Assassination Classroom (Vol.1-12)

One of my favorite writers and artists in the manga world today is Yusei Marsui, despite only having only two proper series on his resume. He has a strange skill turning strange ideas into brilliant stories, matched with his odd pencil work (he was an assistant on Bobobo, so that's to be expected). Assassination Classroom his sophomore attempt after the wonderfully bizarre Demon Detective Neuro Nogami, and it's become surprisingly popular as one of Shonen Jump's running weekly manga. With twelve volumes produced and the series now being printed in English, not to mention the Winter anime that should be airing when this goes up, I figured it was time to finally talk about one of the most downright bizarre manga I've ever read.

The premise is simple; some sort of monster that may or may not be an alien named Koro-sensei is threatening to destroy the world, unless he is killed in one year time. His conditions are that the infamous Class-E of Kunugigoka Junior High, the lowest graded students of the school, must be the ones to kill him, with a cash reward offered by the Japanese government in exchange. Funny thing is that Koro-sensei also wants to be a teacher for the class, and his strange combination of assassination training and studies ends up helping the troubled kids more than anyone would have expected.

Assassination Classroom is a weird blend of slice of life comedy with shonen action, and it never clashes like you'd expect it to. The series starts off so strange that it's easy to accept all the strangeness it throws at you rather quickly, despite that you should be questioning it more. It helps that Koro-sensei is constantly goofy through most of the series, while the students of Class-E are well developed and relatable. The cast itself admits the whole situation is nuts, but quickly get used to it, put at ease by Koro-sensei's ridiculous personality. It also helps that the other two teachers in the class, Tadaomi Karasuma and Irina Jelavić, are both ridiculous in their own rights. Karasuma is quick to really get into assassination training, while Irina is more of a kid than an adult herself, going on self-centered hissy-fits.

There's great chemistry among the teachers, and among the class itself. Several chapters build and build to reveal all the students and give several their own arcs, resulting in a ton of mini-arcs. This really pays off in larger arcs, as all the various characters are able to bring their individual skills to help the class achieve a major goal. Among the class, the major four end up being Nagisa, Karma, Kaede and Tomohito. Nagisa has an interesting on-going arc related to his passive personality and hidden bloodlust, Karma's arc deals with him learning to accept his weaknesses and improve himself, Tomohito becomes the team leader, and Kaede becomes a semi series mascot and helps out with intelligence. Nagisa is my favorite of the group, with the most approachable personality and surprise set of moments, while Karma manages to surprise me in how his status as the cool loner ends up being twisted around in a clever way.

When I meant everyone gets there own arc, I wasn't joking. Even the class bullies, who'd rather drag everyone down with them, grow as people and learn to make use of their raw skill. The real conflict of the series isn't with Koro-sensei or the various assassins who pop up to cause problems, but Class-E's standing as the lowest in the school. This sounds like a weird direction, but it makes more and more sense as you realize that the end of the world plot is just an excuse and hook for the real story of these kids learning to become better people, despite being in a system that counts on them being inferior in order to get results from everyone else. As a result, all those little character arcs add up and turn the class at whole into its own growing character. Seeing the class manage to beat the odds and finally earn some respect is always engaging, but the series also works in harsh lessons for the cast, especially one in a later volume where they accidentally misuse their skills.

The student focused chapters (which is most of them) are really where the series shines. There's some genuine life lessons being preached, but in creative, obtuse ways that somehow makes them clearer. The ongoing theme is learning to use the strengths of weakness, as all the characters keep the mindset of a "weak" person in order to better use their training and newly learned skills properly. There's a late series arc involving the group harming the owner of a small elementary school and nursery, showing the consequences of abusing their new found power, but also showing what those abilities are capable of when focused on helping others. It's a brilliant little lesson I normally don't see from shonen manga. The commentary on the flawed, pressure heavy system used in Japanese education is also well handled through example and not just preaching.

The assassin arcs actually fit in well with all the school competitions, as they act as tests for the students in a completely different field. The series keeps up its lighthearted tone while pitting the kids up against hardcore killers, whom fit in due to that shared weirdness every character has. One of them even eats his gun in every scene he's in, sometimes adding condiments or dipping sauces. Even if they're initially terrifying, the facade eventually drops and their human weaknesses start to shine through during the most triumphant moments. Nagisa easily gets the two best wins in the first twelve volumes, using new skills he witnessed and learned from example. Some of the assassins even offer lectures on being a professional, and that somehow works into the other life lessons. This really shouldn't work, yet it does near perfectly.

A major strength comes from Marsui's love for abstract or horror based imagery. Marsui can take the most mundane characters or scene and add something bizarre to them that shows more of their true self. This gets shown off best with the school's principal, who gets increasingly monstrous faces the more the series goes on and he loses more and more of his perfect facade. It's actually more terrifying than the assassins that pop up from arc to arc, becoming the constantly reoccurring antagonist. The other major villain is Shiro, who has a simple disguise instead of the grotesque expressions of his assassin contemporaries, going for long term plans with minions over more radical actions.

Marsui's art style here is significantly different from Neuro. He has better tools to work with and makes much cleaner lines, but unlike other artists that fall into the trap of the efficiency modern equipment offers, Marsui keeps his bizarre style and pops it out whenever its felt appropriate. The clean style fits the series much better than something like Neuro, as a majority of events are the characters simply going through their regular day (or as regular as it gets when training in assassination). The expressions remain amazing the whole way through, from the ridiculous to the subtle, especially when Nagisa goes into cool and terrifying mode. The most inventive subject in the whole work, unsurprisingly, is Koro-sensei himself, as he looks like a silly cartoon character, but can flip into a living nightmare at the drop of a hat. He also gets the most purposefully weird expressions, even for a creature like him.

Where the series falters a little is the development of the main plot. Koro-sensei's past is left mostly in shadow, with exception to a short flashback showing him making a promise to someone. After twelve volumes, I'm surprised nothing more has been shared. I suppose it's all being saved for the coming finale; the series slowly counts down the months till the deadline, at which point the series will most likely reach its natural conclusion and reveal everything, tying it back into the education theme. The series feels very well planned out, but I'm also worried that it's not giving enough hints to the true nature of Koro-sensei and the involvement of the various world governments.

Still, it's a minor complaint compared to what the series gets down right, and its focus is definitely in the right place. Assassination Classroom is a strange coming of age story that has a lot to teach, and it's just so brilliantly weird in how it tells its story. The series is now getting volume releases in official English from Viz, though the majority of the series is still scan only. Please pick up some English copies and support the series, because I have little doubt that this one will finish strong.


  1. I found the concept of AssClass very creative, but I can't say the same about the development. Despite being a story about growth, the students always resolve everything easily (see the arc of the God of Death or the one with Nagisa, for example, what seemed like a big problem was resolved quickly, far from the expected creativity).

    Anyway, the visuals are really cool, I love the illustrations that Matsui creates, but when it comes to a story about a teacher using unconventional methods to transform the lives of excluded students, I still prefer GTO ^^.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts