暗殺教室 (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)
Shounen – Action, sci-fi, comedy, drama
8 Volumes (ongoing)
Class 3-E may be treated as the worst class of an elite school, but the students have a secret: they’re tasked with saving the world by killing their teacher! Their teacher, an octopus-like being, can move at Mach 20 and has many other abilities. Strangely enough, his greatest ability may be in teaching his students!
Note: this review has been updated and can be found here.
I faced Assassination Classroom with much skepticism. What I got is one of the best new manga reads in a long time.
Assassination Classroom is one of those series that non-manga fans probably won’t understand if you describe it to them. “Oh, yeah, it’s about a bunch of middle schoolers trying to kill their teacher. But he’s encouraging them and is an awesome teacher!” Yeah…if you want to convince them Japan makes some cool series, perhaps starting with Assassination Classroom might not be the best idea. (There’s the whole issue of tentacles, too…)
I think what makes Assassination Classroom so enjoyable is that it straddles the line between comedy/parody and seriousness/playing it straight. There’s the aspect of childhood would-be murderers, and yet they still need their teacher’s help with studies and their personal lives. Their teacher is a wanted terrorist but also designs individual tests for each student. Koro worries about being the gag character in the manga, but he’s also technically the antagonist. He’s confident, but he still gets scared out of his skin sometimes. Everyone makes fun of the seductive teacher, but she doesn’t repeatedly show up and hog the spotlight to overuse her running gags. Some manga cannot pull off duality in either characters or overall story, but Assassination Classroom is doing it well so far.
Time-limit manga can be quite challenging to write (and read). If a series is very successful, the ending may arrive too soon. If an author gets tired of a manga or it just doesn’t rank well, several months or years can be skipped. In Assassination Classroom, the students have a deadline of one year. So far, the author is doing a good job of pacing the manga. The series has progressed forward to summer vacation, but it doesn’t seem like Matsui is trying to unnecessarily drag out Assassination Classroom. I know it’s still ongoing in Japan, but I hope Matsui keeps the timeline pushing forward like he has so far (about three months in eight volumes). I just don’t want to see a few days take up several volumes.
On the downside, outside of a handful of students, most seem to just show up and disappear as needed. I can probably name and describe about seven. It seems like a good number of students, but compared to, say, Negima!, I don’t know nearly as many students as I did around the same time in that series. The students here seem to not have as much individual personalities outside of being good at one thing, which the manga constantly has to remind us of. “Oh, yeah, [insert name] is good at civics/knife-throwing/make-up/whatever!” Then the student may be important for a chapter or two before being fading into the background again. At the same time, the major characters like Nagisa, Karma, and Kaede tend to appear a lot but don’t always do much. Again, this makes it hard to keep track of everyone. I know Kaede’s name and face, but I honestly don’t remember if she’s good at anything. All I know is she hangs around Nagisa a lot. It’s the eighth volume, and I don’t really remember (or know) anything about her. So I hope the manga does a better job of making the students stand apart from each other rather than just labeling them by their best subject. I know Koro is the star, but this is an ensemble cast.
Speaking of Koro, he’s definitely an entertaining lead. He admits he’s supposed to be the comic relief, but he truly cares about seeing his students progress and mature. The dichotomy between international terrorist and super-teacher is at the heart of the series, but his vices also provide the comedy: women’s breasts, sweets, and a tenancy to panic (or just be an idiot). Of course, there’s plenty of mysteries surrounding Koro, especially since he confirms in the first chapter he is not an alien. Karasuma takes on the role of straight man (tsukkomi), but he doesn’t tend to lose his temper (although he wants to). Irina is quickly becoming a one-note character, so I hope she starts doing more than just being the buxom female of the series. I’ve already discussed a bit about the students, but, again, I wish they were more distinct. Nagisa is the main student, and he often functions as the narrator. He is perfect for this role since he is very observant and gets along with most of his classmates. Nagisa’s appearance is a source of humor, but otherwise, he balances out against the eccentric Koro very well. Most of the other students don’t have overly exaggerated–but not deep–personalities. Karma and Terasaka are the tough ones, there’s a couple of gun experts, a girl who loves chemistry, and more. While Karma hates to lose and Terasaka doesn’t like to be bossed around, I couldn’t tell you much more about the others. Anyways, the principal of the school acts as the series’ main antagonist. As a comedy series, the characters tend to be one-dimensional, but I’m sure most people read Assassination Classroom for Koro.
The character art is definitely not the series’ strongest aspect. Early in the series, I wasn’t sure if Nagisa’s hair naturally looks like small twin tails or if he styles like it. (Okay, I wasn’t sure if he was a he either…) Most of the class are lacking many defining features. I know straight hair and ponytails are more realistic than “anime hair”, but anime hair helps identify characters. Koro is obviously visually humorous, but Karasuma is pretty much (visually) generic rival, right down to the sharp eyes and spiky hair. Drawing simplified characters helps in all the group and classroom scenes, especially in a weekly series. The classmates just don’t really stand apart from each other though. Action scenes are very well done, and the fights are easy to follow along with. Of course, battles tend to be short (they do specialize in assassinations, not wars), but even the scene transitions are smooth. I do love some of the imagery of tests as gladiator fights and a student as a viper ready to strike. Backgrounds are filled without overloading the scenes or overusing whitespace. So while the character designs aren’t that great, the other aspects are better.
No honorifics are used. While Koro is addressed with “sensei”, the other teachers are just “Mr.” and “Ms.”, strangely enough. I guess this was just to keep the pun. It’s still weird though, especially since, ironically, English seems to be his main subject. Lots of changes are made to adjust for the loss of honorifics, from asking if the new phys ed teacher should be called “coach” to making a side conversation about how young the “Ojii-san” is to being about a cup of coffee.
It feels like the adaptation was written for a general audience. Some foreign conversations are rewritten to be more vague, as if to avoid the fact we are reading English but characters speak Japanese. For instance, the kids are offered “10 billion in cold hard cash” in English. While the yen sign was in the next panel, I wasn’t sure if that was 10 billion in yen or dollars. Later in the volume, the 10 billion was called dollars, so I was confused. I had to check, but they are getting 10 billion yen. (The kids would rather have 10 billion US dollars, which would be closer to 1 trillion yen.) Another instance is when a student makes a insult-slash-observation in Japanese that basically Irina has a sharp (poison) tongue but is a cougar in English. Japan doesn’t have varsity teams, but the term is used in English to describe the selected aka elite members of the team. No translation notes are provided, and terms like “tsukkomi” are avoided. Even Shiro’s name pun would be missed by readers unless you know shiro = white.
Some more things: I noticed a couple typos and errors. In one case, the English on a test is corrected to the right verb. However, it’s supposed to be wrong since it’s marked incorrect on the test! Koro’s strange “nurufufu” laugh is adapted in a number of ways like “ha ha”, “heh heh”, dropped, etc. In volume two, the female teacher is given the nickname of “Ms. Bitch”, but the next few volumes changes this to “Ms. Vitch”. It’s a play on words since her name is pronounced like “bitch” in Japanese. But in volume seven, she’s suddenly “Ms. Bitch” again. It’s the same team, so I don’t know if they were told by the author or representative to use “Ms. Bitch” or if they just aren’t doing a good job of being consistent.
The font used for this release is quite big, so sometimes dialogue feels a bit shortened to accommodate the lack of space.
All in all, the manga feels more like an anime dub. Is that good or bad? I’ll let you decide.
This series is hard to describe, but Assassination Classroom is easy to recommend.
Funimation has released the Assassination Classroom anime series in the U.S.
When I read this series, I immediately cast Onosaka Masaya as Koro and Toriumi Kousuke as Koro and Karasuma. I looked up the anime cast, and I was surprised to see neither were cast in those parts. I’m usually pretty good at guessing. Then I looked up the vomic cast and saw Onosaka and Toriumi as Koro and Karasuma respectively. AVENGED!