Assassination Classroom
Episode 21

by Paul Jensen,

Can it be? After three weeks of questionable ideas and shaky execution, has Assassination Classroom finally gotten its act together? In a word, yes. This episode recaptures the show's unique sense of humor and finally justifies the lengthy journey to the top floor of the hotel. All it took was some decent writing and the return of a minor character that few viewers would've expected to see again.

This episode starts off with a battle of wits between class E and the last of the three henchmen. The gun-obsessed baddie may have sharp instincts, but he's quickly undone by Koro Sensei's ability to be a massive pain in the neck. When the class finally reaches the mysterious villain's hideout, they find out that they've been up against an old foe the whole time. Remember Takaoka, the sadistic substitute teacher who briefly took over Karasuma's job before losing to Nagisa in a knife fight? I didn't really remember him either, but he's back and out for revenge. A rooftop standoff ends with Takaoka destroying the cure for the virus, which doesn't go over well with Nagisa. Class E's unofficial narrator picks up a knife and swears that he'll kill Takaoka on the spot.

The fight against the final henchman is the more traditional of this episode's two halves, and it marks a welcome return to Assassination Classroom's trademark blend of action and comedy. The whole scene is delightfully crazy, with Koro Sensei hanging out in the front row of the theater and having the class run from seat to seat in order to confuse the gunman. The increasingly obscure facts that Koro Sensei uses to indicate who he's talking to aren't just funny, they help reinforce just how much he knows about each of his students. It's no coincidence that the series regains its charm as soon as its most entertaining character returns to the spotlight. Putting Koro Sensei on the sidelines didn't do the last few episodes any favors, and it's good to have him back in action.

Takaoka's return comes as a surprise, but it's certainly not a bad decision. He was one of the show's more engaging villains in his first appearance, and bringing him back forces class E to confront the darker side of their assassination training. While getting rid of him the first time around may have solved an immediate problem, it also led to this newer, more dangerous conflict. To some extent, Takaoka can be seen as a monster that the class (and Nagisa in particular) had a hand in creating. For a series that deliberately sidesteps the consequences of solving problems with violence, this is a dark but fascinating turn of events. It's a bit heavy-handed, but it's still the first time Assassination Classroom has been genuinely successful at telling a more serious story.

I'm willing to bet that the antidote's destruction hasn't actually condemned half the class to a messy demise, but it sets up one heck of an ending. On one hand, Takaoka is enough of an irredeemable scumbag that part of me wants Nagisa to make good on his threat and stab the guy to death. On the other hand, turning his training against another human would seriously alter the way we see Nagisa and the rest of the class. It's all fun and games when you're trying to save the world from a yellow super-mutant, but wouldn't Takaoka achieve a moral victory by baiting the kids into killing him? There's something deeply discomforting about the whole situation, but I'm curious to see where the series goes from here.

I was starting to worry that this story arc would cause the season to end with a whimper instead of a bang, and I'm happy to have been proven wrong for the moment. Assassination Classroom has quickly risen back to its usual standard of entertainment. If it can stick the landing, then the slow buildup will be much easier to forgive.

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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