Assassination Classroom, Vol. 18

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.

Jump series tend to be highly variable in how they handle romance in the titles (discarding actual romance series such as Nisekoi). Some series are happy to have romance as part of the character’s motivations, such as Naruto or Bleach. Some are proud of the fact that they eschew normal romance in their titles, such as One Piece or Gintama. A lot of series go for the in between, where romance sometimes crops up but it’s never really the focus and you aren’t really gunning for pairings. Toriko, My Hero Academia… and Assassination Classroom, where we’ve previously seen that Kayano is sort of crushing on Nagisa and that Irina has a thing for Karasuma, but that’s about it. Of course, sometimes those series will then take the opportunity to leap into the romance waters head-first… and what better opportunity than Valentine’s Day?

Before that, though, let’s wrap up the “space station” arc, one which if I recall correctly was one suspension of disbelief too many for a lot of readers. The author does try to keep things as ridiculous as the premise (I love Nagisa’s bomb with ‘BOMB’ written on it), but it is a bit anti-climactic that the whole thing is resolved in one chapter, though it’s nice to see Ritsu actually doing something again. That said, this is all a setup for the main thrust of the first half of the book, which is that these are idealistic middle schoolers, assassins or no. They think because Koro-sensei exploding is now a less than 1% chance, that those odds mean they can save him. In the real world, that’s not how things work, and it’s no surprise that the bad guys are working hard on plan B. Even Irina is concerned, thinking that someone killing Koro-sensei in front of them will ruin the kids’ innocence.

But then there’s the Valentine’s chapters. Again, the author blissfully ignores the most popular fan pairing – Nagisa and Karma – but there’s still plenty to draw on here. We see the class playboy screw things up and then try valiantly to fix them, especially as Koro-sensei says his recommendation to a high school depends on it. We see Kayano, who not only has to work up the courage to give Nagisa chocolates, but has to do it without Koro-sensei spying on her and with the “help” of Rio and Karma, who turn into literal devils in some panels as if it weren’t obvious enough. (We also see Rio quietly admitting she likes Nagisa too, but feels Kayano made the better showing here.) If it’s frustrating, that’s because this is one of those ‘middling’ Jump romance series; hence, there won’t be a pairing because Nagisa needs to focus solely on the future. And the adults also get in on this, with Irina’s worries that I mentioned above prompting Karasuma to tell her to stop being an assassin and join the defense agency. Her compassion for the students also prompts him to give in to her affections… though it’s done Karasuma-style, with a subtle, almost non-existent proposal that he refuses to repeat. Irina’s facial reaction is the best reason to buy this book.

In short this novel is a shipper’s paradise, but we’re also told we’re not going to be getting a get Koro-sensei out of jail free card. It’s becoming more and more clear that Koro-sensei being killed is the endgame. As we get to the final volumes, will the kids keep their youthful innocence? I can’t wait to find out.

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.


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.