Studio: Toho Company
Director: Eiichiro Hasumi
Writer: Tatsuya Kanazawa, Yusei Matsui
Producer: Juichi Uehara
Stars: Ryosuke Yamada, Kazunari Ninomiya, Kippei Shina, Kang Ji-young, Masaki Suda, Seishiro Kato, Hiroki Narimiya, Mirei Kiritani, Tsuyoshi Abe
UT’s origin is revealed as the students of Class 3-E renew efforts to assassinate him before their March graduation.
Excited to enroll in a second semester of mirthful mayhem with the misfit students of Class 3-E and their smiley faced, sentient squid sensei? Well, consider dialing down your enthusiasm by a notch or two as less-sharp sequel “Assassination Classroom: Graduation” trades in a fair slice of the first film’s weird whimsy for a follow-up filled with bleak backstory.
The celebration over UT’s survival at the conclusion of “Assassination Classroom” (review here) is short lived. “Graduation” picks up with only six months remaining in the school year, which is the same span until UT delivers on a deadline to destroy Earth if his pupils cannot kill him first. Mr. Karasuma puts on a pep talk to remind the class of their planet-protecting assignment, extinguishing emotional affection for korosensei as efforts are renewed to assassinate UT once again.
After an entertaining opening involving UT stealing the stage as lead actor in a school production of “Peach Boy,” the student spotlight swings onto Kaede Kayano, a fresh face in Class 3-E with a surprising connection to UT’s past. When that connection comes out, UT is forced to tell his students the stunning truth behind how he came to be their teacher, as well as who he really was before sprouting yellow tentacles and gaining the ability the move at Mach 20.
For all of the initial intrigue that might accompany the prospect of digging into UT’s secrets, the actual reveal comes with a feeling closer to what Dorothy undoubtedly discovered upon peeking behind The Wizard’s curtain. UT is/was a character built on mystique. By stripping that mystery away with a tabloid tell-all origin story, “Graduation” loses some of the imaginative magic of “Assassination Classroom” through attempts to be more linear and logical.
A colossal component of the “Assassination Classroom” charm is the amusing absurdity of a smiley-faced squid monster winning students’ hearts while simultaneously instructing them in assassination arts, specifically for use in murdering him. “Graduation” spends less time being this brightly colored and delightfully bonkers in concept. This second spin through Kunugigaoka Junior High is dour and dark.
Whereas the heart of “Assassination Classroom” beat strong by exploring student-teacher bonds, “Graduation” slows down the laughter and lunacy to put a different kind of relationship at the fore. Although the student-teacher arc gets back on course during the last act, the midsection of “Assassination Classroom: Graduation” concerns UT’s previous life in an ill-fated love affair leading to his transformation in truly tragic fashion. And boy is it slow to develop.
Stepping backward in time results in prequel-like plotting burdened by a brake pedal of extended exposition. The first film went full bore on the fun factor, never having a need to put explanation over entertainment. While nowhere near the disappointment level this might suggest, a comparison might call to mind “The Phantom Menace” here: a story filling in blanks for which an audience doesn’t have a predominant interest in the first place to arrive at an end point already known.
One reason “Assassination Classroom” was enjoyable was because its creative characters were so infectiously lovable. Take away their screen time to make room for a grim flashback romance and “Graduation” is not running on the same battery that made its predecessor what it was.
It’s not that UT’s love story is poor. It is merely on a more muted wavelength than everything else in the “Assassination Classroom” saga. This emphasis results in a melancholic mood, which is probably not what fans wish to see most from a manga-inspired movie otherwise motivated by energetic mania and frantic martial arts frenzies. The two movies are so different in tempo and tone that I mistakenly assumed different directors were responsible. (They aren’t. Eiichiro Hasumi directed both installments.)
“Assassination Classroom: Graduation” runs nearly two hours, though spending a big bulk of it in the past leaves less room for the present. Remaining runtime becomes a rush to squeeze everyone onscreen, with several formerly primary personalities, particularly Karasuma and Miss Bitch, relegated to inconsequential inclusions. Other minutes are misspent on montages of smoking beakers and eyedroppers poking lab cultures as the kids experiment on a potion when the script could be thickening threads like Nagisa’s crush on Kayano, which begins and ends on a passionate kiss that perplexingly goes no further, a frustrating fate for several dying on the vine subplots.
Something else slowing the sequel’s momentum is lack of a clear, consistent antagonist. The evil P.E. teacher of “Assassination Classroom” rallied both the bullies and the bullied of Class 3-E onto common ground, bonding them as understanding classmates. Here, the enemy is less clearly delineated as a vague countdown clock to prevent UT’s impending detonation. The film adds a face to the threat later, but as with other elements of the sequel, the character coming in behind it isn’t fully fleshed.
Having spent much of this review critiquing drawbacks, I should be clear that I watched the film twice and found much more heartfelt emotion embedded underneath the story on the second pass. I’m hard on “Graduation” partly because its predecessor was one of 2015’s top films and I anticipated a sequel similar in style. Perhaps individual levels of appreciation will also correspond to expectations related to what the first film delivered compared to what the second film does differently.
End credits are oddly accompanied by clips coming primarily from “Assassination Classroom” instead of from “Graduation.” This reminds that the most memorable moments favor the first film while the second has a disappointing dearth of sly style with a devil may care attitude.
“Assassination Classroom: Graduation” certainly isn’t negligible or forgettable. It simply doesn’t quite capture the same sort of spirit to hold its head at the high level of the more entertaining original.
NOTE: The film’s Japanese title is “Ansatsu kyoshitsu: sotsugyo hen.”
Review Score: 65