Sometimes, it seems like the only way for a manga series to garner any attention to push its content to the extreme. Not even spinoffs of Shonen Jump are immune from this. Today's selection was viewed by its own editors as too extreme to ever get a release in North America. They even refused to serialize it in Shonen Jump Alpha. After reading this volume, though, the most extreme thing about it is its title.
ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM (Ansatsu Kyoshitsu), by Yusei Matsui. First published in 2012, and first published in North America in 2014.
Koro-sensei is not your typical teacher. He's a bright yellow tentacled being with permanent smiley face who has already blown up most of the moon and plans to destroy the world in a year's time. He's also very committed to being the best teacher possible to Class E-3 of Kunogigaoku High School by being perceptive, relatable, and encouraging. In all fairness, Class E-3 isn't your typical classroom, either. They are the losers and rejects of the school, shipped off to a far-off annex to serve as examples to the other students. They are also the ones tasked by the government to kill Kuro-sensei before this year is up. They are provided with special weapons, and whomever succeeds will win a 10 billion yen prize. It's a shame they have to kill the best teacher they've ever had, but that's how it goes when every kids becomes a potential assassin.
Assassination Classroom is what happens when someone crosses a Battle Royale tale of killer kids, an inspirational classroom drama, and a lot of goofy shonen humor, and the end result is far more entertaining than it has any right to be.
There have been many manga about unconventional teachers who reform a classroom full of bad eggs, but few are as otherworldy as Koro-sensei. Sure, he's a deadly tentacle creature who can move at Mach 20 and blow up the moon, but he's also deeply invested in building up his students and encouraging their interests, even when that interest including trying to kill him, and therein lies the punchline for the majority of the jokes. He's got a occasionally goofy sense of humor, where he uses his super speed to execute quick costume changes, attend baseball games during his lunch break, or stop a student's attack and paint their nails at the same time. He'd be the perfect teacher if he weren't such a threat to the human race. The story makes no bones about the fact that Koro-sensei could kill them if he wished, but aside from a single vague flashback never explains why he wanted to become a teacher for this particular class.
In comparison, the kids of Class E-3 are a bit lacking. Most of them get one quirk or interest established in their particular chapter, which they use in the latest assassination attempt. Then that kid blends back into the crowd so the next kid can take the spotlight. Still, it's weirdly amusing in how the kids don't see any conflict between admiring their teacher and trying to kill him, often in the same breath. It also makes them at least mildly more interesting than the government agent who sets the plot into motion, as it's hard to take him and any threat of him bringing in outside forces seriously when he's the one who passed the task of killing this monster off to a bunch of kids.
In spite of what the title might suggest, this is actually a rather lighthearted and silly series. A lot of its humor stems from gentle parody and loving tweaks on some well-worn ideas. It's not the sort of thing that inspires a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, but it's amusing enough to keep my attention.
The character designs for the people are pleasant if unremarkable, which for modern day shonen honestly a step up. Hell, some of the tertiary characters look downright wonky at points, like their faces are slightly melted. Just as same as the story, though, they're not the main draw here. It's not their face that is literally slapped across the front cover, after all.
You have to give Matsui credit for Koro-sensei's design. He was a character that needed to look disturbing, yet pleasantly marketable, and you can't say that he doesn't succeed at both. Kuro-sensei looks friendly enough with his constant smiley face and old-fashioned teaching robes, but then you remember those robes are hiding a mass of tentacles which would put Legend of the Overfiend to shame and that Kuro-sensei's permanent smile can become unnerving when the conversation turns dark. Despite the fact that he can't change expression, Matsui still manages to convey his mood through the use of shade and pattern to indicate changing colors, as well as the occasional bit of mood lighting. The action is fast and fluid, and both Kuro-sensei's tentacles and the students' attacks fly out in flurries of speed lines. The art is surprisingly restrained for a shonen series that's so blatantly comedic. There aren't a lot of bug eyes, dropped jaws, or any sort of overreaction. It's nice to see a series that actually trusts in its writing to convey the humor instead of forcing it, and in doing so Assassination Classroom plays to its greatest strength.
This is wonderfully weird and amusing for a shonen series. It's not deep, but it tweaks the inspirational classroom drama in enjoyable ways and creates an instantly iconic character in Koro-sensei. This is one classroom that's welcome to stay in session.
This series is published by Viz. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 10 volumes available so far. 1 volume has been published, and is currently in print.
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