We are officially in the home stretch here with only two volumes left in the series and the plot reaches its climax here. After some early bits of drama in vol. 19 to introduce the mercenary bad guys of this volume, and comedy, as Koro-sensei helps his students put together a class yearbook, the anti-sensei forces in the government make their move. They’ve got a ridiculously high-tech and complex plan designed to take him out, as well as some PR on the ground to discredit his stint as a teacher, that conveniently leaves some time for the kids to organize their own plan to save their beloved instructor. This leads to a fun action sequence where we get to see just how capable these little “assassins” are and what they’re capable of when they work together. Which is good because the volume ends with the real big bad of the series and his latest creation showing up with the intent of putting Koro-sensei down for good.
Then we get to vol. 20 and we get to see the series at its very best and worst.
(Spoilers for vol. 20 follow after the break.)
There’s a little bit of a breather for Koro-sensei’s birthday before Yanagisawa along with the new and improved Grim Reaper make their move. The ensuing battle is handled efficiently and is blessedly free of the pacing-destroying exposition that usually drags down most Shonen Jump fight scenes. As has been the case for the entirety of the series up to this point, a battle that I expected to stretch over multiple volumes is resolved in just one. For that alone, I am grateful.
It was also interesting to see Koro-sensei handle the majority of the fighting here. After vol. 19 featured the kids taking out that mercenary group I figured that they were going to play some part in the Yanagisawa/Grim Reaper battle. That’s not entirely the case here as it’s established in short order that these two are way, way out of their league. I would say that it was disappointing to see the kids sidelined like this, but it actually makes a certain amount of sense. Part of a teacher’s job is to protect their students from harm when they’re facing things they can’t handle, and that’s what Koro-sensei steps up to do here.
Yet there was one thing about this battle that really pissed me off. It features one of the cheapest, most emotionally manipulative deaths I’ve seen in comics for quite some time. Look, I get that we’re in final battle territory here and that something has to be done to illustrate the stakes. I was even willing to applaud mangaka Yusei Matsui’s guts to actually go so far as to kill off one of the kids to do this.
The problem is that the fact that there was going to be a death was spoiled in the preview text from vol. 19. So I went into vol. 20 expecting to see a death and when Kaede stepped up in the middle of the fight it was clearly obvious that she was going to be the one who dies. What should’ve been a shocking moment pretty much fell flat.
But that’s not the worst of it! After the fight is over, Koro-sensei reveals that he had collected all of the blood and tissue from Kaede’s wound and proceeds to perform emergency surgery on her. One quick shock later and she’s back to life with just a torn shirt to mark the experience. So not only was her death handled in a way that robbed it of any emotional impact, but it was rendered meaningless a couple chapters later. Future generations take note: This is a textbook example of how NOT to kill off a key supporting character at your story’s climax. Your stories will be better served if you take note of what Matsui does here and do the opposite.
The way Kaede’s “death” was handled should’ve ruined this volume and dragged down my estimation of the series as a whole. That it didn’t is because what follows are some genuinely moving scenes as the story reaches its emotional climax. As it turns out, the final two volumes aren’t going to advance the main story all that much. No, this is where the story of the Assassination Classroom reaches its end as the kids finally have to fulfill their purpose as assassins.
It turns out that the military’s plan to kill Koro-sensei was foolproof this time and there’s no way out for him. He realizes it, and so it’s left to the kids to decide whether or not they want to be the ones to finish him off. It’s genuinely moving to see them accept the situation at hand and assassinate Koro-sensei according to his wishes. Mind you, this isn’t another big action sequence, but a tender moment as they all tenderly grab onto their teacher to go through the motions of capturing him for an assassination. It then comes down to Nagisa to strike the killing blow, and even though he starts to lose it as he brings the knife down, Koro-sensei is there to put him right as he does what must be done. Even if the outcome was obvious, that doesn’t stop this from being a heartbreaking experience.
Then, Matsui has a little surprise for everyone on the epilogue pages following the “To Be Continued…” at the end of the volume. I don’t want to say that if you can make it through Koro-sensei’s death AND the epilogue without feeling anything then you’re some kind of monster, but… No. If you can do this, then you are a monster and should take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror sometime.
It’s hard to imagine that whatever’s left in the final two volumes will change my opinion of the series, but stranger things have happened. At this point I can say that, even with its flaws, “Assassination Classroom” is a great series that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages. Yes, all of the series in Shonen Jump are meant to be read by kids first, but the best of them can transcend that initial aim. It’s definitely not perfect, but this is one of those series.