Five Lessons I Learned From Assassination Classroomby Paul Jensen,
Now that Assassination Classroom's final season is over, it's time to take a look at some of the themes and ideas hiding under all the quirky comedy and over-the-top action. Open up those notebooks and turn your brains back on, because we've got some learning to do. You didn't think you were off the hook just because it's the middle of summer vacation, did you?
Never count the underdogs out
As you might expect from an “underdogs save the world” story, Assassination Classroom spends a lot of time singing the praises of the slackers and delinquents that make up its core cast. The kids of Class 3-E are quite literally the outcasts of their school, exiled to a run-down building in the middle of the woods as a warning to the other students. No reasonable person would even consider entrusting them with the fate of the planet. So naturally, these same misfits must rise to the occasion when tasked with assassinating the supposedly invincible Koro Sensei.
Over the course of its two seasons, Assassination Classroom finds a way to practice what it preaches. The Class E kids start out as an unremarkable collection of supporting characters, who are easily upstaged by the eye-catching and eccentric Koro Sensei. That slowly changes as the series puts in the time and effort to develop them into compelling protagonists in their own right. Despite starting out as a blank-slate protagonist, Nagisa eventually becomes a well-rounded main character. Terasaka goes from a generic bully to the group's moral compass, Kayano proves to be much more than meets the eye, and the list goes on. Just as they eventually silence their doubters within the school, the kids of Class E eventually manage to defy the audience's expectations.
You can become stronger by acknowledging your weaknesses
The rise of the ensemble cast doesn't happen all at once, and it requires each character do to a little soul-searching. Whether it's Karasuma's troubles getting along with his fellow teachers or Itona's obsession with fighting Koro Sensei, it usually takes an admission of weakness for a character to really grow. Instead of trying to iron out these weak points completely, Assassination Classroom often has its characters embrace their quirks as part of who they are. Karasuma's tactless honesty ends up being part of his charm, and Itona finds a place among the rowdy kids in class.
The show itself seems to learn the same lesson along the way. Some of Assassination Classroom's early attempts at adding dramatic tension to the mix are underwhelming at best, and the obvious solution would be to stick with the more successful action comedy formula. Instead of retreating back to its initial strengths, the series puts in the effort to improve its storytelling and eventually delivers some very compelling episodes near the end of the second season.
Failure is part of the process
Just about everyone in Assassination Classroom messes up in spectacular fashion at some point. Karma gets too confident in his academic abilities and decides he doesn't need to study, only to be teased mercilessly by Koro Sensei for crashing and burning on a tough round of exams. Irina assumes that she can assassinate Koro Sensei on her own, but her plan ends in total failure and leaves her with the undesirable nickname “Professor Bitch.” Even Koro Sensei isn't perfect, and some of his past mistakes come back to haunt him at the worst possible time.
None of these failures are the end of the world, however. Just as Assassination Classroom itself goes through some rocky stretches of trial and error, the characters eventually dust themselves off and get on with their lives. It's actually a good thing that the characters lose so often, since it becomes all the more enjoyable when they eventually come out on top. Their past defeats create the impression that the characters (and perhaps the show itself) have earned their moments of triumph instead of stumbling into them through sheer luck.
One size doesn't fit all
Given that it has the word “classroom” in its title, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that this series has some thoughts on the subject of education. This is arguably where the show's writing gets the most heavy-handed, as the contrast between Koro Sensei and the school administration is anything but subtle. On the one hand, you have a cold and merciless system that forces students to either conform to a single vision of success or face banishment to Class E. On the other hand, you've got a teacher who is so committed to encouraging each one of his students that he happily chugs every poisonous concoction that Class E's chemistry whiz puts in front of him. It's pretty clear whose side we're supposed to take.
The idea of embracing differences actually gets a more interesting treatment when the kids of Class E start to disagree over whether or not they should kill Koro Sensei. Instead of immediately painting one argument as being correct, the script takes a step back and lets the characters fight it out. The “kill” and “save” camps each get a chance to make their case, and the resolution that the kids come to isn't treated as a perfect answer. There are mixed feelings from start to finish, and Assassination Classroom chooses to hold on to that moral ambiguity instead of quietly sweeping it under the rug.
Rivalry can bring people together
Just about every episode of this series has a storyline where someone goes head-to-head with somebody else. Along with their ongoing mission to kill Koro Sensei, Class E has plenty of showdowns with the honor students of Class A and even goes up against teams of professional assassins. Koro Sensei clashes with the principal all the time, not to mention all of the world's governments that are trying to kill him. Even the show's villains fight against one another, with everyone using the appearance of Koro Sensei as an excuse to compete for power. If you're a character in Assassination Classroom, your odds of making it through the series without picking up a rival or two are virtually zero.
And yet, in spite of all the heated competition and underhanded tactics, the majority of these conflicts end on a friendly note. Defeated assassins show up at the school festival to help make Class E's café a success. Koro Sensei takes the time to marvel at the elaborate plans that his enemies devise to kill him. Even the snobby overachievers from Class A find a way to show respect for their hated foes in Class E. Sure, it can be a little sappy at times, but one of my favorite things about Assassination Classroom is the way it allows its characters to acknowledge one another's efforts. Apart from a handful of truly irredeemable villains, just about everyone gets the chance to show some class at the end of a battle.
For a series about a grinning yellow tentacle monster and his class full of airsoft-gun-toting teenagers, that's a lot of ideas to unpack. Whether you want to wrestle with Assassination Classroom's themes or just enjoy it as a goofy action comedy is up to you, but there's definitely some intriguing stuff to be found if you look in the right places. What was your favorite part of Assassination Classroom? Let us know in the comments!
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