OP: 「青春サツバツ論」 (Seishun Satsubatsu-ron) by 3年E組うた担 (Sannen E Gumi Utatan)
「暗殺の時間」 (Ansatsu no Jikan)
Angel Beats! is a show often described as an emotional masterpiece–coming to terms with one’s own past life was a powerful and emotional plot device. However, I personally felt a disconnect with the series, despite how good the core story was. My main gripe was that for a series that relied heavily on character exposition, twelve episodes was nowhere close enough time to develop many of the show’s other interesting characters, such as Shiina and T.K.–the series ended without telling anything about their backstory. Now that the visual novel is coming out soon, that should soon be rectified, but that doesn’t fix the core problem of the anime adaptation.
When I heard that Ansatsu Kyoushitsu was getting an adaptation with 22 episodes, I was thrilled.
Before I explain, let me explain what Ankyo (AssClass reminds me too much of Sword Ass Online) is. First, take your stereotypical bottom-tier junior high class, with a diverse cast of characters. Second, equip them with weapons and tell them to save the world, because actual government forces can’t deal with it themselves. Sounds like your typical shounen! Good so far, except when you actually dive into the plot.
First, you have an enemy…thing, the overpowered and intelligent Koro-sensei (Fukuyama Jun), that openly challenges a specific classroom to “assassinate” it. Koro-sensei hides behind nothing except for its own skills. Second, Koro-sensei is a huge cognitive dissonance in every regard–it treats humans with respect (if not sometimes condescending in the process) while simultaneously threatening the end of the world through a looming deadline. Third, even as Koro-sensei provokes these students, it is able to simultaneously teach in a classroom setting, which even the students admit is an effective learning environment. Finally, even Koro-sensei’s appearance is contradictory, with a innocuous smile and non-threatening slime-like form deceptive of Koro-sensei’s destructive capabilities. This adds up to make an unlikely shounen, where the conflicting moods of assassination and honest education merge into one wild ride.
However, this alone does not explain why the series is so popular in Japan–what’s the big deal about a show about a quirky alien? The answer is probably twofold.
As I mentioned earlier, when Ankyo was declared to have 22 episodes already locked in, I was really happy. Of all the types of shows that need a two-cour the most, it is character development-driven shows that feature a large cast; Ankyo is very much a show of this type, which already spells good news for its pacing. One of the primary reasons why Ankyo has seen so much success is that despite its large cast, the story effectively develops this class of the ‘unwanted’ into students who believe in themselves and believe in one another. Cliché at worst, heartwarming at best. In fact, episode one pretty much set the stage for Koro-sensei’s agenda: when Koro-sensei was infuriated that Shiota Nagisa (Fuchigami Mai) was sacrificed, it indicated that its true intentions were not to destroy earth, but rather to convince humanity to not destroy itself. This make sense since during a flashback scene, it is implied that Koro-sensei was developed by a military as a superweapon to be used against humans, but conflicts with that purpose lead to Koro-sensei’s guardian/creator dying. When Koro-sensei challenges these kids to kill him, it is not as a random challenge, but rather as a focal point of unity to bring out the best of humanity against a common enemy. Each character in the show will go through this transformation in some shape or form, which excites me, since stories of personal growth have always been a favourite of mine in storytelling.
However, this “character of the week” sort of setup still isn’t sufficient to explain why people are excited about this show. The kicker is that Ankyo hits really close to home when making a statement on education today. Although I speak as a foreigner, it is clear enough from education stories worldwide at how standards-based and admissions-based education are creating an intense race for children at a very young age. For a country where there is a specific term for the hiring of graduates right out of the gate, Shinsotsu-Ikkatsu-Saiyou, where the battle for a future begins at high school admissions, and where the concept of juku, cram schools, is still gaining popularity among middle schoolers, it is no wonder that a story about uplifting the less-than-ideal is popular in Japan. Ankyo is a story of hope for an entire section of society that can’t keep up with the pack, especially when that consequently leads to less support from the system that’s supposed to help you. I’m not sure about the teacher situation specifically in Japan, but within my own high school, the lowest tiered classes definitely were just scraping by, hoping to get as many people to just pass minimally, without any hope for those students and their future endeavours. I don’t blame the teachers really, because the students have also mainly given up on themselves, creating a vicious cycle that pushes these people into a no-win situation.
Koro-sensei makes for a powerful symbol as the pep cheerleader that struggling classrooms and students need: a figure of authority that challenges students beyond what is ‘passing’ and giving them the tools to make that goal a reality. While Koro-sensei provokes the students to do what seems ridiculous, it is a way of provoking the class to challenge themselves in a world that has given up on challenging them, all without resorting to the ugly tactics that harm others.
I look forward to seeing just what Japan has been enjoying this entire time. Thank you dear reader for putting up with some of my flowery explanations–it’s hard to put a concept that resonates into a concise set of words. Apologies for the delay as well, but going forward delays like this should not be common–it’s just hard getting back into blogging is all!
ED: 「Hello, shooting-star」by moumoon