Assassination Classroom – 02

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Two episodes in, and I regret to report that AC just isn’t my cup of tea. This time, I followed Nagisa’s lead and took notes, listing the pros and cons as the show exhibited them. I came to the general conclusion that while show looks great and has its moments, too often it either feels tonally confused or overly sincere. It’s also too cloying, and a little too self-aware and proud of itself.

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It starts with an unironically cheesy OP that deflates world-and-pride-saving stakes that we’ve never been able to buy. As sensitive and detail-oriented as Koro-sensei is (and do love how he can travel to the ends of the earth on a whim), his desire to destroy the world makes no sense, and not of the ‘Haha, that’s so kooky!’ kind, but a willfully abstruce kind.

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The episode is peppered with silly situations and jokes, but many simply clank to the ground in failure, undermining the ones that hit. I personally don’t mind that Nagisa is a boy despite looking and sounding nothing like one in the traditional anime sense; it’s his tired narration and both his and the show’s tendency to repeat itself that grates. Yes, I understand, you’re killers whose target is a teacher. Except he’s a yellow monster and thus engenders zero sympathy.

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The class seems poised to go through a Wile E. Coyote-style process for attempting to assassinate Koro: try something once, and when it fails, never try again. But unlike Mr. Coyote’s target, Koro uses the attempt as an excuse to help the baseball kid adjust his mechanics to better suit his body type. This kid, like everyone in Class E, all have innate talents that Koro will likely help them identify and cultivate

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That brings us to the plight of Class E, the “End Class”, a relatively small group of students who are exiled to the dingy satellite campus and treated like dirt in order to make the majority of students work harder, as well as pump up their own collective sense of superiority. This is not that far off from the way this works in the real world; privileged kids are warned that if they don’t work hard and excel, they’ll end up in some crap school and get a crap job and live crap lives.

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This social commentary baked into this show is not entirely without promise, but in such an otherwise zany and irreverent setting and such a blatantly nonsensical premise, that serious stuff only contributes to the show’s confused tone and ‘kitchen sink’ approach to storytelling. Nagisa’s narrated analysis of Koro and some cheesy guitar music don’t change the fact that I can’t care about a silly yellow tentacle monster.

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There was once sequence I enjoyed despite these flaws, however: after failing to pile on top of Koro and stab him to death, Koro decides to be clever and replace all of their “anti-me” knives with tulips. Only problem is, those were tulips they all worked hard to plant and nuture.

Realizing his mistake, he blasts off at Mach 20 to procure more bulbs and proceeds to plant them, not at Mach 20, because he’s under the watchful gaze of the angered students. It’s a nice reversal of dominance.

But then I realize…what the hell does he care about planting tulips or telling the baseball kid to “train well and surpass his idol” when he’s going to destroy the world? A couple students jokingly point out this contradiction, but that doesn’t allay my frustration. Even if Koro had a proper human form, his actions and motivations are as muddled as the show’s tone.

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More than anything though, the periodic Nagisa narration, as well many of the students’ reactions to Koro, are simply trying too hard, constantly rubbing our noses in its somewhat-forced ‘craziness’, shouting “OMG, we have to kill our teacher, isn’t this so deliciously loony? Well, isn’t it?!”

Actually, no, it isn’t, at least not satisfyingly so. It’s a jumbled mess of tones and themes, over-stuffed with anonymous characters. It’s a show that wants so badly to be so many different things—and never lets you forget it—but its visual polish and genuine enthusiasm can’t mask its inherent gutlessness.

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Assassination Classroom – 01 (First Impressions)

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Well, my first impression was, “This looks exactly like Danganronpa but with more toned-down student designs.”

My second was “Whoa, that’s a whole class of kids pointing assault weapons at their teacher!” It’s a pretty bold, intense image, rather let down by the fact the teacher is about the furthest thing from a human being it could possibly be: a banana-yellow octopoid…thing.

Also, the bullets are pink pellets, and the dude moves so fast not a single round hits him. Which led to my third impression: this show has a ‘Sanitized for Your Protection’ feel about it that Danganronpa managed to avoid, even though it featured pink blood.

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This looks like Danganronpa because it’s from the same director, Kishi Seiji, who has done a lot of shows we’ve watched and reviewed here on RABUJOI, including Angel Beats!, Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Kamisama Dolls, and Persona 4. He’s kind of a high-concept extraordinaire.

Still, right off the bat this doesn’t have the makings of his magnum opus, competent-looking as it is. As I said, more toned-down character design could also be described as ‘dull and uninspired.’ Not only that, but this classroom has thirty students, double the number in Danganronpa. That’s…that’s just too many! I’m not remembering all of these rubes!

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The story of how the Yellow thing, later named “koro-sensei” in a play on words (because he’s ‘unkillable’), came to be this class’s teacher starts with him blowing up 70% of the Moon. They’re very particular about that number: 70. Thank god there aren’t 70 characters.

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After the military fails to kill him, he requests to teach a class, this class, by name, for reasons that escape everyone. The military then decides they’ll use the students in the class to off him, since they’re at close range all day long. Someone’s got to get a lucky shot in somewhere, right?

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Well, not so much. He can move at Mach 20, which means nothing hit him unless he wants it to, and he heals very quickly. The class has to be inventive. They also have to kill him before the term ends in March, or he’ll do to Earth what he did to the Moon. Even though he’s from Earth. The more patently ridiculous exposition I heard, the more I turned my brain off.

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The wimpy protagonist Nagisa (who is not a girl, as it happens) has self-esteem problems, to the point he agrees to go along with a much older, obviously very held-back n’er-do-well’s plan to kill the teacher with a suicide attack, providing another dark, disturbing image. If our protagonist is in this much of a hurry to leave the show, should we really be sticking around?

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Of course, if he had been killed in the failed assassination attempt, making the first of many deaths to follow, that would have been something. But after the blast the teache r is fine, Nagisa’s fine, everyone is fine.

The teacher even changes the palette of the classroom and morphs in to a scarier but still-not-very-scary ‘Furious Mode’, but he’s furious not because they tried to kill him, but because nobody was looking out for Nagisa, even Nagisa himself.

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Yes, Koro-sensei is threatening to destroy the world…but what world? This entire episode takes place in a ramshackle classroom apparently full of downtrodden misfits whose lives suck. Why not let him blow up the world and start fresh? He also threatens to kill the families of anyone who fights dirty, but unlike him, none of these threats have any teeth.

I know, I know, I should stop being a wet blanket; this is supposed to be a comedy, nothing serious. But I think I groaned more than I laughed, especially as the episode winds down and we get some super-corny feel-good music accompanying Nagisa’s super-corny feel-good monologue. The tone is all over the place, and it lacked an defined ‘edge’.

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Danganronpa: The Animation – 13 (Fin)

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Enoshima Junko exposits at length before the remaining students, revealing that they’ve been at Hope’s Peak Academy for more than two years. A year after they enrolled, a calamity befell the world, which fell into despair. The principal turned the school into a shelter for its students, most of whom died, leaving only the sixteen surviving students, including Junko and her sister, whom she killed out of contempt. Junko announces it’s time to vote: either for her despair or their hope, sweetening the deal by saying they’ll all live if they sacrifice Naegi.

She also says the air in the outside world is contaminated, and if she’s killed, the school’s air purifier will shut down, killing them all. However, armed with “bullets of hope”, Naegi gives uplifting speeches to everyone, and they all end up voting for Junko. She willingly accepts her punishment: a combo of all the previous executions. Naegi uses her controller to open the front door to the school, and everyone steps out into the world. Monokuma reappears in the trial room, still talking and moving despite Junko dying…

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Call it hokey if you must, but it turns out this wasn’t a battle between hope and despair, but rather trying to reach a place where both coexist. The high school life of mutual killings was an exercise in despair and despair alone, but Naegi was accepted to the school as almost a fail-safe, in case despair went too far. His hope spread just as readily to his peers (who, as it turns out, were all his friends prior to losing their memories), and the world represents that place where they’ll likely run into both, but that’s life. Unfortunately we don’t see one bit of what becomes of them after stepping outside.

Prior to their escape Junko adopts multiple personas during her long-winded speechifying, but she doesn’t end up saying all much. She paints in very broad strokes that are somewhat dull and unsatisfying, a contrast from the intricate detail the murder trials brought to the table. Maybe she’s being intentionally mysterious…or more likely the series is withholding all the answers for a sequel down the road. But as with Blood Lad, we’re content with just this one season. It was fun, but the lack of a single 8 rating or higher is a sure sign of a series that  never really wowed us.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Danganronpa: The Animation – 06

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The third floor is unlocked for the remaining students. When investigating the “ghost” of Fujisaki that Asahina saw in the baths, they discover a laptop with an AI that looks and talks like Fujisaki. That night, the laptop turns up missing, and Togami suggests there might be a traitor among them. The next morning Celes and Yamada are apparently attacked by a robot “Justice Hammers”, and both Yamada and Ishimaru are killed and their bodies moved. When they finally find the, Yamada is still alive, and names Hagakura Yasuhiro as the culprit before dying.

There’s a lot in this show we find patently silly and ridiculous. The idea that a huge academy in the middle of a city would simply be left alone and never investigated by outside forces. The extremely over-the-top, specific character design. The fact that the villain is a demented teddy bear with seemingly unlimited resources with which to torture and execute students. Fujisaki’s interactive AI. One place that has remained mostly grounded in conventional logic have been the motives behind the murders themselves, of which two have been solved, and of which neither was premeditated even if their actions after the fact were criminal. Kuwata killed Maizono because if she was trying to kill him. Ohwada killed Fujisaki in a sudden fit of passion.

The students have murdered people sure, but no one’s taken any pleasure out of it like say, Genocider Syo(Sho?) with her victims on the outside. Monokuma is forcing them to kill, but he’s not exactly breeding cold-blooded murderers. This week two more students are slain and their bodies moved, and by process of elimination, the only one not present for their discovery (and re-discovery) was Afro-dude, Yasuhiro, whom Yamada even names – so of course Yasuhiro probably isn’t the murderer. More interesting are all the clues that suggest some if not all the students actually knew each other before coming to Hope’s Peak, suggesting Monokuma had their memories altered. We wouldn’t put anything past him…not even the kitchen sink.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Danganronpa: The Animation – 04

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With the first classroom trial overcome, Monokuma opens up the second floor of the school, where there’s a pool, locker rooms, and a library. The students learn that Hope’s Peak Academy has been shut down for some time, meaning someone else took the place over and imprisoned them there. One night, Naegi catches a smitten Fukawa Touko stalking Togami Byakuya, who sends her away.

The next day, Fujisaki Chihiro is found dead crucified in the locker room, apparently killed by a blow to the head with “Blood Bath Fever” written on the wall in blood. The students start collecting clues; Togami recognizes what happened to Fujisaki as the MO of the serial killer Genocider Syo. Just before the second trial begins, Naegi witnesses a very suspicious exchange between Togami and Fukawa.

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The students may have just voted to send one of their own to their doom, but it was the first time that had to happen, and they had to do it in order to save their own lives. Because of this, many are still willing to give friendship and coexistence a chance. Oogami and Asahina were friends coming in; Ishimaru and Ohwada clash at first but an all-nighter in the sauna makes them friends; even Celestia deigns to allow Yamada to serve her tea. Fujisaki considered everyone friends, too, only to become the latest victim.

That brings us to the unlikely “pairing” of the ambitious, rich and powerful conglomerate heir Togami Byakuya and the plain, paranoid, antisocial girl, Fukawa Touko (voiced very nervously by Sawashiro Miyuki). He’s playing to win this sick game, but he wants to be challenged and entertained. She admires him and drools from afar. And their proximity and interactions suggest Togami got her to kill Fujisaki, despite her apparent aversion to blood. Though knowing the twists the trial can throw at us, it’s just as likely neither of them had anything to do with it.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Danganronpa: The Animation – 03

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The classroom trials begin with many suspecting Naegi as Maizono’s murderer. However, as the events of the evening are reconstructed  the students determine that Maizono acquired the knife that killed her from the kitchen, attempted to lure someone into her room (actually Naegi’s), but was overpowered and killed by her would-be victim. Kirigiri and Naegi determine this was Leon: Maizono wrote his name upside down on the wall, Leon used his toolkit to unscrew the door he thought was locked, and he used his pitching skills to throw evidence into the incinerator. The students vote and Leon is found guilty. Monokuma executes him with a million fungoes.

We don’t have the best deductive reasoning and probably wouldn’t make terrific detectives, so we found the gradual the process this episode and the students go through to find the culprit both fascinating and clever, in that it introduced several potential clues last week and then expounded on them here. For his part, until the evidence starts to build against him, Leon keeps his cool, and when he doesn’t, it’s great to watch him squirm as it becomes obvious to all that he did it. Leon really got the short end of the stick, as he wasn’t trying to kill anyone that night, but Maizono was, and he had no choice but to defend himself. Maizono had a plan Naegi didn’t see coming, but wouldn’t go so far as to say Maizono betrayed Naegi by trying to frame him, because, well, she failed.

Kirigiri says this was because she was hesitant, both to kill someone and to frame Naegi for it. The need to escape and save her friends meant she had at least some will to kill, but the situation she ended up in – trying to stab a baseball star who had a decorative sword to defend himself – her hesitation got her killed. Had she truly been willing to kill someone and throw Naegi under the bus, she’d have succeeded, and been present at the trial to do so. She didn’t, which means she’s worth avenging. Naegi also rejects the cool, pragmatic Kirigiri’s advice to overcome the deaths that have and will occur. The righteous Naegi vows to drag all the deaths with him all the way to the exit…whether that’s the front door or his grave.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • The trial featured some very diverse animation choices, going inked manga style for scenarios, using lots of game show like cheesy graphics, and finally a very bizarre and elaborate execution scene making heavy used of 3D CGI.
  • The trial also featured many characters simply chiming in with some stupid line like “it’s like, obviously Naegi, right?” When they blurt out who they think the culprit is without knowing the facts of the murder, it makes them look foolish, since all their lives are on the line.
  • Kirigiri really helps Naegi out this week, not only in steering the suspicion away from him, but helping to steer it towards Leon. She’s also seemed to have taken an extended interest in his well-being and potential, as her post-trail visit proves.
  • The upside-down square numbers 11037 spelling out LEON – didn’t see that coming. Go ahead, berate us (just kidding, please don’t!)

Danganronpa: The Animation – 01

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Plain, average Makoto Naegi is excited about starting a new year at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Private Academy, having been chosen by sheer luck. When he enters he passes out, and wakes up in a classroom. He heads to the gym where fourteen elite students are assembled, each experts in a particular field. A strange two-toned bear, Monokuma, appears, claiming to be the principal.

He tells the fifteen students that they are trapped inside the academy with no hope of escape, and the only way to leave is to kill somebody else; he doesn’t care who or how. The students are all against killing at first, so three days, later, Monokuma gives them videos of horrible events designed to make the students want to leave at all costs; in Makoto’s case, the belief his family is dead.

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We’re always weary of huge casts in anime, especially, when they’re all introduced at once in a “character dump.” It’s not that we dislike them, just that with upwards of a dozen series on tap this summer, keeping track of the casts can be taxing on the ol’ noggins. That’s why we spent a big chunk of time familiarizing ourselves with the cast: names, appearance, and any familiar voices before watching the episode. As a result, we could focus more on what was being said, not on who was saying it.

This will get easier as we watch more, and watch more we will! How can we not? We’re no strangers to the murder-mystery genre, and we’re already seeing thematic shades of Mirai Nikki, Another, Deadman Wonderland, and even Battle Royale. Only this is a locked room murder mystery, and there’s a survivor count at the end of every episode. Everyone survived this week, but with thirteen planned episodes, that number is bound to drop soon, in an order and by twisted methods we couldn’t possibly predict.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Here’s the key to the class portrait above, along with their most distinguishing features. They’re quite a colorful bunch!

1. Hagakure Yasuhiro (dreads)
2. Asahina Aoi (boobs/swimmer)
3. Ohwada Mondo (biker, greaser hair)
4. Togami Byakuya (blonde/glasses)
5. Kirigiri Kyouko (silver hair)
6. Ishimarru Kiyotaka (red eyes/white uniform)
7. Kuwata Leon (red hair/piercings)
8. Makoto Naegi (small/normal)
9. Maizono Sayaka (blue eyes/idol)
10. Fujisaki Chihiro (short/hacker)
11. Celestia Lundenberg (red eyes/goth)
12. Fukawa Touko (dark braids/glasses)
13. Yamada Yifune (fat/cat mouth)
14. Oogami Sakura (street fighter)
15. Enoshima Junko (blonde/big hair)