Making The Grade In "Assassination Classroom"
On the surface Assassination Classroom looks bizarre. By now you've seen pics of its main character: a tentacled smiley-face whose appearance is a thin line between adorable and nightmarishly creepy. Worry not, viewers, for Assassination Classroom is not a book that should be judged by its cover; rather, this is one anime series that just about anyone should be diving deeply into.
Earth's moon is destroyed, leaving nothing but a permanent crescent for the world to see. The culprit is an alien-looking being, who makes a promise that in a year's time he will do the same to our planet. However he is giving humankind the chance to stop such a terrible fate from happening, by allowing the chance for a group of high school students to kill him, with the government awarding ¥10,000,000,000 to the one who can accomplish this. Soon the creature finds himself as homeroom teacher in Class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High, where he teaches his students not only your average student curriculum, but also the ways of assassination. Of course, with the creature being able to regenerate limbs and move at a speed of Mach 20, taking him down will be no easy task.
Class 3-E is looked down upon by the rest of the school, with its location so far into the boonies of the campus that you wouldn't even know of its existence unless someone told you. Other students taunt, spit, and attempt to make the 3-E students feel like the lowest forms of waste on the planet. The creature, who starts going by the name Koro-Sensei (a combination of the words "korosenai" [unkillable] and "sensei" [teacher]), notices this, and proceeds to help them overcome the bullying they face on a daily basis.
What follows is a tale of not just assassination attempts, but also of students beating the odds and challenges that are put in their way. It's surprising that a creature that plans to destroy Earth is going out of his way to offer assistance to the students who are in charge of committing the deed, yet there he is helping a student with his pitching technique, replanting roses after he carelessly plucks them from a school garden, and teaching a young chemist to find a poisonous concoction that could take him out once and for all. It's all presented in a very humorous manner, but at the same time there's a sense of warmness that's on display.
Perhaps this is why Assassination Classroom is such a unique premise. If any other person were to create a show about a group of students trying to kill their teacher, they'd be cancelled halfway through its pitch meeting. Thankfully its manga source material from Yusei Matsui (Neuro: Supernatural Detective) shows that you can get away with such a plot if you create a teacher of impossibly extreme circumstances. The show knows how to get zany, especially when you see Koro-Sensei goofing up and having to clean up his own mess.
It's when the series shows the creature teacher giving his students the care they deserve, but haven't been receiving from the rest of the junior high, where its more eye-opening moments occur. Koro-Sensei wants the students to succeed not just in his assassination, but also in in life, and how he does it is quite spectacular. As the show progresses the students become more enthusiastic and optimistic, with their lost dreams of fulfillment finally returning and their purposes in life more revealing. While this happens, Koro-Sensei acts more human to them than any of the actual humans their paths have crossed with. The mystery behind why he wishes to destroy the world may not have been revealed yet, but from the way this show is going there could be a mind-changing event in the works.
Jun Fukuyama (Lelouch in Code Geass, Grell in Black Butler) plays Kuro-Sensei with a mixture of wit, cunning, and warmth. He is the heart of Assassination Classroom, and its beat has a lively rhythm to it thanks to his portrayal. Tomokazu Sugita (Gintoki in Gintama, Kyon in the Haruhi Suzumiya series) is the stern-but-worrisome straight man to Kuro-Sensei as government worker Karasuma. With Sugita's experience in both anime comedy and drama his performance feels all the more natural in this role. As the assassin-turned-language tacher Jelavić, Shizuka Itō (Hinagiku in Hayate the Combat Butler!) pulls off her nasty attitude with humorous glee (fitting, seeing as the students nickname her Bitch-Sensei). An English dub also recently started airing, and while it may be too early to judge it does seem like FUNimation did its homework with who to cast, especially with Sonny Strait taking on the role of the Class 3-E teacher with a nice dash of silliness and joy thrown into his portrayal.
The portrayal of the students is done very well, but for some reason I have issue with Mai Fuchigami's performance of Nagisa. Maybe it's because of the way the character is designed, but it wasn't until halfway through the episode when I realized that Nagisa was a male student. It may sound like slim pickings, but almost every episode I have to be reminded that Nagisa is a boy. (Upon further investigation there's a reason behind the feminine appearance, but will keep it spoiler-free here in the off-chance of it being brought up in a future episode.) Still I feel like Fuchigami's acting could've used just a wee bit of testosterone in her vocal range.
It's no surprise that the animation looks fantastic in Assassination Classroom, thanks to the hard work from Studio Hibari's Lechre division. The way the students go in for the attack, how Kuro-Sensei speeds through the air as he travels across the world on his lunch break, and the comedic way the creature reacts to his tiny goofs are presented in a colorfully fluid and zany way that is fitting for the world this series is built upon. Calling its presentation flawless would be considered an understatement, but for the life of me I can't think of a better word to describe it.
Naoki Satō (Eureka Seven, Space Battleship Yamato) has delivered a wonderful score that balances out the light-hearted moments with some of the more intense fight sequences. The end theme "Hello, shooting star," performed by Moumoon (who will be playing a show at this year's SXSW Festival), is a beautifully calm track that gently brings the viewers down from the craziness that they had just witnessed onscreen. This leads me to the show's most weakest part: opening theme "Seishun Satsubatsu-ron," performed by some of the main student voice cast. While the music sounds good, the vocals lack any sort of enthusiasm. (Seriously, were Stance Punks or Maximum the Hormone not available when they needed to record this?!) God hoping that it gets switched out halfway through the show's run, although the sooner the better, I say.
It's not often we get an anime series that presents not only a shocking plotline, but also one that's filled with an abundance of love and care. Assassination Classroom has all of that and more, thanks to it being original, funny, action-packed, and -- most important of all -- filled to the brim with heart & soul. It may still be early in the year, but don't be surprised when you see this series appearing on many year-end top anime lists. In academic terms: Assassination Classroom is deserving of honor roll status.
Voice actors/actresses: 8.5/10
Final Grade: 9/10
Assassination Classroom can be viewed on FUNImation.com and Hulu