Assassination Classroom is a very popular manga indeed – quite possibly the top dog in the “next gen” pantheon of Weekly Shounen Jump titles. I like what I’ve read of it, though I’d be lying if I said it struck me as anything exceptional. It’s a silly series with a good hook, sort of tailor-made to appeal to the middle-school portion of the WSJ audience, with just enough cultural awareness to keep older readers interested.
I think it’s illustrative to look at the differences in the way this and the World Trigger adaptation are being handled, as it’s an object lesson in Shueisha’s priorities. WSJ waited just long enough to give the Ansatsu Kyoushitsu anime a chance to get established without lapping the manga, and it will run only two cours (with more surely to follow). By contrast the WT anime started well before the manga had reached 100 chapters, and will run for an entire year – effectively blowing out the series in the process. Sustainability isn’t a factor with World Trigger, merely maximizing short-term revenue generation – but it very much is a concern with Ansatsu, which Shueisha intends to try and develop into part of a future “Big Three” (or four, or two, or however many series make the cut). There’s also the obvious difference in budget – though Lerche’s treatment of Ansatsu is still pretty middle-class.
The first episode is pretty good, I think – it more or less captures the appeal of the manga (which IMHO elevates it to that same pretty good level). Director Kishi Seiji is much better than he gets credit for, though the quality of his series does fluctuate wildly – and he’s a good hand with the sort of manic illogica than permeates Ansatsu Kyoushitsu. There’s not much preamble to this story – it pretty much just dumps us right into the middle without much explanation. The moon has been blown into a crescent by an alien, who’s now teaching a middle-school class and, through an agreement with the government, has given that class a year to assassinate him or else he’ll blow up the Earth, too. None of it really makes any sense, but I think that’s a part of the appeal.
The key players here are the smiley-faced and tentacled alien, Koro-sensei (Fukuyama Jun) and the very androgynous student Shiota Nagisa (Fuchigami Mai). Both of them have been recast from the earlier OVA, along with much of the cast, and I generally prefer the earlier choices (Seki Tomokazu to Fukuyama is an especially big trade-down). Apart from the casting, however, this seems to be the better version – certainly in terms of pacing and production values.
Again, I think this episode pretty much captures the essence of the manga, which is all anyone can fairly ask of it. The manga isn’t great and I don’t think the anime will be either, but that isn’t really the anime’s fault. While there’s not a lot of subtlety or depth here, the story does go in some surprising directions (Nagisa himself being a good example, as hinted in the premiere) and the fundamental conflict – that the students have to assassinate a teacher they kind of like, and the teacher who’s kind of likeable says he intends to destroy the planet – is more than workable dramatically speaking. I expected Assassination Classroom to be a modestly enjoyable shounen diversion, and I saw nothing in the premiere that makes me want to raise or lower my expectations.