The 3-E class of Kunugigaoka Junior High is known not so lovingly as the “End Class.” At the otherwise prestigious school, the students of 3-E are the ne’er-do-wells, hoodlums, and underachievers separated from the rest of the academy and placed on an adjacent mountain so that the main campus students can look down at and ridicule them. Getting placed in 3-E is the most severe punishment at Kunugigaoka, but actually, the students there are having a great time now. That’s because they’re being taught by the smiling, powerful yellow octopus-like being they’ve named Koro-sensei who destroyed 70% of the Moon. He’s not just teaching them academic courses and life lessons, though. He’s teaching them to be assassins because he will do to the Earth in one year’s time exactly what he did to the Moon unless someone can kill him. The Japanese government and assassins from around the world have tried, but Koro-sensei believes he can train these kids to be the ones to kill him. And that would make him the proudest teacher in the world.
Back in the long ago time of 2016, I read and wrote about the first volume of the Assassination Classroom manga right here. The positives I talk about there hold true for the anime. I genuinely love that Koro-sensei is aiming to make these kids as great as they possibly can be even while training them to kill him, and it’s that heart that makes this weird premise work. Had this been just a straight up gag series or some edgy high school crap, it wouldn’t have gone too well. It’s lighthearted while also allowing the characters to grow and learn in a semi-hostile environment. It also gets pretty real at times, but that’s mostly in the second season. I just wanna talk about the first season right now.
I do appreciate that levity I mentioned earlier, and it’s an absolute delight that each of the 26 students are legitimate individuals even if most have to blend into the background. Those two things do lead to the first season feeling a little aimless, though. Obviously, there is a goal in this series that drives the plot–kill Koro-sensei by March or he will destroy the world. That’s ever-present, but it just seemed like the first season didn’t want to go anywhere until the last few episodes. The general affability of Koro-sensei and his desire to help each of his students one-on-one make season one drag a smidgen. It’s cute, but it doesn’t do too much.
I also think season one suffers by not having a clear main character student for a long time. Sure, Nagisa Shiota is the main POV character, but he’s not really the main character for a good bit. Maybe it does work best by having Koro-sensei be the main main character, but I would’ve liked Nagisa to be more active in the beginning. When he does start stepping into that lead protagonist spot is when Assassination Classroom really gets going.
Those negatives out of the way, I did enjoy season one quite a bit on its own, and I’d probably give it an 8 out of 10. The teachers (Karasuma and Professor Bitch are wonderful) and the students combine for an entertaining cast in weird, neat world.
Season two comprises the final 25 episodes of the show’s 47-episode run, and it is positively great. Like, it’s really dang good. Had season two been more of the same, I guess I would’ve been okay with it, but also let down. Thankfully, the second season explores more of the darker elements in the series and really sees some of the characters go through the wringer.
Again, when Nagisa becomes more of a lead character, Assassination Classroom just shifts into a different beast. At first, his effeminate look was a great gag, and his friends amused themselves by picking on him about it. Finding out exactly why he looks the way he does, acts the way he does, and sees the world the way he does is one of the realest and most abrupt scenes I’ve seen in any anime. My mouth actually dropped open.
Another time that happened to me? Learning Koro-sensei’s past. Yes, it hits all the feels, but watching him make the decision to become…him is a genuinely tender moment and just resonates so much with the character, his actions, and the themes of the story. Like, even though the premise of the whole series is a bunch of students trying their darnedest to kill their teacher, it does a fantastic job of showing what students mean to their teachers and vice-versa. And not just from Koro-sensei either. Karasuma, Professor Bitch (her name’s Irina, but I do love her teacher name), a character who shall not be named, and even Principal Asano–one of the main antagonists–are so driven to educate the boys and girls in their classes that the students understand their efforts and often respond in kind.
The second season also benefits from having better antagonists. Or more active antagonists, at least. Sure, season one had that one crazy dude, Principal Asano, and class 3-A, but they didn’t feel like they really stepped into their roles aside from the first one. The principal does become a big one in season two, and I wish I could talk about the others, but that would be some huge spoilers. I try not to do that to you, dear reader. Because doing that to you would be a d*ck move.
I know I’ve done nothing but gush about season two, but I just can’t give it a perfect score. Despite it making me shed an actual tear. It’s definitely a 9. Might even be a 9.5.
The math probably doesn’t work (I have an English degree–I don’t math), but I’m giving the entire run of Assassination Classroom a 9 out of 10. Some aimlessness and lack of legitimate conflict at the beginning are outshone by its immense heart and damn good characters.