Ja­panese High School Kids vs. Alien

Animation Magazine - - Front Page - By Charles Solomon

Adapted from Yu­sei Mat­sui’s manga, As­sas­si­na­tion Class­room is a sci-fi com­ing-ofage story with ev­ery­thing on the line.

B ased on a manga by Yu­sei Mat­sui, the se­ries As­sas­si­na­tion Class­room (2015) lasted only two sea­sons, plus two fea­ture films and a spin-off se­ries — a short run for a prop­erty that’s proved so pop­u­lar.

The premise is weird, to put it mildly. A stag­ger­ingly pow­er­ful alien (voiced by Sonny Strait) de­stroys 70% of the moon, leav­ing just a sculpted cres­cent. He an­nounces he’ll do the same to the Earth un­less hu­man­ity agrees to cer­tain odd con­di­tions. The Alien de­mands to be made the home­room teacher of class 3-E at Kunugi­gaoka Ju­nior High, where the lo­cal school ad­min­is­tra­tors ware­house low-achiev­ing kids. If the stu­dents can con­trive to kill the alien be­fore the end of the aca­demic year, the planet will be spared and the kids will share a ¥10 bil­lion re­ward. If they fail, Earth gets blasted to smithereens.

The ju­nior high stu­dents are some­what non­plussed when they learn they’re pawns in an in­ter­stel­lar game. They dub their alien teacher Koro-sen­sei, a play on the words ko­rose­nai (un­kil­l­able) and sen­sei (teacher). Koro-sen­sei looks too ridicu­lous to be men­ac­ing. He’s Day-glo© yel­low, with a grin that sug­gests a toothy ver­sion of a ‘60s smi­ley-face but­ton. His ten­ta­cles make him look like a cross be­tween an oc­to­pus and a tas­sel. But it would be a mis­take to dis­miss him as a comic fig­ure: He can move at Mach 20 (fast enough to pluck bul­lets out of the air), he’s im­mune to all poi­sons and can’t be harmed by or­di­nary weapons.

Vi­o­lent ex-delin­quent Karma Ak­a­bane (Austin Tin­dle) and small, quiet Nag­isa Shiota (Lind­say Sei­del) emerge as the lead­ers of the class, al­though they can’t come close to dam­ag­ing Koro-sen­sei. But as the kids search for a way to do in their teacher, they grow too fond of him to want to hurt him. Like Ei­kichi Onizu- ka, the thug­gish ex-biker in GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Koro-sen­sei con­ceals the soul of a warmly car­ing ped­a­gogue be­neath a bizarre ex­te­rior. As he teaches, he finds his stu­dents’ hid­den po­ten­tial, raises their test scores and builds their self-con­fi­dence, of­ten with­out their re­al­iz­ing what’s he’s do­ing.

The fea­ture 365 Days’ Time is a kind of “Great­est Hits” com­pi­la­tion from the broad­cast se­ries. Now grown up, Karma and Nag­isa re­visit their old school. They walk the grounds, ex­plore the rooms and rem­i­nisce. Their rec­ol­lec­tions of the sin­gu­lar year they spent un­der Koro-sen­sei’s tute­lage al­low the film­mak­ers to re-use nu­mer­ous clips from the TV show. In a pro­tracted flash­back, the two men tear­fully re­call how, de­spite their re­luc­tance, they fol­lowed their beloved men­tor’s in­struc­tions and killed him — be­fore a laser satel­lite va­por­ized ev­ery­thing in the vicin­ity of the school.

Nag­isa, who had to de­liver the coup de grâce, was so im­pressed by Koro-sen­sei, he be­came a teacher — the high­est com­pli­ment any stu­dent can of­fer. Karma is a bu­reau­crat: He told Koro-sen­sei that the qui­etly com­pe­tent bu­reau­crats man­aged to keep Ja­pan run­ning af­ter the Fukushima dis­as­ter, while the in­ef­fec­tual politi­cians pos­tured and dithered.

What makes As­sas­si­na­tion Class­room more in­ter­est­ing than many other school com­edy-ad­ven­ture se­ries is the blunt con­dem­na­tion of the no­to­ri­ously high-pres­sure Ja­panese ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem that lurks just be­neath its silly sur­face.

Start­ing in el­e­men­tary school, Ja­panese kids are sub­jected to an un­for­giv­ing reg­i­men of study, mem­o­riza­tion, cram school and parental pres­sure. A child’s fu­ture rests on a se­ries of all-im­por­tant ex­ams. Chil­dren who do well and get into top-rated high schools and col­leges can look for­ward to high-pay­ing jobs in big cor­po­ra­tions, uni­ver­si­ties and gov­ern­ment min­istries. Chil­dren who fail may be shunned by their for­mer friends as they face a fu­ture of low­ered ex­pec­ta­tions and lim­ited pos­si­bil­i­ties. Ja­panese par­ents, es­pe­cially moth­ers, have a rep­u­ta­tion for mer­ci­lessly goad­ing their off­spring to per­form. Ev­ery year, chil­dren un­able to en­dure the pres­sure suf­fer break­downs and even com­mit sui­cide.

Koro-sen­sei’s un­shak­able be­lief that all his stu­dents can suc­ceed, de­spite the “loser” la­bel stuffed-shirt ad­min­is­tra­tors have af­fixed to them, feels more Western and sug­gests the tra­di­tional pro­gram may grad­u­ally be giv­ing way to a more hu­mane ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion. The fea­ture 365 Days’ Time will ap­peal pri­mar­ily to fans of the TV se­ries who want to see Koro-sen­sei one last time. View­ers cu­ri­ous about this outré saga will do bet­ter to watch the se­ries, episode by episode.

Fu­ni­ma­tion is also re­leas­ing the two live-ac­tion films of As­sas­si­na­tion Class­room. At least in films with bud­gets this low, Ja­panese ef­fects artists don’t seem able to in­te­grate a CG char­ac­ter con­vinc­ingly into a live-ac­tion scene. Koro-sen­sei looks like a plas­tic toy who’s lit dif­fer­ently than his stu­dents. The fig­ure is also un­der-an­i­mated, and goes dead when it holds still. At the cru­cial mo­ment when Nag­isa has to kill his beloved sen­sei, he seems to be stab­bing a vol­ley­ball with a face painted on it. View­ers should stick to the an­i­mated ver­sions. ◆

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