by Paul Jensen,
Even those of us who generally did well in school know the terror and misery that midterms bring. I imagine the stress level is even higher when your invincible mutant teacher threatens to destroy the school if anyone in your class doesn't ace the exams. I guess a parent-teacher conference just doesn't cut it in the world of Assassination Classroom.
This episode presents the first real test of Koro Sensei's abilities as a teacher: midterms. When the school's principal stops by to emphasize how important it is for class E to continue getting the worst grades in the school, Koro Sensei gets pretty unhappy. Not only does he go into teaching overdrive, he promises to obliterate the campus if his students don't get top marks. For a moment, it looks like the 3-E kids might actually pull it off, but the school administration plays dirty. This marks the first time anyone's truly managed to get the better of Koro Sensei, and finally provides the series with a decent villain.
The principal adheres to a pretty typical bad guy archetype, but he works well as a counterpoint to Assassination Classroom's themes of self-improvement and equal opportunity. It's easy to hate his guts for using class E as scapegoats, but his system does have a kind of twisted logic to it. We can object to his actions on moral grounds, but it's hard to argue that the threat of ending up in class E wouldn't motivate the other students to improve their own grades. This makes the principal a useful villain, as his confidence in his own position allows him to challenge the convictions of Koro Sensei and the other teachers.
The show goes a little crazy with visual metaphors during the midterm scene, turning the test questions into monsters that attack the students. It's certainly a unique way of depicting the stress that a major exam can cause, but comes across heavy-handed as well. The problem isn't so much with the imagery as with the way the script drags the scene out. The longer a prehistoric monster chases the characters around the classroom, the more ridiculous it seems. On the other hand, I really like the idea of the monster turning into a fish on a cutting board once Nagisa manages to wrap his head around the test question. Perhaps it's a bit corny, but it is a neat way of visualizing a student getting over the intimidation factor of a complicated math problem.
It's almost too obvious that class E will get tripped up by a last-minute change to the scope of the tests, but it makes for a very important plot point. Until now, Koro Sensei has been able to solve most problems simply by applying his own incredible abilities. With the school now going out of its way to hold class E back, the series has finally presented a challenge that he can't overcome by playing the Superman card. No matter what Koro Sensei does, it's ultimately up to the students to learn the material and improve their grades. If it's handled well, this twist should help give the story some much-needed punch.
Even if it's a bit clumsy in its execution, this episode does a lot to get Assassination Classroom moving in the right direction. It gives us a solid antagonist and forces the 3-E kids to take a more active role in beating the system. Balancing the intensified story with the show's strong comedic instincts will be tricky, but it'll be worth the effort if the writers can pull it off.
Given the broad appeal of this series, it's worth noting that Funimation's broadcast dub is off to a promising start. Sonny Strait is an excellent fit for Koro Sensei and easily steals the show in the first episode. Chris Ryan sounds appropriately exasperated as the overworked government agent Karasuma, and Lindsay Seidel keeps Nagisa's lengthy monologues interesting. The script handles Koro Sensei's dialogue well, but many of the 3-E students are too articulate for a collection of teenage slackers. Nagisa in particular uses more figures of speech than seems natural from such a straightforward guy. This is a fairly small stumbling block though, and the dub is very good overall. Assassination Classroom is a fun show to watch, and releasing the dub in a simulcast format should help make it accessible to a wider audience far earlier than we've come to expect.
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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