I’m not sure how I failed to see this coming or how I convinced myself in the first place that this was going to be a 22-volume series. Oh well, that just means I’ve reached the end of this really good series a little earlier than expected. What does vol. 21 have for us? The last few chapters of the series proper, a four-chapter side story focusing on Koro-sensei, and the one-shot mangaka Yusei Matsui did prior to starting the series. That one-shot is intriguingly weird, but it’s also a distraction from the quality falling action of the material preceding it.
Said material begins with the kids returning to their classroom following the dramatic events of the previous volume. Before things can sink in, they find that Koro-sensei has completed a gigantic yearbook and book of specialized advice for every member of the class. In a nice touch, the teacher’s advice to them in book form turns out to be so dense that it causes them to fall asleep, sparing them from crying themselves there after what’s just happened.
From there we get to see their graduation and a look at where the kids wind up seven years later. It should surprise no one that almost everyone wound up going on to be really successful in their chosen field. It’s honestly hard to begrudge Matsui giving these kids a mega-happy sendoff because we’ve seen all the work they’ve put into becoming quality assassins over the course of the series. At this point it’d actually feel disappointing if everything didn’t end happily ever after for them.
Well, except for Nagisa, that is. In a development that’s appropriate of his status as the hard luck member of the cast he winds up teaching at Cromartie High School. ...Well, not really, but that’s how I like to think of it. Still, though he winds up in an unenviable position it’s quickly made clear that the skills he’s acquired from his time under Koro-sensei’s tutelage are going to serve him well here. For a character who was introduced by being bullied into a suicide attack on Koro-sensei, it’s remarkable to see how far Nagisa has come. Though the series was definitely an ensemble piece, he was always first among equals and the focus on him at the very end feels quite fitting.
Then we have the side story which Matsui did to help promote the second live-action “Assassination Classroom” movie. It has no connection to the movie and instead shows us what Koro-sensei was up to while his students were busy with homework during their winter break. As it turns out, the tentacled teacher was just lounging around in his own fortress of solitude living a slacker lifestyle betting on sports, grabbing food with his tentacles while he lounges under a kotatsu, and meditating in a room plastered with girlie mags.
The reason we’re able to know about this is because it’s all information that was collected by an assassin named Seeker who specializes in reconnaissance. He’s working with a few other assassins, explosives specialist Mario, lockpick master Chanta, and Futoshi who’s really into boogers, to take down Koro-sensei and claim the reward. They’ve been meeting at a pub run by a blind mother, Azusa, and her daughter, Hotaru, who helps out. All of this is played for the expected laughs at first, especially when Koro-sensei shows up to pay them all a visit. Then things take a turn when the ruthless thug who’s been overseeing the massive debt Azusa’s dead husband racked up decides that it’s time for her to pay up either in cash or with her body.
I’d like to say that’s when things get interesting. Except you can probably guess how the plan to save Azusa is going to play out from here -- save for the reveal of where Futoshi’s real specialty lies. What saves the story from being completely forgettable is a genuinely surprising third-act twist that really caught me by surprise. That makes the story a fun though ultimately inessential addition to the “Assassination Classroom” canon that I’m glad they put here for completeness sake if nothing else.
Included to pad out the page count is “Tokyo Department Store War Journal” a one-shot manga that Yusei Matsui did prior to starting “Assassination Classroom.” It’s got an entertainingly ridiculous premise: In the future where wars have reduced most of Japan to ruins, a single giant department store still stands. While there’s lots of incredible stuff inside waiting to be found inside, you’ll have to deal with a security system that has gone completely feral and created lots of merchandise-based monstrosities to get it. That’s what little Yuzuko finds out when she ventures inside to find a new watch for her father.
Matsui mentions that this was his first stab at trying to create an ongoing series for Shonen Jump but it was ultimately passed over for serialization. On one hand, it’s too bad because the idea of a wild department store is pretty fun. There’s lots of good action and the setting provides lots of chances for the mangaka’s imaginative art to run wild. Yet if I had to guess the main reason this one-shot didn’t materialize into an ongoing series, it’d be because of the wild merchant who shows up to help Yuzuko out on her quest. Though he’s very good at fighting off the beasts inside the department store, the man is a grade-A creep who’s prone to manic fits of desire when he encounters something he wants and isn’t above ruthlessly groping the little girl to get it. If this series had been picked up, Matsui would’ve been better off focusing on an older Yuzuko who grows up to be a wild merchant and making sure we never saw her “savior” again.
The mangaka does mention that he went on to use a lot of the design elements that went into this one-shot in “Assassination Classroom” so it wasn’t a complete loss. While the series had its off periods where storylines that I thought were going to turn out really great didn’t, it’s still been a very entertaining run. Matsui has a great manic imagination that always shone through in his art and even if most of the conflicts in the series were predictable, he did a good job of making sure that their outcomes felt earned. It’s fair to say that he worked as hard as his characters when it came to giving this series the energy and drama that allowed it to thrive for twenty-one volumes. I’ve really enjoyed reading this series for the past few years and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for what Matsui has to offer in the future.