Sometimes, when it comes to making a point, a touch of the outrageous can help a story to frame its lesson in an effective fashion. Whether it is in a stylistic fashion or in an over-the-top story idea, going grand can in fact help to sharpen the focus when it comes to the lesson. It’s something evident in all sorts of works, whether it is a satire like Dr. Strangelove and its critique of the Cold War arms race mentality or a science fiction work like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its pointed view of McCarthyism-induced conformity. Even South Park stands as a strong example of the use of the outrageous, with its perverse sense of humor skillfully delivering important lessons on a wide variety of current issues. The anime medium also has its fair share of sharp-witted messages presented in incredible frames. One such example is Assassination Classroom, an anime and manga series that offers some real fun and a message regarding the education system.
One day, the world is shaken when a tentacled alien-like creature destroys 70% of the Moon, leaving it forever in a crescent shape. The governments of the world unite to stop this creature, but they are stymied at every turn thanks to the creature’s incredible powers. Then, one day, it announces that in a year’s time, the Earth will be similarly destroyed. However, the creature makes a strange offer: it wants to serve as a teacher to the students of Class 3-E in Kunugigaoka Junior High School. In exchange, he will let his students have the opportunity to kill him. With the help of a few hired assassins working in the faculty as fellow teachers for the students along 10 billion yen reward from the Japanese government, the pressure is on for these students to somehow do the impossible and assassinate this creature (whom they eventually nickname Koro Sensai). However, even as their skills improve over time, they’ve found themselves with an incredibly difficult task in front of them. It’s not simply due to Koro Sensai’s ability to move at Mach 20, his quick regenerative abilities, or any of his other outstanding powers. No, the real challenge is from an unexpected factor: he is the best teacher that these students have ever had.
The series is a good watch, offering a good mixture of laughs along with development. The series gets a lot of mileage from its core premise, contrasting the rigors of education with the fact that these students are being taught how to perform on assassination. It also pays its characters off each other well, thanks to the wide variety offered through the students being taught under Koro Sensai’s watchful eye. From the weak but talented Nagisa Shiota to the gifted Karma Akabane to even the shy but brilliant Manami Okuda, the students of Class 3-E offer an interesting variety of characters. They play off each other well, along with offering their own strengths when the spotlight is turned to individual characters for development and backstory. Koro Sensai himself also makes for a fun character. For a figure who is so powerful and who had apparently destroyed 70% of the Moon, he is a kind-hearted figure who is devoted to helping his students learn and improve in not only assassination skills, but also in the sort of subjects one would expect in school. It’s also clear there is more to him than meets the eye, with a mystery that unravels over the course of the show concerning his origins. Something that struck me, however, was the show’s message in regards to education.
Kunugigaoka Junior High School is a place that is regarded as a school which regularly churns out highly successful students. However, the methods taken to achieve this are rather cruel. You see, Class 3-E is considered to be the “End Class”. It’s relegated to an old building far away from the school’s modern main campus. It is provided with improper education material, or just out and out denied key items like schedules or new lessons for exams. In fact, the teachers and all other students are regularly encouraged to mock and insult Class 3-E. All other students, meanwhile, are constantly pressured to do only their best and focus solely on good grades with the threat that any slip-up could land them in Class 3-E. The result is a student body made up of 95% cruel and over-stressed students and 5% constantly put-upon and emotionally crushed students. Koro Sensai represents a threat to this supposed “perfect” school.
With his powers, he helps to offer a more personalized approach to education. He approaches his students with an investment in them, working to help understand their issues and fostering a greater sense of self-worth in themselves. The result is a group of students who are not only eager to learn and grow, but who can feel proud of themselves. Thus, the series speaks a lot to the power of an education that focuses on fostering a love of learning in students, rather than just trying to turn them into perfect grade machines. Sure, teachers may not have Koro Sensai’s Mach 20 speed to attend to every student all at once. However, there is something to be said for not only teachers seeking to offer a more personal approach to education, but the education system itself seeking such a goal. If it were structured in a way that helped to channel its students towards actually wanting to understand and learn, rather than just focusing on memorization and standardized testing as a measure of a student’s success, then perhaps there would be more students whose success could be seen in their self-worth and understanding instead of just a number.
The first season of the anime of Assassination Classroom can be seen on Hulu. As for the manga, there are currently nine volumes of it currently being sold in stores.