Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Assassination Classroom Season 2
BD+DVD - Part 2
The deadline for assassinating Koro-sensei is growing ever closer, and the students of Class E have to really consider what it will mean to go through with their assignment. To help them fill in the details, Koro-sensei gives them his story, what he was like before he was their teacher and what led him to Kunugigaoka in the first place. As the pressure rises on all fronts, the time has come for a now or never decision.
Mild Spoiler Warning for the series' last quarter:
We can't say we didn't know how this was going to end. It's right there in the title - Assassination Classroom. From episode one, it's been said that when the end of the series came, so would the end of Koro-sensei, and that his students would be the ones expected to do him in. Ultimately, however, knowing something and seeing it play out are two entirely different things, and it is to Assassination Classroom's credit that even though we saw the writing on the wall, we didn't necessarily want to believe we were reading it correctly.
Before we get to the promised end, however, the story still has some tricks up its proverbial sleeve. This set opens with episode fourteen, which shifts the focus to Kaede Kayano, Nagisa's constant female companion. Kaede has been painted as something of a ditz for most of the series, from her general attitude to her attempt to assassinate Koro-sensei with a giant pudding, so to get to the truth of the character is something of shock. If Nagisa is the character for whom Koro-sensei is most important, Kaede is the one most closely connected to him, and the history behind her placement in Class E is substantially more similar to Irina's or Karasuma's than any of the other kids'. While this ultimately doesn't have as much of an impact on her character as the remaining episodes play out – once the reveal is over, there's a direct reversion to type on her part – she serves as an important catalyst for the truth of Koro-sensei's past, which ultimately helps us to understand the tentacle teacher better.
When we first met Koro-sensei, he was taking credit for destroying the moon and claiming to be ready to blow up the Earth as well. This, as it turns out, is not strictly the truth, although his assertions that he's just an ordinary human actually are. Once we learn Kaede's ties to Koro's past, Koro-sensei himself narrates his history to his students, and just how it was that he met their previous teacher and ended up promising to take over her class. Both this and Kaede's reveal are major contributors to the fact that this final quarter of the overall series does much more to build the story's world and explain the characters than any other part. It does feel a bit like information overload, although never like info-dumping, but the satisfaction of finally knowing the truth works to overpower any sense of being overwhelmed.
Perhaps the most important part of the past is Koro-sensei's relationship with the previous teacher, Aguri, and her untimely death. A major piece of her tragedy is that she was clearly struggling to become the person she was meant to be when she was struck down – Principal Asano even comments that she had the potential to be a great educator, and in reminiscing, Class E realizes that she really tried hard to engage them. In a sense, we can see Aguri's death, technically at the hands of her brutally abusive fiancé Yanagisawa (he at one point says to her that she should be happy he just beats her and doesn't rape her), as her ultimate statement of freedom: she chose to jump out and save the man she really loved in order to spare him from the further depredations of a monster. Unlike many things in her life, this is her choice. This moment is arguably the most important in Koro's final transformation as well: although he sees himself as a monster, his humanity is symbolized by the tie he wears over his heart – a gift from her with a hole in its center, representing the break in his (emotional) heart.
Equally important is the fact that this is both the path and the form that Koro-sensei chose. There's no denying that in his past he was not a good person, but his final decisions, counting down to a deadline that is not his own while taking “credit” for actions he did not commit, speak to his emotional and intellectual transformation as well. He's already a dead man walking – but he'll use that walking time to rectify as many of his mistakes as he can, and give a group of neglected, hopeless kids a chance. It's a direct parallel to the principal's trajectory from kind teacher to academic tyrant, showing how it isn't so much what happens to you that matters, but how you chose to react to it. Koro-sensei made one choice, Principal Asano made another, and most of the adults in the show are seen to have followed one or the other's path, or, in the case of Irina, both. It's an interesting take on adulthood in some ways, especially since almost all of the grown-ups in the series consistently underestimate not just Class E, but all children.
Of course, the show at times seems to underestimate its audience as well. The space episode, and its dangling of a happier ending in our faces, seems to serve very little purpose while still feeling very silly, and while the reference to Koro-Sensei Quest is fun, it also doesn't do much to help the atmosphere of the moment. It feels like parts of the series are disconnected from the more intelligent moments, such as the fact that the ending theme is now showing the chalkboard being erased rather than drawn on, a nod to the finality of the approaching finish. We can't blame the series for sticking in a lighthearted episode or two at this juncture, but it still doesn't quite work.
Fortunately the vocal casts in both English and Japanese continue to impress, particularly Sonny Strait and Jun Fukuyama as Koro-sensei. There's some nice use of graduation music in these final episodes that works well with the active symbolism even if nothing has quite come up to the level of “Hello, Shooting Star,” the first ending theme. The extras are decently entertaining as well, with episode commentaries, clean songs, and a second round of “Top 10 Moments” for season two.
Perhaps in the end Assassination Classroom is about understanding the value of a life. This could be said in terms of both taking a life and living one, lessons that Koro-sensei instills in his students to his final moment. Back in the first review of this series, I commented that Koro-sensei was a bit like the Robin Williams character in the film Dead Poets Society. That still holds true for the ending, which is both heartbreaking and hopeful. We can't say we didn't know it was coming – but that doesn't stop it from having an impact.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Well-done symbolism, interesting and important revelations, effective ending and musical score
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