Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD - Season 1 Part 1
A terrible tentacle being has appeared and destroyed most of the moon. He doesn't give a reason for it, and he says that he'll destroy the Earth next, but he'll give the world one last chance: for one year, the monster will teach the students of class 3-E at Japan's Kunugigaoka Junior High. During this time, if the kids are able to kill him, the world will be saved. However, if they fail, he'll destroy the planet on graduation day. Now the fate of the world rests in the hands of a bunch of 9th graders who have been labeled “losers” by their school in a twisted educational policy. Can these kids kill the monster who threatens the world? And when he proves to be the best teacher that they ever had…will they want to?
It isn't a perfect comparison, but in many ways Assassination Classroom is like a combination of Dead Poets' Society and Akame ga Kill. That's what you get when you take a story about a strange, smiley-faced multi-tentacled creature who has already destroyed the moon and is threatening to do the same to the earth and turn him into the best, most caring teacher a class of middle school misfits have ever had – and whom they have to try and assassinate before the school year is done. It's an odd combination, but it's also one that works, using both humor and drama to create a unique story. There's clearly a lot more going on than we're currently privy to, and hiding that under a layer of comedy makes the not-knowing more enjoyable.
The basic premise of the story is that a large yellow octopus-like creature, who claims he's a human born and bred, has destroyed part of the moon. He says he'll do the same to the earth unless a group of middle school students, whose teacher he will be, can kill him before the end of their ninth grade year. The catch is that these kids are the “rejects” of Kununigaoka Middle School, an institution which has built itself to be the most prestigious junior high in Japan through despicable social engineering: students with the lowest grades or who simply make too much trouble (or stand out too much) are shunted over to “E Class,” where they are marked for failure. E Class uses the crumbling old school building up on a mountain, has no access to Kununigaoka's amenities, and serve as a terrible warning for the “good” boys and girls of the other classes – if you don't want to fail at life, don't act like those guys in E Class! This is a system engineered by the school head, Gakuho, and he sees nothing wrong with it, or the way it teaches his school's students to be elitist jerks; what's interesting is that when Koro-sensei (the name 3-E comes up with for their new yellow teacher; it's a play on the Japanese word for “unkillable”) arrives at Kununigaoka with high-level government official and expert killer Karasuma, Karasuma sees Gakuho's methods as detestable and unnecessarily cruel. If an expert assassin thinks your methods are too much, that's maybe a sign that you ought to be rethinking things.
This is the chief appeal of the story – how Koro-sensei, and to a lesser degree Karasuma and Irina, undo the damage of Gakuho's system. All of the students in class 3-E have been put down so far that they don't know how to climb up again, and the mission to kill Koro-sensei is the first inkling that they might have something to offer. He consistently offers them more reasons to have a sense of self-worth, from individualizing tests for each student's needs to preventing bullying so simply talking with them as people rather than troublemakers.
I realize that this makes the show sound like it could be drippily preachy. It isn't, and that's because not only are the students consistently trying to kill their teacher – which has more the air of a fun game than a hardcore assassination attempt – but there are also plenty of jokes and references to other shows – including Naruto, Dirty Dancing, The Grudge, and Sex and the City - made throughout, keeping things lighter than you'd expect. A chief factor in this is Koro-sensei himself. Not only does he keep up a stream of lighthearted and ridiculous commentary, but he also makes slurping noises when he moves and has a weakness for big breasts and junk food, making him the most human octopus out there. A lot of credit also goes to both voice actors who play his role: Jun Fukuyama and Sonny Strait are both fantastic in the role. Both show an impressive range and a real talent for laughing creepily, making Koro-sensei the clear heart of the story in more ways than one. In general both sub and dub casts are strong with just a few noticeable differences. Mai Fuchigami's Nagisa sounds more feminine than Lindsay Seidel's, and Irina's two voices – teacher and seductress – go from hard to childish in Japanese and hard to sweet in English, fulfilling the expectations of their respective cultures. It is worth noting that when Irina's teacher comes in in episode ten, the Japanese track has he and Irina speaking Russian before Karasuma begins speaking English, where the English-language track omits the Russian in favor of a Hetalia-style accent.
The anime very nicely takes original series author/artist Yusei Matsui's art and adapts it so that the characters are all instantly recognizable. Irina's chest suffers from some odd lines when her breasts are pushed up, but things otherwise look good. While some moments can feel stiff or static, by and large the animation is smooth and flows well. The strangest artistic choice is the opening theme song's “dance,” where the students are all bouncing up and down – boys stand with their legs slightly apart and keep their knees facing forward while girls bring their knees together (but calves apart) when then bounce down. While this is doable (and can't be unseen once you've noticed it), it can also hurt if you do it just the slightest bit wrong; in any event, it seems an odd length to go to in order to preserve the girls' modesty. (In the commentary for episode seven, which features Monica Rial, Clifford Chapin, and Leah Clark, the actors remark that some fans have asked for a video of the cast performing the dance.) Both theme songs are catchy, with the very pretty ending theme “Hello Shooting Star” being the stronger of the two musically. It also features an interesting image of an earth destroyed like the moon with class 3-E playing inside the hollow, which feels like it could be important.
Extras on this set include the usual Funimation episode commentaries, the aforementioned one for episode seven and another for episode one with Apphia Yu and Joel McDonald, who discuss the difficulties of producing this as one of the first broadcast dubs, such as assembling the entirety of class 3-E for twenty-two weeks. There's also an interview conducted by Sonny Strait during which he asks Yu, Austin Tindle, and Martha Harms questions about the show and their characters while also answering them himself. This is very interesting and the actors have a lot to offer on most of the questions. As an added bonus, Austin Tindle appears to be dressed like Huck Finn for no discernable reason. The ten-minute Episode Zero is also included, and dubbed, about how Koro-sensei and Karasuma first met (probably), and the extras are rounded out with the usual trailers, original ads, and clean songs.
Assassination Classroom isn't the violent show its title suggests, but instead a mix of heartwarming school drama and over-the-top bizarre comedy. These first eleven episodes do a good job of reeling you in and setting the stage for later revelations, and despite the large cast, it feels like you get a good idea of who everyone is. With strong casts in both dub and sub, this is worth checking out if you haven't seen it before.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Nice blend of heartwarming and funny, both actors who play Koro-sensei are terrific, plenty of foreshadowing, backgrounds look especially nice
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