Manga Review – Assassination Classroom [Redux]

Assassination Classroom Volume 1

Assassination Classroom
暗殺教室 (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)
MATSUI Yusei
Shounen – Action, sci-fi, comedy, drama
21 Volumes (complete)
Viz Media

Summary:

To students at Kunugigaoka Junior High, being sent to Class 3-E is almost a fate worse than death. But the students in 3-E know all about death: they’re tasked with killing their teacher to save the world! Their target and teacher, an octopus-like being, has incredible abilities that make him seemingly unkillable. But his greatest skill may be teaching a class of “losers”!

Review:

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 ninth graders trying to kill their teacher. But he’s encouraging them and will do anything to help them improve their grades and solve personal problems” The assassination attempts range from the realistic to the ridiculous, and their everyday adventures are much the same. Either way, if you want to convince non-manga readers Japan makes some cool series, perhaps starting with Assassination Classroom might not be the best idea. (There’s the whole issue of tentacles, too…)

Despite the gruesome premise of middle school students being trained to kill, Assassination Classroom straddles the line between comedy and drama, parody and seriousness. On one hand, you have students training to use knives and guns, but they still train in their personal talents of special effects art or cooking.

Assassination Classroom Sample 2Koro Sensei gives advice as an all-knowing wise instructor, but he gets embarrassed easily after being too serious. Nagisa is constantly teased about his feminine looks, and then we later learn there’s a backstory behind his appearance. In between exam battles and attempts to kill Koro Sensei flan, the students of 3-E must also face professional assassins in all-out warfare. (Although, to be fair, the students normally use special equipment that can’t harm humans.) Some manga cannot pull off this duality with either characters or overall story, but Assassination Classroom does it well.

For me, the weakest chapters were the students imagining exam problems as RPG-style monsters, but I admit it is an unusual and visual take on the struggle with tests. However, there were even a few twists that took me by surprise with some very, very, very hidden hints. Not every arc is a home run, but very few are truly worthless. The students — and the readers — usually learn a valuable lesson or reminder in exchange.

The students of 3-E are given until their junior high graduation to kill Koro Sensei or else he’ll destroy the world. Manga with a time limit 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. I can see how the story could have gone longer had it started at the beginning of their middle school years, but otherwise, I think it’s good where it ended. There really wasn’t any other way to extend the manga, as it already covers all the major events in the calendar.

And, of course, all the students.

Assassination Classroom class listAs usual with manga involving a class, there is a core cast, major and recurring characters, and minor characters. However, compared to, say, Negima!, I feel like the divide between students like Nagisa and Karma versus, say, Masayoshi is huge. There’s no way I could name all 28 students or even tell you a defining characteristic. A lot of them feel like filler to get the classroom up to a normal size, as they just show up and disappear as needed. For a lot of these characters, they have one chapter in the spotlight and are background characters for the other 179 chapters. The manga constantly has to remind readers of students’ talents, and even their physical appearances aren’t as varied as I would like. Matsui could have kept Assassination Classroom going and give some of the students a follow-up character, but it probably would have lead to a lot of filler and make the school year feel too long.

I also must add that the final volume is not all part of the main story. About 80 pages wraps up the final days and futures of Class 3-E, and then there is a multi-chapter side story. Finally, the volume ends with a one-shot that failed to become a serialized work. The key events take place in the previous volume, and so Volume 21 is more of an epilogue and bonus volume than a full-length continuation of the plot. The author apologizes for not having the story wrapped up in Volume 20, but because of this, Assassination Classroom doesn’t end as strongly as it should have. Plus, it doesn’t help that a major goal that caused a conflict between Nagisa and Kaede a few volumes before fizzles out, and only one romantic relationship has a resolution. Assassination Classroom doesn’t have the worst ending — in fact, I’m glad it went down its path instead of the alternative — but it felt a couple of steps away from being truly moving or satisfying.

On the bright side, the main mysteries surrounding Koro Sensei all fit nicely together, especially since confirms in the first chapter he’s not an alien. Of course, finding out what he is is one of the main reasons to follow the manga for so long, and, shockingly, the truth isn’t revealed at the very last minute. Even without his background, Koro Sensei is definitely an entertaining central character.

Assassination Classroom Sample 3He 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, and his vices provide much the comedy: women’s breasts, sweets, and a tenancy to panic (or just be an idiot). He also plays off of the other characters so well. His fellow teachers find him annoying but acknowledge his teaching prowess. Nagisa documents Koro Sensei’s weaknesses, ace student Karma meets his match, and Kaede gives Koro Sensei his name.

Yes, although Koro Sensei is on the cover, there is a solid argument to be made that this is really Class 3-E’s story — Nagisa’s in particular. Nagisa arguably gains the most from his time with Koro Sensei, growing from the class butt monkey to capable adult. Karma and Kaede also get their own arcs weaved throughout the manga, but as I alluded to earlier, not all the students are three-dimensional. Some are comic exaggerations, and others struggle with poverty or frenemies. The main trio and a few others get the bulk of the character development, and it isn’t surprising that these are the characters that will likely become readers’ favorites. Even the ones who are constant fixtures like the class tough guy and the sniper pairs often lack that element, that umph to really connect with readers.

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 Sensei 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 kind of come and go, as sometimes the plot is as simple as luring Koro Sensei to a trap or setting up a food stall or as dangerous as escaping a cell. The art in the latter is 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. Backgrounds are filled without overloading the scenes or overusing whitespace. So while the character designs aren’t that great, the other aspects are better.

Translation:

No honorifics are used. While Koro is addressed with “sensei” (stylized as “Koro Sensei”, strangely enough, the other teachers are just “Mr.” and “Ms.”. I guess this was just to keep the pun. It’s still weird though, especially since, ironically, English seems to be his main subject. Although “sensei” is in the English dictionary now, so I guess it’s accurate. 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 Irina has a sharp (poison) tongue, but this is changed to being 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. A couple of footnotes are included for some really unfamiliar (to an English audience anyway) pop culture references. Even Shiro’s name pun would be missed by readers unless you know shiro = white.

I noticed some typos and errors throughout the series. 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! And poor Rinka is called a he late in the series. Koro’s strange “nurufufu” laugh is adapted in a number of ways like “ha ha”, “heh heh”, dropped, etc. Annoyingly, Irina’s nickname bounces back and forth between “Ms. Bitch” and “Ms. Vitch”. It’s a play on words since her name is pronounced like “bitch” in Japanese, but her family name is Jelavich. I originally thought maybe Matsui requested the change, but I think it’s just inconsistency.

Also, for clarity’s sake, Masayoshi’s name in Japanese is Seigi, which is how normally you would read 正義. His name in Japanese isn’t ジャスティス (Justice), unlike Karma’s name using 業 (Gou) and being pronounced as カルマ, the Japanese approximation of the word karma. I’m only saying this because I think this would be really embarrassing for most Japanese people to have such a foreign-sounding name, which is why everyone is shocked Karma doesn’t have a problem with his.

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, this feels like an anime dub adaptation, which can be both good and bad. But I wish a lot of the errors and stuff would have been caught before the volumes were published.

Final Comments:

As you might expect, Assassination Classroom has some troubling aspects for a general audience. It may not seem that much different than middle schoolers transforming into short skirted superheroes who risk their lives, but they are still waving knives and guns with calculated abandon in a school. The idea that no student — or rather, no person — is worthless is, however, something that everyone can appreciate. And along with this moral, the series provides a healthy dose of humor. It’s a solid series that I’m sure I’ll revisit, but it won’t be remembered as one of my favorites.

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!

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6 Comments

  1. kwenzqoatl

    You know what, this is a series I’ve never checked out before at all. I just always saw the covers and was like, “what’s this.” lol

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      It’s definitely weird-sounding and just as weird-looking, but it may turn out to surprise you.

      Reply
  2. dreager1

    This series started out quite solidly for me, but I felt like it fell off the train towards the end. The last few volumes I just didn’t like and it ended up hurting the overall series for me. Still, it’s definitely a fun concept and the series did tackle a bunch of genres. When the action scenes came they did tend to deliver. Not sure about the ending either though…

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      Yeah, I agree. The ending could have been a lot stronger, but at least Koro Sensei will always be fun.

      Reply
  3. Lumi

    I love Assassination Classroom but for one thing,and that’s the VILLAINS. They straight up suck, and are actually a detriment to the story due to how one-dimensional they are.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      That’s a good point. But I guess the author went with some basic antagonists considering Koro Sensei is both the students’ mentor and their target. But a good rival-like character would have been good.

      Reply

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