Assassination Classroom. Judging by the title, it sounds like one of those survival manga, like Battle Royale or Doubt or Future Diary, in which high school students are drafted in to a dog-eat-dog killing contest where there can be only one survivor.
Assassination Classroom takes place on Earth, but an Earth which is playing host to an almost impossibly powerful alien monster who demonstrated his talents by blowing an enormous chunk out of the moon. All military efforts to destroy him have failed, though he takes some mirthful delight in his capture. So, through some contrivance, the alien gets a teaching job at a private academy which tosses underachieving students into a Class 3E , a classroom that is considered so shameful that it's located atop the mountain just behind the school.
Thanks to this isolation, the government have developed a special curriculum for the students, who have been given weapons that will hurt their new teacher, but cannot possibly hurt their fellow students.
If they manage to kill the monster who's a great teacher, happy to tutor them and be a shoulder to cry on, they will have the glory of having saved the world, and be rewarded with millions of dollars. Too bad their teacher is almost always one step ahead of them.
Funnily enough, Assassination Classroom isn't quite as bizarre as the premise makes it out to be. Sure, the teacher (nicknamed 'Koro-sensei' after the Japanese for 'cannot be killed'), is an alien who can travel at speeds of Mach 20, changes colour based on his mood, among other eccentric behaviours, but he fits oddly well into this whole story. He's threatening and rather creepy, yet at the same time very pleasant and accommodating. You never quite know what's going on behind his ever-grinning mask, but the darker elements, along with the comedy blend well together.
Yuusei Matsui is the creator of this series, and also the creator of Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, a ridiculously dark (and darkly ridiculous) romp about a demon coming to Earth and setting up a detective agency because he feeds off mysteries. Therefore, the story of an alien coming to Earth and demonstrating his powers before being given a teaching job isn't too much of a stretch.
The only real complaint thus far with this manga is the world building. Ridiculous premise aside, are you really telling me that the world governments would let Koro-sensei settle down into a teaching job, of all things? To hand the murder of this super-powered alien to some inexperienced kids who've only got a year to learn how to be an assassin with specially-created weapons, compared to professional, military-trained assassins? Sure, it's better to keep Koro-sensei in one place than to let him run riot, but why this school out of anywhere else in Japan? What about one of those underachieving schools like the one in Ryuuhei Tamura's Beelzebub, where the rough and ready students (and yes, those kinds of schools don't really exist, but this is fiction) would relish a chance like this? Not just kids who are talented in one area (like that girl who was good at Science), but flunked their exams once?
There was also a character introduced in here whose inclusion didn't really make sense: Karma. Sure, he's violent and is brought back into the school after being expelled because his bloodthirsty tendencies make him the perfect candidate to at least try and injure Koro-sensei. Which he does. But after that, his exploits kind of lost their touch as Koro-sensei just outsmarted him at every turn. Karma tries an elaborate suicide game where Koro-sensei has to choose between saving a student and getting hurt, and Koro-sensei just wiggles out of the trap and saves him. Big whoop.
Halfway through the volume, one wonders quite how this manga would end, since it seemed to be breezing gently through the school year in the first volume alone. The manga is still ongoing, so presumably Class 3E don't do so well in their tests and have to be held back yet another year, and due to Koro-sensei's contract, he may in fact be bound to serve Class 3E for a long time yet. (Super-powered entities offering contracts, take note from the second season of Black Butler – be very clear with the fine print, or else you'll wind up like Sebastian.)
Despite some of the problems with characterisation and world-building, the art in Assassination Classroom is quite nice. Koro-sensei becomes oddly adorable after a while (just look at his little mortar board!), yet still has that creeping sense of pure malice. The character designs themselves are nice and distinguishable, even if it's fairly obvious to see from the first panel he's featured in that Karma will be the violent bad boy, pulling eye-popping faces and grinning sadistically like he's enjoying himself way too much. The main character and audience avatar Nagisa seems fairly run of the mill at the moment, but thankfully he's got more to do than just exposit the world's backstory.
While Assassination Classroom is quite a campy take on the 'dog-eat-dog survival' genre of manga, and one that it is somewhat difficult to take seriously, it's almost having too much fun to care. It's at least aware of its outlandishness, and doesn't desperately try to cling to the tired "THIS IS SUCH A DARK PREMISE YOU GUYS!!" format that Future Diary sometimes went for, and which Deadman Wonderland absolutely thrived upon, to its detriment. However, certain aspects of the story and the characters could have been written a little bit more tightly. Koro-sensei simply wouldn't bow to the world's governments trying to get him to stay put, and instead insisted on being the teacher to this one class of underachievers in Japan? I know he's supposed to have mysterious intentions, but the moment anyone vocalises them, they're shut up by variations of: “We don't know why he's like this, he is the way he is. Just go with it.”
That being said, the manga isn't all that bad and can be funny at times, and sometimes a little bit heartwarming. Being a ridiculously super-powered alien monster who couldn't give a rat's arse about humanity, it's both amusing and quite sweet to see Koro-sensei letting a student open up to him, or helping them deal with their problems, moments before he has to outsmart yet another assassination attempt by his students.
Assassination Classroom is a quirky little manga, with its tongue firmly in its cheek, and it works very well, barring a few duff characters and story elements here and there. 4/5.
(This review is also available on my blog: http://book-wyrm.blogspot.co.uk/2013/...)
Tags: download, yusei matsui, ebook, pdf, assassination classroom (暗殺教室) 1 [ansatsu kyoushitsu vol. 1]
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