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Review: Assassination Classroom Volume 1

A powerful being with the head of a smiley face and an unknown number of tentacles blasts a hole in the moon and says he’ll do the same to the earth if humanity doesn’t stop him first. He makes a deal with the world’s leaders to become the teacher of Class 3-E from Kunugigaoka Junior High, where the students will be allowed to try to assassinate him by the school year’s end—as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their studies.

Review: Assassination Classroom Volume 1
Assassination Classroom 1By Yusei Matsui
Older Teen (16+)
Viz Media, December 2014; ISBN: 978-1421576077
192 pgs, $9.99 USD

Assassination Classroom is a manga series that for a long time fans didn’t think would ever be brought over from Japan due to the gun violence in schools it portrays in many chapters and the students’ attempts to kill their teacher. But Viz Media surprised everyone when it announced it had licensed the series last year. The series has done well, charting on the New York Times Bestseller List with each new volume and some even staying for several weeks. And with good reason; underneath the veneer of violence and comedy is a story about a bunch of misfit kids getting the attention they deserve.

The protagonist of the series is Nagisa, a boy who was transferred to Class 3-E seemingly after angering a teacher. It is through him that we meet the other students and learn more about their teacher “Koro Sensei.” Nagisa is quiet and likes to observe. He watches Koro Sensei and takes notes about his weaknesses. He is also the first student to realize that Koro Sensei actually cares about them. Class 3-E is known as the End Class: It is where all the “losers and rejects” from Kunugigaoka are sent. They are treated poorly by the teachers and other students and used as a reason for the regular students to work harder, so they won’t be sent there.

Each chapter features a student, usually with an attempt to kill Koro Sensei that fails. Koro Sensei then finds a way to help that student in some way. Sugino used to be on the baseball team before being sent to Class 3-E and tries to kill Koro Sensei with a baseball. Seeing Sugino depressed after the attempt, he learns that Sugino’s pitching had problems so he figures out what Sugino can do to improve. He helps another student, Okuda, realize that being good at chemistry isn’t enough, and that she needs to work on her communication skills as well to be successful in both science and assassination.

Koro Sensei is a compelling character. He genuinely cares about the students and does whatever he can to help them learn. He gleefully encourages his students to try to kill him, but not at the expense of their education or each other. The first time the class sees Koro Sensei furious is when an assassination attempt also threatens a student’s life. He lauds them for the attempt, but then berates them for not thinking of their fellow student. No reason is given for why Koro Sensei wants to teach the class, but there is a short flashback of a being we can assume is Koro Sensei being asked to be a teacher, and he admits to Nagisa that he made a promise to someone to teach them. It’s just a tidbit of his backstory, but it’s tantalizing enough to make you want to learn more.

It can seem disturbing at times to see these students so upbeat about trying to kill the one person who really seems to care about them as people, and the series acknowledges it. Both Koro Sensei and Karasuma, from the Ministry of Defense, make it very clear, if they don’t succeed, the world is doomed, so they are motivated not by bloodlust, but a desire to protect their families, friends, and themselves. And the 10 Billion reward is just an added incentive.

Assassination Classroom was chosen as “Worst Graphic Novel for Kids” at ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco this year, but not for the reasons you would think. The series is rated for older teens, but the covers with their bright colors and smiling face might attract younger readers and parents who would associate with other titles that are rated for them. I’m glad that was the reason for making it a “worst” graphic novel, and not the story, which is very good.

With all the guns and violence in a classroom setting, one would think this series would have parents objecting to it, but surprisingly, there haven’t been any challenges to it that I could find. But then again, this isn’t a “Battle Royale” scenario. The kids are never in danger from either Koro Sensei, who has promised not to hurt them, or the weapons. They bb-guns and knifes are made from a special plastic that can only hurt Koro Sensei.

Assassination Classroom at its heart is an action comedy. Koro Sensei is more goofy than serious as a villain, and the kids are portrayed as screw-ups. But it’s the connection that Koro Sensei makes with the kids, by really caring about them and helping them to learn and be better, whether it’s at communicating or assassinating, that makes this series really shine. When everyone else has given up on these kids, it’s the superpowered, tentacled weirdo who shows them they are worth something, and sometimes that all that is needed for kids to excel.

 

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Lori Henderson About Lori Henderson

Lori Henderson is a mother of two teenage daughters and an avid reader. She blogs about manga at her personal blog Manga Xanadu as well as contributing and editing for Manga Village. She blogs about all things fandom (mainly Doctor Who) at her other personal blog Fangirl Xanadu. She's been at it so for over 5 years now and counting!

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