Assassination Classroom, Vol. 15

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.

Assassination Classroom, Vol. 5

By Yusei Matsui. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

One of the things that makes this such an interesting manga is the tension between the standard cliched ‘teacher takes a class filled with losers abandoned by teachers and makes them care about learning and themselves’ cliche and the actual plotline that they are trying to kill their teacher to save the world by learning assassination. Koro-sensei is too straightforward and strange to really swell on this, and Irina is not at a point yet where she really particularly cares (she’s still mostly here for breast jokes and to get humiliated). But Karasuma is normal enough, even if he is a tactical military guy trained in dozens of methods of killing a person, to be aware of what they’re actually doing to these children. And to be disturbed when one of them shows signs of being really really GOOD at killing.

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Naturally, it’s Nagisa, who is the closest we have to a ‘main character’ amongst the students. We’ve already seen how he has a talent for research and tends to try to think his way to a better assassination. Now we see that he doesn’t even need to use strength and power to be able to achieve this – he can rely on his natural unassuming, slightly feminine personality (there are several jokes here about him looking like a girl) and go right for the kill. And thank goodness for that, because he’s up against the government’s replacement for Karasuma, who gets results by being a complete psycho, and thinks nothing about belting a 14-year-old girl across the chops.

This leads to the other interesting thing about this book, which is the school principal. He’s clearly the main antagonist of the series, and we’ve seen how his method of teaching requires Class E to be at the bottom of the heap for everyone to bully. I was, honestly, surprised at the ending of the baseball story – not necessarily because our heroes won, but more because the principal didn’t punish the main baseball team in retaliation. That said, as an antagonist he’s great, being able to almost hypnotize his students into doing what he wants, and sticking to his principles even if they are twisted. That’s why his appearance at the end of the arc with Takaoka is wonderful, as he strolls up to and casually talks about how dull and boring his class was. Not even worth sticking around like Irina does, he’s terminated right there and then.

Koro-sensei actually doesn’t have much to do in this volume – the main story is all Karasuma, with Koro-sensei merely commenting occasionally, and the revelation that he can’t swim will carry us into the next book, but doesn’t do much good now. Still, the series has now gotten to the point where we don’t need to have killing Koro-sensei being the focus of every chapter. There’s a lot going on here, and as the series hits Vol. 5 you can tell that Matsui has realized he’s not on the verge of cancellation and is drawing out a larger plotline. I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Assassination Classroom, Vol. 2

By Yusei Matsui. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

In this second volume, there’s a bit less focus on the actual assassination attempts as Matsui starts to try to expand the cast and show us more of the horrible world they live in. We meet the principal of the school, who exudes pure cynicism and hatred from every pore, and it’s quite apparent that he will not allow Class 3-E to succeed. Scapegoats who learn to better themselves have no value to him, and so he changes the rules to ensure that they are hated and despised. What it’s doing to the kids themselves doesn’t seem to matter to him – I think if they all killed themselves the day after graduation he wouldn’t spare it a second thought – but in my mind, it’s the values he’s placing in the A-D classes that’s far more chilling.

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Of course, this is meant to contrast with Koro-sensei, who may be an alien out to kill us all but is also determined to give these kids self-confidence to be the best they can be, and takes it personally when all his hard work goes wasted during the midterms. This is nicely contrasted with all the moments where Koro-sensei is simply an eccentric idiot – the reasn that we don’t get to bored or irritated with him is that he has so many flaws and bad habits in among his invulnerability – flaws that are dutifully being written down by our narrative voice Nagisa (calling him the protagonist of this series seems oddly wrong), and flaws that are abused, seemingly, by the new teacher and assassin introduced here, Irina Jelavich.

A brief aside. For those who hoped that with the forced addition of ‘Koro-sensei’ we’d see honorifics in this series, sorry, Jump editorial practice will only allow it if it leads to an untranslatable pun. Thus ‘Bitch-neesan’ becoming ‘Bitch-sensei’ is not going to happen, and instead we see ‘Ms. Bitch’ becoming ‘Ms. Vitch’, which also neatly allows Viz to soften things up a bit. Bitch or Vitch, though, Irina certainly makes a horrible first impression, on both the cast and the readers. She’s an omniglot and talented assassin, but it’s clear that she only knows how to assassinate through seduction, and when it comes to actually keeping her cover as a teacher she’s useless. That said, she does seem to be easing up a bit, particularly when she sees how Class 3-E are treated by the rest of the school. I could have done without the tentacle rape joke, though given what Koro-sensei looks like I suppose it was inevitable.

We see the students here as well, but so far they seem to be more of a cast herd rather than having deeply drawn personalities. Nagisa is the strongest, being the keen observer (though he’s weak for busty women, like most teens – and indeed like Koro-sensei). Kaede hasn’t really said much at all (though I did love the ‘my brain is up here’ sign she held up, a wonderful translation choice, as I think the original just had her complaining about Irina’s large breasts). And Karma may be the smartest in the class, but he made far less of an impression here. The end of the volume promises that may change soon, though, and I’m hoping that this is the sort f series where everyone gets some attention paid to them. Though ‘a lot of them are only bit players so I try not to make them too unique’ doesn’t bode well.

Overall, this is still an addictive series, even if I feel it has some issues with character. Irina is an amusing addition to the cast, and I hope we will eventually get jokes about her that don’t involve her being a femme fatale who’s really just a ditz. More to the point, the stakes are raised with the introduction of the principal, as now we really see what Koro-sensei and the class are up against. Go get this.