Assassination Classroom Is Bonkers In the Best Possible Ways

Encore Films

Encore Films

Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

Bear with me on this one as it’s going to get weird – like To Sir With Love meets The Day the Earth Stood Still meets La Femme Nikita weird.

An alien creature – a yellow being with octopus-like tentacles and a large, smiley-face emoticon for a head – destroys most of the moon and announces to Earth’s leaders that he’s going to do the same to the Earth in one year unless they can stop him. They can’t, of course, as the being is far too fast, strong and capable for our military to defeat, but in an effort to make things a bit less one-sided the creature offers mankind a very specific deal.

He wants to be homeroom teacher for a particular class of high school misfits – he’ll train them in the art of assassination along with far more traditional subjects, and they can attempt to kill him whenever they please without fear of retribution. If they succeed the world is safe and the students earn ten billion yen, but if they fail he’ll destroy the Earth on graduation day.

This is the utterly bonkers setup for Eiichirô Hasumi’s sci-fi action/comedy, Assassination Classroom, and it only gets stranger from there. The script (by Tatsuya Kanazawa, from Yûsei Matsui’s manga) wisely unloads all of that in the first five minutes complete with introducing the alien, nicknamed UT for “unkillable teacher” (and voiced by Kazunari Ninomiya) at the head of the class in his robe and educator’s cap. It’s pure absurdity, and while the kids act appropriately perplexed they quickly settle into accepting the challenge.

The beauty of it is that we settle in just as quickly. UT is brought to life through a near seamless combination of CG and practical effects, and aside from the times he’s flitting about the room at “mach 20” speeds he feels like a tangible part of the film sharing space with real people and objects. Ninomiya’s playful but sincere voice-work completes the illusion by bringing personality and depth to what is essentially a cartoon character.

The 3-E class are those deemed worthless by an education system (and society) that needs the weak to make the strong feel stronger, and as such they’re partitioned away from the school’s campus in an abandoned building on the outskirts of town. Nagisa (Ryôsuke Yamada) is one of the losers, and it’s his narration that introduces the characters and their situation. No one believes in these students – no one it turns out, but UT. The alien dodges every attempt on his life, but he offers constructive criticism as well advising how they can do it better next time. When the students rebel in an effort to avoid regular classes in favor of more opportunities to kill him UT makes an impassioned argument for a well-rounded education. He has more faith in these kids than even the kids themselves do, and that works to create an interesting dilemma for everyone involved.

The story moves with great energy and vitality, and the numerous action beats keep things visually exciting throughout – the weapons the kids are given are specially designed as to be harmless to humans and only dangerous to the alien – but the film finds success in its heartfelt and humorous moments too. There are big, legitimate laughs here via line delivery and various visual gags. A slumber party scene in particular had me missing dialogue beneath my own laughter.

Numerous subplots and character arcs, big and small, are introduced and handled with varying degrees of depth – Nagisa has a thing for a girl who’s out of his league, an ex-military man arrives as a substitute with malicious intents, and even UT reveals via flashback teases that his past holds some very big surprises. Not everything is answered fully, and while the film’s story feels complete the “to be continued” tag suggests more narrative to come.

Assassination Classroom is an absolute blast that not only survives its ridiculous setup but makes something truly special with it. How do you thank someone who has taken you from poisons to plastique? Take your seat and find out.

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Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

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