By Yusei Matsui. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by Tetsuichiro Miyaki. Adapted by Bryant Turnage.
(This review talks about *that* spoiler, the one everyone already knows, but I thought I’d warn you anyway.)
Now that we have the North American Weekly shonen Jump magazine, serializing the popular series at the same time they come out in Japan, surprises are very difficult to hold on to. Doubly so here, as the anime has also aired. But at the time when the Kaede Kayano revelation came out, it was quite a surprise, trust me, and everyone went back to look at their previous volumes to see if this was something truly planned fro the beginning or something that the author came up with on the fly. He helpfully tells us that it’s the former, showing us tiny specs of art that hinted that Kayano was Not What She Seemed. And this extends forward as well, as Kayano is in reality the younger sister of the class’ former teacher, who she alleges that Koro-sensei killed. How that happened is apparently part of the next volume. Yusei Matsui really ties this together beautifully, making it one of the best volumes in this already excellent series.
I’ve complained a few times about how, given she’s the closest thing we get to a female lead among the students, Kayano’s character has been somewhat flat. Now it turns out that this was not only deliberate but engineered on her part, trying not to attract too much attention and therefore setting herself up as the cute but plain friend of the real “main character”, Nagisa. The flashbacks not only show the lengths she went to to engineer her attack on Koro-sensei (who, as she reminds us herself, she named in the first place), but also the tremendous pain that hiding her altered state has caused her over the past several months. It’s been the perfect acting job. That said, sometimes you can get too caught up in your role, and Nagisa sees what Kayano isn’t letting herself – that she really has had fun in this class, made true friendships, and most importantly, has seen that Koro-sensei is maybe not the sister-murdering monster she thought.
This leads to the funniest scene of the volume, where Nagisa has to stop a dying Kayano from burning out her brain due to overuse of her tentacled form. He does this by a callback to Irina’s ‘foreign language techniques’, essentially kissing her into submission. Not only is this great ship fodder for fans of this pairing (and no doubt very annoying to Nagisa/Karma fans), but we also see Irina saying that he could have done better, the other students muttering that *they* could have done better, and Karma and Rio getting pictures and video of the whole thing on their cellphones, because they are glorious assholes. The entire scene just calls out how well-written the whole series is.
There are other things going on here, mostly in the first half. We learn about the principal’s past, which shows – surprise! – that he’s a former idealist who had tragedy turn him to the dark side. And the Peach Boy play, which is hysterical and also features a glorious moment where they discuss Kayano acting in a lead role, and she quickly ducks and says she’ll be in charge of props. (Highlights of the play discussion also include Irina suggesting the student’s do a strip show, and Karma suggesting Nagisa act in drag as Sada Abe (which Viz, wisely probably, forces the curious to Google). If you avoided the series before because it looked too silly or the premise was sketchy, you should definitely catch up, as it’s top tier Shonen Jump. And if you already read the weekly chapters and saw the anime, buy this anyway, as the reread factor is high.