Earlier this year, in my winter 2015 anime season preview, I mentioned that among the most popular of series that I, and I am sure many others, were looking forward to, was Assassination Classroom. 暗殺教室 (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu, hereafter referred to as AK) had extremely huge hype surrounding its animation release thanks to the manga. One of the reason I purported back then for such a large following might be the idea that, well, students do sometimes dream about being able to kill their teachers, and what better premise than an environment where you are supposed to do just that?
However, as I continued watching the series, I have come to a different conclusion. In fact, this post is perhaps long overdue, for my first ideas regarding a more possible reason (in my opinion, at least) were formulated around episode 3. I have allowed the idea time to mature, and I have come to firmly believe, indeed, that what I have thought since then is the real reason why this show is so well-liked. Indulge me, please.
Spoilers alert: Read on at your own risk.
The story begins with an introduction to the premise. The 3rd year E-class of an elite and prestigious school is the “End Class”, where the system put in place by the principal forces the lowest of the academically poor to be placed in this class. They are heavily discriminated against by the school, resulting in everyone else performing to their best to avoid being placed in this harsh system. Enter Koro-sensei, a being that has just destroyed the moon, and threatens to do the same to Earth if he is not assassinated by the E-class by the end of next year’s March. Interestingly, despite his tentacles, rubbery body and the ability to travel at Mach 20, he has chosen to teach this class and allow himself to be assassinated only within the context of the class. Though no one knows why, this presents the best opportunity to crush the threat before it becomes, literally, a catastrophe of epic proportions. So begins the new life of the E-class students who must try and kill Koro-sensei before the deadline, while still studying under his charge at the same time.
A rather long preview, but one that is necessary nevertheless. From the synopsis, one would guess indeed, that the popularity of the series must likely come from the fact that the students actually get to kill their teachers, with blessings from the government at that – whoever manages to assassinate Koro-sensei gets 10 billion Yen after all. Yet as the series progressed, that thought would most likely be one of the furthest away from the truth.
One of the first things we are introduced to is his concept of being a teacher. Instead of acting all high-and-mighty, or removed from his students, Koro-sensei genuinely cares for them. In the first episode alone, Koro-sensei got very angry at the perpetrators that forced Nagisa, our so-called protagonist, to try and kill Koro-sensei in a “suicide attack”, which would likely have hurt Nagisa quite badly. Nagisa himself did not seem to care what happened to him, and that lack of self-awareness was what truly got Koro-sensei so angry. Koro-sensei informed Nagisa and the other students after the failed attempt that, no matter what, they should never think low of themselves nor ignore what would happen to themselves as a result of their actions and decisions.
In another scene, a ex-baseball player failed to kill Koro-sensei using a baseball pitch, and was more upset than one would expect to be at such a failure. Koro-sensei traveled to America to watch a baseball match at his Mach 20 speed, watched a baseball match with a famous player the student was impersonating, and even went so far as to “feel up” the player to know his physical abilities. Comparing them with the student’s, Koro-sensei did not put him down, and instead, told him that he could perhaps do better than the famous player if he trained in a different way. In other words, Koro-sensei faced his students squarely, and advised them on improving without hurting their feelings in the best possible way that he could.
Other examples of his care for his students, and even other people, exist. Karma, the bad student who has good grades but a warped personality, is saved by Koro-sensei despite trying to kill himself in his attempt. Irina Jelovic, the Russian assassin who fails in her attempt to kill him, is “saved” indirectly by the environment that he has created for the students and himself. A sniper who fails to kill him during the class field trip is treated to dinner instead, and has his view opened up more by Koro-sensei, and one of the most telling signs of his care for his students is certainly in the way he actually uses his ability to move around at Mach 20 speeds to create individualized tests for each student.
Before we continue, I must add that while I have not taught for very long, I still consider myself a teacher (one of the English language), and there certainly are many good pointers to learn from Koro-sensei’s examples. In fact, this is the most important thing about the show – the reason why it is so popular is not because of the premise, but because Koro-sensei is showing how a teacher should actually be like.
While certainly, I cannot generalize and say that all teachers are like that, there exists a kind of disconnection from students for many teachers today. It is not just the public school environment and system that wears them down, it is also having to deal with successively tougher generations to teach. The kids of today are often playing around with electronic gadgets like smartphones (for the most part in developed countries, of which Japan is one) before they can even walk properly. Their parents are not often successful in the guidance aspect of parenting, nor do they have the time to do so properly as well even if they could. Often, when kids make it into public schools, they have a set tendency to follow what they wish to do, for they have little distinguishing power between societal norms and what they are used to.
Further, the problems of a public school almost always exacerbates problems. Large classes make it difficult for teachers to get in touch with each and every student; the best a teacher can hope for is to be able to know a little of each. What more so, when a teacher may have to teach more than one class for only his/her subject? Even a homeroom teacher can hardly express a desire to want to be able to help each and every student under his/her charge without being a little overwhelmed by the enormity of what could be involved.
How does all this impact the student? The student learns that s/he is a mere cog in the wheel, another number sometimes. Teachers are often uncaring to them, and if both parents work, the student is left to fend for himself or herself, turning to peers and other sources for acceptance and guidance. While not every student is like that, this postulation can be made in light of the academic environment of Japanese public schools in general. Learning and schooling becomes something that you have to go through in order to become a part of society, something that you do on the way to adulthood. All the problems that come with it are, of course, par for the course.
This is not to say that all the fault lies with the teacher, or the student. In fact, putting blame on anything, even the system, is not going to make all the problems go away, nor will we find easy solutions to said problems. What I do want to say is, this is the exact reason why AK, or should I say Koro-sensei himself, is so appealing to students. He is the teacher that does whatever he can for his students, encouraging them through all the ways and means possible, going the extra mile for all his students.
In short, he is the teacher that students wish they have.
True, not all teachers can do what he can. Certainly, none of us humans can move at Mach 20 speeds, nor can we hope to be able to survive assassination attempts, nor can we hope to ever match his prowess in many things. He is, after all, a result of an experiment that went out of control. However, there is not to say teachers cannot hope to do something that matches him in concept.
We could, for example, emulate his willingness to praise students at every turn even as we point out mistakes they make and guide them through life. We could emulate, to some extent, the lengths to which he would go for his students. We could almost certainly do our best to understand and know more about the students under our charge, though knowing where to draw a fine line between personal involvement and mere teacher concern is something we should be careful about.
We can definitely do more for our students beyond mere interaction in the classroom, confined only to a square place in a large building with little humanistic emotion. We can smile more for them. We can reward them with more than just a cursory nod, or a star on the paper of a student who has done well. We can think of many ways, means, to tell our students we care about them, and we want to help them. We can certainly change our own attitudes towards teaching, not letting it be just another job through which one has to do.
Most of all, we can face students as they really are – individuals.
Sure, a lot of these can be really tough to pull off, perhaps nigh impossible at times, but who is to say that we cannot try? Koro-sensei may be a fictional character, but the values and concept that he embodies is a message too hard to ignore for anyone still teaching, or looking to go into teaching as a career. It is not just “another job”; it is one where you deal with human lives, individuals whose futures could very well be determined by the things you do as a teacher, a guide for them.
This is the reason why I believe AK is among the most popular series among Japanese students, and certainly one of the reasons why I believe it is indeed a show worth watching by everyone. Public education systems nowadays needs many things, and good teachers like the personality that makes up Koro-sensei are certainly one of them.