional payoff so late in the episode, the show just didn’t value the moment, so I didn’t either. Pretty early, by episode six or so, I got the emotional value out of the show and was never really given anything more or different.
The idea of success is something taught to most people with a hidden second edge. Yes, we want each other to thrive, but we also don’t want our loved ones to fall into poverty, homelessness, or unemployment. As to imply that these things are a state of failure. The principal of the school uses this societal fear to motivate students. Sacrifice a small portion of the population to keep the rest in line. It’s cynical, but you can follow the societal connection and understand the view. This is so starkly contrasted by Koro-Sensei’s view of individual value and personal empowerment that pits a single learning system for all against individual learning techniques in a way that we rarely get to see play out in an actual education system. I was fortunate enough in life to receive highly individualized learning. In fourth grade I was awful at spelling, but loved to read. So on my mom’s request, my teacher gave me individualized spelling lists that included the most popular words published and scores sky rocketed. In 8th grade I had a near custom curriculum because my teacher recognized my skill. Receiving individual levels of attention meant the world to me. It was not hard for me to identify and identify with the ideas that the show was promoting and although this kind of individual learning is discussed as largely not possible in today’s world, it’s possible that the principal versus Koro-sensei battle will be won for the students of the world another time.
Assassination Classroom had a short attention span. Often it would “develop” a character in an episode. Foreshadowing was cashed in quicker than a check just handed to a college student. They showed us the gun mounted on the wall and it would start firing before we could even forget about it. Here is the show’s formula: identify a student’s issue, create a scenario where they can overcome it while also trying to kill Koro-Sensei or solve a problem interrupting that work, then a heartfelt explanation by Koro-Sensei about why empowering students matters. The message is good, but 44 episodes of this gets old, fast. Any larger plots, other than the general vague goal of killing Koro Sensei come so far out of left field that they hardly added value. The planning felt as one dimensional as a character spreadsheet, with an issue and a resolution per kid, and that didn’t satisfy me very much.
If you liked My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, season one, you will like this animation. The early 2010’s era of anime liked their thick outlines and fast reactions, and Assassination Classroom uses them both religiously. On top of that, everyone’s hair is glossy. I know that isn’t a criticism, but it was just a funny thing that I noticed. This style that was so popular for so many beloved shows is not particularly bad, but I think that the saturation these shows have in anime media has reached a point where they have become the “generic” level of animation and does little to separate itself from the crowd. If someone could point to an element in this show’s animation that genuinely got them excited, I would be really happy for them because it never happened for me. But I’ll say it again, it’s not bad, it’s just what I’ve come to find generic and a bit flavorless.
The show attempted to bring us into the world of assassins. Known reputations, diverse methods, and hardened codes and hierarchies. But, abstracted onto a middle school where fewer characters have had their first kiss than ever thought about killing someone, was not the play. Each new location added feels like a side character in the class, meaning I might care for an episode or two but usually not longer than that. Even reoccurring agencies or organizations felt abstract and distant because they pop up like some assassination Team Rocket, have no impact, and retreat into the shadows. I wanted some more concrete locations and world elements. But the show can never really get away from the feeling of being trapped in a classroom, a feeling many students are familiar with.
Last week Sarah sent me something along the lines of a thirty minute video that describes how the music of Avatar: The Last Air Bender has some of the best musical symmetry in the business. While the video was riveting, it highlighted one thing I had never had a word for. It described a motif, a defining soundtrack or sound bit for a character or a situation. I hate motifs. Assassination Classroom is full of them. I know that they can be used to help watchers get into a specific emotional state and identify upcoming events, but they leave me with such a bad aftertaste. When you look at the formulaic nature of the show and then come in with another dump truck full of motifs I have to wonder if the show was written by a human or an AI. I can picture the video right now. You know the ones I am talking about, “I trained an AI on 100 hours of Assassination Classroom and this is what it wrote.” It would then go on to describe the immediate action scene of the class trying a new way to kill Koro Sensei and play a character’s motif. Had I written this section before yesterday, when Randy and I watched Hathaway’s Flash (arguably my favorite soundtrack ever), I might be more lenient, but I simply do not enjoy cutting corners with canned emotional value.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||2||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||2||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||5||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||2||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||2||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||1||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||1||3|
I am aware that lots of people, including lots of my readers, like this show a great deal. But it’s not like I haven’t disappointed you in the past, so why stop now? Assassination Classroom has some super solid ideas surrounding how we teach students that feels aimed at a middle school audience. Because the show is aimed at a younger target, the larger story feels left behind and elements like music, animation, and most of the characters suffer from the lack of attention that Koro-Sensei would give to them should they be students in his classroom. Not a failing grade, but maybe enough to end up in the ‘C’ class instead of the ‘E’ class.