In so many ways, Assassination Classroom stands as a model example of how to engineer a blockbuster Shonen Jump smash. In less than four years’ worth of manga chapters, and a mere 47 episodes of respective anime material, it tells a powerfully compact, tightly written narrative based on one simple hook: What would you do if your schoolteacher was a giant yellow octopus alien who’ll destroy the entire Earth if he isn’t killed before the year is out? Plus, what happens when said schoolteacher actually ends up being a pretty decent chap who cares for his pupils more than most of their human teachers ever have?
Building on the immense success of the manga series and subsequent first season of the anime, this second series picks things up neatly from where we left off last time with the students of Kunugigaoka Junior High School’s class 3-E and their seemingly impossible mission of assassinating the enigmatic Koro-sensei. Whipping through a quick catch-up pre-amble in 30 seconds or so, the breezy pace of the show remains one of its strongest attributes, especially when held up against the comparatively glacial structuring of other recent shonen adaptations like My Hero Academia. Here, we’re ripping through material at a rate of knots, each episode generally telling a compactly episodic, self-contained story.
Assassination Classroom has always trod an interesting line between comedy and darker, more mature material, liberally blending the silly and the serious in equal measures. When it comes to the former, the jury is out; for a show that spends a good deal of its time on humour, many of its jokes are surprisingly unfunny. There’s a Marmite-like slapstick nature to a lot of its laughs that feels particularly subjective - bites of nugget-sized chuckles designed for a generation weaned on YouTube gag reels, Vine videos and "dank memes". Was a bunch of precocious tikes calling their female teacher Irina Jelavić by the nickname of Professor Bitch ever really funny in the first place?
In contrast, the show is infinitely better when it puts on its serious face and switches gear into its more dynamic, action-orientated sections. Chief among these sections is the ‘Reaper’ two-parter - arriving roughly halfway through this set of episodes - a thrilling tour-de-force that takes us out of the school setting and into a situation where every character’s life is at stake. Here too, we find the focus of the show shifted to adult characters such as Karasuma and Irina, who are arguably far more intriguing, morally grey individuals than the endlessly chirpy Class 3-E kids. Indeed, while other ‘whole class’ shows like Negima or My Hero Academia excel in making every class member feel like a wholly unique, memorable individual (whether through character design or personality), Assassination Classroom’s kids are more variations on the same template, with individuals only being surfaced to the fore as and when the plot requires it.
However, where lesser shows would set up their core cast, leave it at that, and hope for the best, Assassination Classroom puts in the legwork, working overtime to really make everything fit snugly together in a fantastically polished package that is resolutely more than the sum of its parts. In this sense - it’s all about the execution, and it’s here, more than anywhere else, that the series really shines brightest.
We talked a little about pacing earlier, and it deserves to be re-iterated just how on-the-money this show is in this respect. There’s a leanness to everything that puts many similar anime to shame - not a single frame is wasted in getting to the point; everything on-screen at any one moment has a clear, articulate purpose. Both action and dialogue are crisp, articulate and smartly written - always working to propel events forward in a tight, joined-up manner. Even when the show isn’t in outright action mode, it isn’t spinning its wheels - ensuring that even the everyday rough and tumble of school life runs with a giddy, electric verve to it. From sports festivals to the class pondering their future career paths, the show knows how to put exciting, unique spins on the kind of normal events we’ve seen played out countless times before.
The show’s visuals mirror this vibe - and while never jaw-droppingly pretty or adventurous, they maintain an impressive consistency and polish. The show’s bright, pop-art aesthetic is fleshed out with considerate aplomb, and fans of the likes of the Persona series or Danganronpa will find plenty to love in the bold, crisp outlines and eye-popping colour palette. Working in tandem with the trim, athletic pacing, the visuals really contribute to a sugary, popcorn feel where the viewer can really sit back and soak up the show’s best moments. In an age where series seem to be going off-model or getting dangerously loose with their narratives with worryingly increasing frequency, Assassination Classroom has a refreshing solidity to it.
A word on the English dub - Assassination Classroom was one of a number of series that stood at the forefront of Funimation’s foray into their Broadcast Dub initiative, and as such it contains many newer voices compared to older Funimation dubs. The feel certainly doesn’t quite have the same robustness compared to some of their classic output. While you can sort of get a sense of the flavour they were aiming for, there’s a self-satisfied smugness to the voices of a lot of the kids in Class 3-E - a cockiness that seems further amplified through a very notable sense that a lot of the kids now sound ‘too old’ to really be kids. While it’s by no means a bad dub, our recommendation would be to stick with the Japanese for this one.
So where exactly does this leave us? Assassination Classroom is certainly not a series for everyone - considerably light on subtlety, this is a show that likes to bludgeon its themes home with a hammer. It’s all about the ‘message’, about how every one of its chirpy kids is special in their own unique way and how they all march to the beat of their own drum.
But equally, this is a show that nails its premise and execution like few others. It’s sharp and smart to the extreme, the very essence of a show that feels distinctly ‘crafted’ in its approach as opposed to crossing its fingers and making it up as it goes along. When it tackles its darker, more serious material, it remains electrically gripping - and when it goes silly, well... what were you really expecting from a show with an octopus-esque alien thing with giant yellow tentacles for hands?