Assassination Classroom is exquisitely bizarre. One day, an alien being who looks like Pac-Man with tentacles destroys the Moon and threatens to do the same to Earth. Thanks to mysterious circumstances and an agreement with the Japanese government, the alien postpones his attack for one year. If the misfit students of Kunugigaoka Junior High’s Class E can assassinate him within that time, he’ll spare the planet. To sweeten the pot, the government puts up a 100 million Yen reward to whomever can kill the monster. As the students muster their strength and plan their strategies, the alien—affectionately known as Koro Sensei—takes a job as their schoolteacher.
Unsurprisingly, the relationship between teacher and students is bonkers. Koro Sensei harbors no ill will against the students that try to kill him at every turn. Although they routinely fail in the face of the alien’s incredible speed and deft tentacle work, Koro dotes on his charges very much like a father helping his children with their first steps. Besides combat skills and assassination techniques, the alien also imparts life lessons and helps with homework assignments. This makes for strangely heartwarming scenes, as when teacher and student pore over a tough math problem or chemical formula while Koro Sensei uses one of his many tentacles to deflect knife attacks and gunfire.
Assassination Classroom’s story requires some suspension of disbelief due to its sheer absurdity. It’s really convenient that Class E is held in a small shack far removed from the main campus since the government keeps a strict watch over them, suppressing their existence from society at large. Other students know nothing of the plot that is going on beneath their noses as they avoid the class due to its delinquent reputation. Class E is itself made up of boilerplate classroom filler characters; Nagisa serves as the main character because of his research investigation into the alien’s origins and what makes him tick. Koro Sensei, however, is the real star. Despite his immense power and murderous intent, he is just so damn lovable. He sports a wide, toothy grin and watches over his students with two beady eyes. He can be a bit of a doofus and exhibits a childlike thrill in his ability to travel the world at great speed, often doing so to watch a baseball game in New York and grab authentic gelato from Italy while the students struggle with a pop quiz. Still, this jovial exterior is merely a cover; when he needs to be, Koro Sensei can be pretty scary, especially when an assassination attempt interrupts important schoolwork.
Matsui’s manga is an oddball comedy with an edge. Even though the students are armed with knives and guns that are designed specifically to hurt Koro Sensei and not humans, the “kill the teacher” angle might cause some adults concern. Take away the goofy alien and what’s left is a story of school violence with echoes of shocking news headlines. The edge gets sharper when Karma enters the picture. Previously suspended for violently beating up other students, Karma is brought to Class E by government officials who see value in his weapons training and violent demeanor. The joy Karma experiences when he is given the mission to kill the alien is a little scary and may be too real to be “ha-ha” funny. Yet in spite of the many knives, guns, and poisonous concoctions being tossed about, Assassination Classroom is mostly violence-free. The damage Koro Sensei sustains is usually depicted as white alien goo and any tentacles lost during classroom engagements are immediately regenerated.
Assassination Classroom is filled with absurd narrative devices and setups, but these quibbles fail to ruin a completely hilarious read. The evil Koro Sensei is charming, endearing, and he could easily fill the role of Caring Adult Number One in any ABC after-school special. He will destroy the world in one year, but damn him if he isn’t going to give his victims a quality education first.
Assassination Classroom, Vol. 1
by Yusei Matsui
Viz Media, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: OT