Assassination Classroom
Episode 20

by Paul Jensen,

Be careful what you wish for when you're a streaming anime reviewer. I had hoped that Assassination Classroom would go back to its winning combination of action and comedy after last week's ill-fated attempt at playing secret agent, and that's exactly what it did. Unfortunately, the show seems to have lost some of its comedic prowess in the process. The anime gods giveth and they taketh away.

This episode kicks off with a showdown between Karma and one of the faceless villain's henchmen. What seems like an evenly matched fight quickly devolves into a series of underhanded tricks, and nobody plays dirty quite as well as Karma. Class E's next obstacle requires the girls to sneak through the hotel bar without drawing any attention. For some reason, it also requires Nagisa to cross-dress and get hit on by an obnoxious rich kid. With the route to the top floor unlocked and a handful of guards knocked unconscious, the stage is finally set for class E to take on the boss bad guys and steal the antidote.

To its credit, the show makes decent use of class E's more colorful characters this week. Karma had largely faded to the background after coming up short in the exams, but he's back on form in the opening minutes of this episode. He's at his best when he has someone to annoy, and an overly serious assassin makes the perfect target. Watching Karma lure the bad guy into a mistake is entertaining, and the script has some fun by tricking us into thinking that he might actually be gracious in his victory. Terasaka and his delinquent buddies also get a brief opportunity to shine as they take an amusingly straightforward approach to dealing with a pair of guards. These are the sorts of antics we've come to expect from Assassination Classroom, and it's a relief to see that the show hasn't completely gone off the deep end as it raises the stakes for the end of the season.

That said, it's a bit odd that so much of the comedy misses the mark. The bar scene in particular is a dud from start to finish. Between Nagisa's sudden change of attire and the girls' skill in outwitting the hotel staff, the premise seems amusing enough. The problem is that the show doesn't do much with the material once it's established. Rather than taking the ideas and running with them, it just delivers the punchline and expects us to keep laughing until the scene is over. There's no sense of escalating chaos, no clever reversal of expectations, and even the dialogue isn't particularly funny. It's just half a dozen girls walking through a bar while Nagisa wears a skirt and talks to some idiot. Surely this series can do better than that.

Even if the comedy were stronger, there's no disguising the fact that this storyline is starting to lose steam. There's supposed to be a ticking clock hanging over the characters' heads, but the show has lost any notable sense of urgency. Each time a new enemy or obstacle appears, it seems like the kids have all the time in the world to find a solution. It's clear that the villain knows the deal's off, but he continues to send out henchmen one by one as if nothing's amiss. As time drags on, it feels more and more like the characters are just wandering around a hotel in search of a vending machine. Some of the individual scenes work, but they aren't connecting together as well as they need to.

Assassination Classroom's track record is strong enough that I'm still holding out hope for the end of this story arc. It keeps coming close to making it all work, but it can only come up short so many times before the mistakes start to outweigh the moments of humor. The characters may be about to take on their biggest challenge yet, but it's the show itself that will have the most to prove next week.

Rating: B-

Assassination Classroom is currently streaming on Funimation.

Paul Jensen is a freelance writer and editor. You can follow more of his anime-related ramblings on Twitter.

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