Assassination Classroom: Graduation

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/07/16 17:11:45

"The advanced class."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The first "Assassination Classroom" is a decent enough movie hurt in a big way by needing to reset at the end so that this one could be made, so it's fairly good news that the filmmakers stick to the two-film plan and let "Graduation" play out to to a fairly conclusive finale rather than try and find ways to extend the series indefinitely. Though more plot-oriented than the opener, it's a satisfying conclusion an entertaining series.

As in most classrooms, things aren't that much different for Kunugigaoka Junior High School class 3-E; they're still considered the dregs of the school; their teacher is still a bizarre yellow creature with tentacles, beady eyes, and the ability to move at Mach 20 (voice of Kanna Hashimoto); and they are still expected to find a way to kill him before he destroys the world like he did the moon come graduation day. After the events of the fall semester, Nagisa Shiota (Ryosuke Yamada) has emerged as the class leader, though Karuma Akabane (Masaki Suda) is probably smarter though undisciplined. Other students include Nagisa's crush Kaede Kayano (Maika Yamamoto), science genius Manami Okuda (Miku Uehara), genetically-augmented Itona Horibe (Seishiro Kato), a military robot with the AI of a schoolgirl, and more. One of them, though, is harboring a secret connection to a secret government program involving captured master assassin Shinigami (Kazunari Ninomiya), egomaniacal scientist Kotaro Yanagisawa (Hiroki Narimiya), and his prue-hearted fiancée Aguri Yukimura (Mirei Kiritani).

Unlike a great many of Japan's recent multi-part manga adaptations, there was a full year between episodes here, and it while they may just be following the source material, it seems as though director Eiichiro Hasumi and screenwriter Tatsuya Kanazawa took note of some of the first half's flaws and made some adjustments. Detours that take the kids away from the business at hand are reduced fairly drastically this time around, and the larger story about where "U.T." (for "unkillable teacher") came from and why he is so dedicated to teaching this class fills the gap. Truth be told, this one tells a complete enough story to make the first not strictly necessary, and is a better movie for it.

Of course, doing so means that it cuts down on the high-concept sitcom material that filled much of the first, but not entirely, and there's still a great deal of wacky antics as U.T. puts his own bizarre stamp on Japanese public school rituals (in this case the annual festival) and the students try to find ways to end him. Hasumi and the special effects crew are good at setting up physical comedy that plays as funny and absurd rather than ugly in their violence and injecting light moments into some of the darker flashbacks and later action-oriented bits, also finding the right cartoon style for the broader silliness. Though there's a serious undercurrent throughout, it's still a very funny movie that never moves away from its insanity.

The mostly-new cast for the flashbacks does nice work, although these scenes could perhaps work a little harder on having Shinigami earn his way into Aguri's good graces, even if Yanagisawa is a human-experimenting monster. They work well off each other, with Kazumi Ninomiya doing his best while also continuing his excellent voice work in the present-day scenes. The actors playing the students continue to entertain, with Ryosuke Yamada and Masaki Suda occasionally in opposition but still having an amiable back-and-forth whenever the chance arises, while Maika Yamamoto shines in a more active role. In a canny choice, Kippei Shiina's soldier/assistant principal is de-emphasized a bit (though he is good in the scenes he gets) and Kang Ji-young has more funny material as the former Russian spy who now teaches the class English.

It works fairly well as an action-comedy, too, with the visual effects crew switching between practical and digital effects for U.T. in fairly seamless fashion, similarly jumping between intense and comedic action with style. It's tied together by the same thing that made the first fun beyond that wackiness of its premise - the irony that, for all he is technically in opposition to his students, U.T. is a truly excellent teacher, the sort that these kids could have used earlier - which builds into something more than just a funny juxtaposition.

The film still has some stumbles, as a lot of manga has been compacted into these two, and it's a little odd that the plot is so concentrated here, enough that you could watch it on its own if you only wanted to give the story two hours rather than four. You'd miss out on a lot of good comedy and tone-setting, though, and the first "Assassination Classroom" is a better movie with "Graduation" to pay it off.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.