Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Grim Reaper has all of Class E in his grasp, and Irina is behaving a little strangely – is she done being the nice, albeit difficult, teacher the students have come to know? And will seeing the Grim Reaper in action help Nagisa to decide how he wants his future to go? His mother certainly has some ideas about that, and she's determined that Class E will play no part in her son's future. Is it time for Nagisa to move on?
How people think of themselves doesn't always reflect what we see on the outside. That's been shown over and over again in Yusei Matsui's Assassination Classroom, as the rest of the school consistently underestimates Class E regardless of how they've proven their mettle throughout the story. Then there are other characters whose outsides do reflect how they think of themselves, like Irina, who believes that her best shot at life is to use her sexuality to get ahead. She dresses and acts accordingly, flaunting her body and acting in a way she feels will allow her to use men to her own ends. She hasn't always been depicted favorably in the series because of this, but as it turns out, Matsui had plans for her that we begin to see unfold in this volume.
This book is roughly equivalent to episodes seven through nine of season two of the anime, continuing the Grim Reaper storyline begun in volume twelve. At this point, the assassin calling himself The Grim Reaper has all of Class E in his cell in an effort to lure out Karasuma and Koro-sensei. To make matters worse, his first kidnapping victim Irina appears to have gone over to his side. Irina was already feeling bad about herself due to her unrequited crush on Karasuma (who is astoundingly oblivious), so she seems to think that being at school has made her too soft. Joining forces with the Grim Reaper better fits her idea of what a top-notch assassin should be, so by turning against Class E, she thinks she's merely going back to her roots. We then learn how little Irina was turned from an orphaned child into a killer. Unlike Class E or even Karasuma, her motive is revenge: she wants to avenge her parents' deaths. While that might ultimately help make the world a better place, killing is just a job she's learned to do along the way. That's partly true of the rest of the cast as well, since there is a monetary reward for completing their mission, but Class E also understands that they're people as well as assassins, and they deserve to be happy. Koro-sensei has been instrumental in helping them to realize that no matter what the school or their parents say, they are people who deserve to be treated fairly. For Irina to come to this realization on her own is an essential part of her character development, and this volume moves her towards that moment by making her begin to understand that she's more than just a deadly sexualized asset.
But what about the rest of the class? We know already that at least a few of the other students have troubled home lives, and now it's time to dig into Nagisa's. While much of the class has gotten attention through this story, Nagisa still plays the role of protagonist, so his backstory and motives are an important piece of the story as a whole. His quiet nature belies his speed and interior strength, and his unexpected gift for assassination has made him think that perhaps it would be a good career goal going forward. That seems a little extreme, even for this series, and even Koro-sensei seems to agree. When we meet Nagisa's mother, however, a lot of things start to become clear.
Not a lot of manga have truly handled abusive parents with the kind of harsh condemnation you might expect, although the subject does come up with relative frequency. Nagisa's mother is not quite a “Mommy Dearest” level abuser, but she is consistently damaging her son's psychological well-being, not the least of which comes from telling him that she wishes he were a daughter and forcing him to grow his hair out. Essentially, Nagisa has grown up with a mother who constantly told him that he is in no way the child she wanted, and even if he tries, he can never be that child. He is withdrawn and quiet because it's safer that way, not because it's his natural state of being. This puts the character in a new light, allowing us to understand his relationships with other characters and his idea to become a professional assassin in the future – not because he's good at it, but because it would afford him a life away from his mother by necessity. We could even see the start of the revenge process that made Irina into who she is in Nagisa's potential career – taking himself away from his mother and depriving her of the chance to relive her life through him is tantamount to an emotional assassination of her.
After these two very heavy story arcs, it's no surprise that the third story in the book begins a much more typical Class-A-versus-Class-E plotline. But the heft of the two previous arcs stands to carry over into this new one, as we now understand a few of the major players better. Class E has officially become a sanctuary for lost souls, and Koro-sensei is in large part responsible for that. As the time to kill him grows shorter, will the class be able to do it? It feels like it will take something more emotionally resonant to motivate them to eliminate the monster who saved them, even with the fate of the world at stake.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Irina's and Nagisa's pasts help them to grow as characters, Nagisa's mother is a great villain, Koro-sensei's “human” disguise is something else
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