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Assassination Classroom is a killer parody

March 4, 2015
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An illegal alien in the Japanese school system.

Almost everything I know about Japan I’ve learned from watching anime and according to that teacher Japanese high school students face the toughest curriculum in the world. Not only do these kids have to contend with maths and sciences but also zombies, vampires, international terrorists, wizards from alternate universes and, often as not, cats that aren’t cats.

Another such semester of mayhem began in January on Japanese television in the form of Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyōshitsu).

This 22-episode anime series, which is also airing on Funimation in the United States and streaming on the Internet, is based on the wildly popular Japanese comic series (or manga) of the same name by Yūsei Matsui.

The first episode of the anime series opens in a typical Japanese high school classroom full of ordinary-looking students but presided over by an extraordinary octopoidal yellow creature who cheerfully conducts roll-call amid a hail of bullets as every student in the class — armed to the teeth — suddenly opens fire on it, with no effect whatsoever.

Taking class warfare to a whole new level

The first day in the Assassination Classroom anime series.

The first day in the Assassination Classroom’s 2015 anime series.

A super-powerful alien life form has taken credit for carving the earth’s moon into a crescent and has also insisted on becoming the new teacher of Kunugigaoka Junior High School’s notorious remedial “Class E”. The alien promises to destroy the earth at the end of the school year unless the misfit students can assassinate it first.

It is thus up to these middle school underachievers to achieve the seemingly impossible task of saving the earth by killing their alien teacher, which they have nicknamed Korosenei — literally “unkillable teacher”.

Based on the ludicrous premise and the production values, which seemed quite low at first glance, I was prepared to dismiss the series as a cheap classroom clone tricked up with a alien invader for novelty.

But, three episodes in, Assassination Classroom is winning me over with its originality, humour and heart.

Can’t always judge an anime by its premise

What seemed ludicrous at first glance — students bent on killing their alien teacher — appears to be a clever parody of the potentially (if not fundamentally) adversarial relationship between students and teachers.

Aren’t students always trying to get the better of their teachers in one way or another and don’t good teachers accept this contest and even turn it to their advantage to better teach their students?

That’s what happens over-and-over in Assassination Classroom. Each episode revolves around the efforts of the students to kill their alien teacher and it good-naturally takes the murderous intentions of the students in stride and patiently teaches them, often-as-not turning the failed assassination attempts into further opportunities to educate.

The key, I think, to what creator Yūsei Matsui is trying to do with Assassination Classroom lies in the fact that the alien, Korosenei, is turning out to be one hell of a good teacher — the best that any of the students in Class E have ever had.

Class E, you should know,  is a dumping ground for difficult students and an object of contempt and discrimination among the regular student population of Kunugigaoka Junior High.

The kids in Class E are far from stupid but all of them, in one way or another, have proven to be too much of a handful for the tightly-regimented, one-size-fits-all, regular school system.

The little monster in all of us

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Karma-kun, a budding sociopath with some abandonment issues.

A good example of a difficult student is the featured player in episode three, titled “Karma Time”.

There’s nothing terribly original about the character of Karma Akabane, a student known for his generally violent antisocial behavior and who’s ended up in Class E because of a single principled act of violence.

Karma is a character straight out of Japanese central casting: the psychopathic manchild.

Japanese manga and anime both rely heavily on the narrative shorthand of stock character types to tell strong stories in limited spaces.

It seems that Karma feels betrayed by his previous homeroom teacher who suspended and demoting him to Class E for protecting (a little too aggressively) a bullied student, also from Class E.

He wastes no time in trying to kill his new teacher.

But if the little psycho will stop at nothing, we find out just how much Korosenei‘s hands (or rather pseudopodia) are tied when it comes to dealing with these murderous attempts on it’s life.

The alien may be inhumanly powerful — able to move and fly at mach 20 for instance — but it is neither infallible nor necessarily invulnerable — twice, in rapid succession, Karma manages to trick and slightly damage it.

And, as Kurosensei makes clear, no matter what the students do it will neither harm them nor allow them to come to harm.

The unconditional surrender

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All-powerful and all-forgiving…where have I heard that before?

Ultimately, Karma tries to put Korosensei in a no-win situation: the teacher has to either try to rescue the boy and surely die in the attempt or leave him to die and be seen as nothing more than an evil monster.

When Korosenei neatly finds a third way to save Karma with no risk to itself and cheerfully congratulates Karma on his clever strategy, well, it comes a something of a revelation to Karma.

Karma has found an authority figure he can’t beat but who’s word he can trust; one who will never abandon him.

No matter what Karma does Korosensei will care for him unconditionally.

Ah, a warm fuzzy ending for our little cold-blooded killer.

All-in-all, Assassination Classroom is off to a weird but promising start. Under the daffy-sounding premise there seems to be a core of good ideas and I’m genuinely interested to see how the story and  the various characters develop.

I don’t pretend to have the slightest idea where the storyline will lead but I do think that along the way it will have a lot more to say about the relationship between teachers and students specifically and the Japanese education system in general and I do believe that it will be strongly character-driven.

If looks could kill

Opening day in the Assassination Classroom manga (2012).

Opening day in Yūsei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom manga (2012).

Opening day in Assassination Classroom, the OVA (2013).

Opening day in Assassination Classroom’s half-hour original video animation (2013).

I’m also going to have a closer look at the original manga that the anime is based on (At least 12 volumes of the translated manga is available for online reading)

Unfortunately the 2015 anime adaptation is largely missing the sharp visual edge of  Yūsei Matsui’s original manga, wherein Korosensei comes across as much more alien and unfathomable and the children display the elemental amorality verging on depravity that the Japanese seem to believe every child is capable of — witness the 2000 film Battle Royale (and forget the The Hunger Games).

At the time of this writing, seven episodes of the Assassination Classroom anime series are available for online streaming from Funimation and various episodes and clips have been posted on YouTube.

And on top of the anime release, a live-action film version of Assassination Classroom is scheduled for release in Japan later this month!

From → Animation, Anime, Comics, Films, TV

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