“I’ve always wanted to be the fiery coach in a sports drama. Unwavering, no matter the adversity you face. To reward that spirit, Coach Koro will impart upon you the training and strategy that will allow you to win!” -Koro-sensei
There is a universal appeal to the underdog story. And Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu, also affectionately known as AssClass) adds its own spin on the underdog story.
The reason why underdog stories work is because they rely on the presence of some kind of injustice. Some force out there is out to get our plucky protagonist. It could be something as benign as the protagonists’ lack of experience or training against well-seasoned competitors. It could something as malicious as a well-tended vendetta to utterly humiliate or destroy the protagonist. The more heinous the plot, the more we root for the underdog to succeed. We are all too fond of the adage that “hard work is the key to success.”
“With a well-aimed strike, even the weak can take on a gigantic power and bring it down!” -Sugino Tomohito
Possibly my favorite AssClass episode, Episode 12 features our dropout Class E in an intramural baseball tournament, where they’re expected to fail fantastically as their reputations as perpetual losers and failures projects. Realistically, Class E–even with their multi-talented tentacled Koro-sensei on their side–are nowhere near the skill level of the school’s finest baseball team. But part of the fun and the message AssClass endeavors to bring across is that hard work on its own isn’t enough to succeed–in situations where one’s outclassed, it’s far more important to learn to play smart–and bend the rules when the rules aren’t working out for you. Why? Because as much as we might like the rules to work out the same for everyone else, it’s usually not the case that the rules will always be fair.
But unfair can be an advantage sometimes. Unfair situations force your hand to think more creatively, with more resilience. Class E’s bunting play neatly encapsulates how Koro-sensei’s teaching philosophy works. Bunting, by its nature, is not a particularly exciting or impressive way to play, but it’s certainly a valid technique that requires technique rather than just raw power. It’s a play that anticipates and reads the pitcher’s strength to force the ball into fair territory, while maximizing its distance from the fielders. In other words, bunting becomes the most efficient way for the Class E boys to score points.
Efficiency in play doesn’t just translate to efficiency in killing, which is a must for assassination. Efficiency also helps you become a better student. You know those annoying people who always seem to effortlessly set the curve on those college exams with minimal studying time? It’s tempting to conclude that they might be geniuses…and that may actually be the case…but more likely than not, these superstar students did well because they studied more efficiently than everyone else. Hard work is futile without tenacity. Tenacity demands focus, being determined in something to the point of obstinacy. It means knowing what you’re up against, conceding one’s limitations and doggedly figuring out a way to achieve the impossible.
Shindo: “Why did you go to all this trouble to win? Weren’t you trying to produce real results to show that you’re stronger than me?”
Sugino: “Actually I wanted to brag a little. About my current friends, to my old friends.”
AssClass is many things, but subtle isn’t one of them. Besides making for a hilariously crazy game, bunting exemplifies the necessity of teamwork in success. There’s only so much you can accomplish on your own. You can’t expect to win by bunting alone but if you bunt with your team, you can turn the game in your favor. And who knows? If you happen to be the clear underdog, you might actually win.