Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Class 3-E is the shame of Kunugigaoka Junior High – housed in a separate building, it is where all of the failing or problem students are sent in order to make public examples of them. But unbeknownst to the rest of the school, Class 3-E has also become the assassination classroom, tasked with killing the tentacle monster who has destroyed three-quarters of the moon and is threatening to do the same to the Earth. Is the group up to the task? And how will they reconcile their mission with the fact that their alien teacher shows signs of being the only one who really believes in them?
If you know nothing about this series beyond the title, the first thing you need to know is this: it is not, at its heart, about classroom violence. While Assassination Classroom does pit armed students against their inhuman teacher, they are armed with rubber weapons that cannot harm people and the teacher himself proves to be much more than a creepy smiley face on a tentacled body. There's as much “classroom” in this first volume as there is “assassination,” so even if you are leery of it, it really is worth picking up and reading for yourself.
Sometime before the story begins, the people of Earth noticed that three-quarters of the moon had been blasted away, leaving a permanent crescent in the night sky. A strange alien-looking being (although he claims to be from Earth) stepped forward and took credit for the moon's destruction, saying that he would also be destroying the Earth...after class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High graduates. In the meantime, he will be taking over as teacher for that class, and he vows not to hurt any students. The government, however, is free to try and take him out...and they decide that the best way to do that is to use third-year middle school students as assassins. Suddenly the students of 3-E find themselves armed and being offered one hundred million dollars to kill their teacher, and while they're scared, that's too much money to refuse. Or at least, it seems that way. Because as it turns out, the alien, named Koro-sensei by the class, is actually a really good teacher – he's effective and he cares as much about the emotional well-being of his students as their grades. Given that the rest of the school barely sees class 3-E as worth the air they breathe, this is no small thing. Class 3-E, you see, is where the school sends students with low or failing grades or who have other problems, like poor behavior. Being sent to class 3-E is the equivalent of wearing a scarlet letter, and the school administration encourages this behavior. So really the only person who gives these kids any validation is Koro-sensei, which makes for an interesting snag in the supposed plot.
It also makes for some commentary on the Japanese school system, which in manga tends to be portrayed as being strict and entirely focused on grades as a measure of student success. The kids of class 3-E aren't failures or fools – they just don't fit into the school's definition of “good.” Sugino got depressed when he was taken off the starting lineup of his baseball team, so his grades slipped. Nagisa has trouble expressing himself, Karma has anger management issues, and so on. Where other school systems might offer accommodations, Kunugigaoka shuns them. This might not even be something that occurred to us if Koro-sensei wasn't so determined to help his students, working with each of them to help them improve and succeed, in everything except killing him, of course. That last part is up to the government agent assigned to them, Karasuma, who clearly prioritizes the mission over the kids. While it's pretty hard to blame him there – after all, assuming Koro-sensei is telling the truth, he did blow away most of the moon – it also makes a contrast between the two adults which is at times funny and at others seems much more important.
Yusei Matsui's art is very easy to read, with clear lines and action that isn't overcrowded by sound and speed effects. Koro-sensei's face changes color with his emotions (hence the vaguely Watchmen style cover), and Matsui assigns a pattern to each color when they are first introduced so that even if you can't see (or don't remember) the colors, you still know what Koro-sensei's mood is. Characters all tend to look younger than they are (especially Nagisa and Karasuma), but all are easily told apart. While the action isn't always flying – surprisingly the story is more about the dialog than the assassination attempts – the book still reads fairly quickly, although it isn't necessarily one that you want to rush through.
Assassination Classroom is not what I was expecting, and if you have low hopes for it or are put off by the cover or title, try to look past them and check the book itself out. There's more to the story (and to Koro-sensei, as we see in a flashback) than it at first appears, and it looks like things are only going to get more interesting – and complicated – from here.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Interesting story that does not entirely revolve around classroom violence, Koro-sensei is an intriguing character. Nice art, very readable.
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