Saturday, November 9, 2013

Manga Review: Assassination Classroom

These days most of the manga I try out I find out first from tumblr. It doesn't have a really unified manga community per-say but there are always a lot of people squeeing over series they love, posting screencaps, sending in license requests to various publishers, or in this series case making those odd powerpoints about why something is awesome. And that's what eventually convinced me to try out this series, a powerpoint that is, since I had heard about it a bit before (from what I can tell this became a hit almost immediately in Japan) and, well, the premise was just crazy enough to be interesting!

Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushisu) by Yusei Matsui

One day part of the moon vanished. To be precise, some sort of strange creature, that looks like a giant, walking, yellow, octopus, appeared on Earth and blew it up. Whatever the thing actually is it possesses inhuman abilities such as supersonic speed and a resistantance to all known weapons, every nation in the world has tried to kill it and no one has come even close to succeeding. Which is why they have to accept his compromise, he will teach Class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High, in Japan, for one year and if he isn't killed by the end of that year he will destroy the world. Since he has promised to not harm his students, but they can try to kill him themselves, they're the best chance anyone has, too bad that students there have already been through the ringer. As students of the best school in the country they're all exceptionally bright in some areas but all of them are weak in others and have been placed in Class E (as in "end") to serve as an example to the rest of the school with crappy teachers and equipment. But despite all of that the students are surprisingly resilient and it seems like their strange new teacher actually cares about giving them a proper, well-rounded education even when they're trying to kill him.

As I said earlier, it's a premise strange enough to actually be interesting and I can now see why it's already such a hit, it's a surprisingly fun series despite it's semi-dark premise. Make no mistake, these kids are trying really hard to actually kill their teacher (whom they've nicknamed Koro-sensei, he also has a huge bounty on his head) and he really truly doesn't want to be killed (after seeing all the crazy, insanely plotted out attempts the kids have made so far I wonder how they're going to actually, finally succeed) yet it rarely gets "dark". Let me rephrase that, the fact that the students are trying to kill their teacher isn't what makes the story dark at times, the fact that a lot of them have been bullied and by students and administration alike for being in Class E is what makes the story more sober at times but even then everyone manages to plow through their troubles and come out better for them on the other side.

Another reason why this story seems to work so well is because it's rather well structured. The cast is a tad over 30 characters (the students plus teachers) yet Matsui knows to focus on a core set of students (all centered around a boy whose more or less the point of view character, Nagisa) so that the reader's don't get lost and to give the other students "a day in the limelight" every now and then to flesh everyone out. While I can't remember every character's name I can at least recognize them every time they appear and usually their personality and skills as well, that's really impressive considering not only how many characters there are but how comparatively few chapters there are out there. Which is another great thing, in story four or five months have already passed and the story is only six volumes long, no super long drawn out shonen arcs here! I have no doubt that it'll suffer from arc creep later on but even if it does it seems likely that the story will end in less than 20 volumes and I honestly can't think of anyone who would be unhappy about that (well, except for Jump of course). And finally, since I don't feel like I've stressed this enough, this is a pretty funny series in it's own way. It helps that the series doesn't start at the beginning of the school year but a little after by which the students have adjusted to the fact that they have a nigh-unkillable yellow blob for a teacher and have just become rather snarky about everything. The story is big on puns, weird situations and reactions to strange events which is exactly my kind of humor. Tvtropes has a really good example of it on one of their pages, when one character comes crashing through a wall (not the teacher), no one stops to wonder how he was able to do that but instead the entire class rather grumpily thinks in unison "You couldn't use the door instead?" I find characters dealing with the strange in a deadpan manner more hilarious than overreactions and every chapter is good for at least one or two laughs.

As for licensing, I feel like it could be picked up since crazier things have been released in the US, however apparently the American editors of Weekly Shonen Jump (which I think is referring to the people at Viz, the only ones who could publish it) say that they doubt it could ever get printed over here due to the subject matter which I do understand. I wonder if that would ever affect a potential anime release as well, I'm almost certain it will have one in the next few years, it's already popular enough that an OVA is coming out sometime next year. I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best since, as odd as it sounds, of all the series I'm talking about this month this one seems to have the most widespread appeal and I really don't want to have to import the Japanese volumes and have to translate the many many puns in the series by myself.