I’ve written a lot on Assassination Classroom. It’s obvious that I found the series inspiring. And for once, I actually planned ahead and left out something I wanted to discuss more in depth in its very on post. Namely: Rikuto Ikeda.
For those of you who haven’t seen the series in some time, Ikeda is one of the three students that were part of chairman Asano’s very first class. He is a slightly boisterous and generally happy boy who more or less single handedly shaped the man Gakuhō Asano would become and in a way is responsible for the structure Kunugigaoka Junior High School would take, thereby impacting the lives of hundreds of students without realizing or meaning to.
For the first season and half of the second Asano is presented as a clear antagonist. A borderline sociopathic man with near inhuman talents in just about everything, his only redeeming quality seems to be his love of education. Whatever else you can say about him, he takes his job very seriously. The show itself regularly refers to him as a monster. Asano is shown to be brutal and uncompromising both to his students and to his own son. He expects the best and leaves no room for anything else. This inflexible nature combined with a cold and impersonal style puts him almost entirely at odds with Koro Sensei’s own beliefs on teaching. Sure Asano gets results but nothing could justify such cruelty, or could it?
In season 2 we get our first and only glimpse of Asano the man and the journey that made him into who he is. We discover an eager and passionate young teacher with a dream of shaping young minds and preparing children for the future. He’s still strict and his expectations are still intimidating but he’s also a lot softer and more understanding. He lavishes personal attention on his students and carefully nurtures their individual skills. He is very similar to a certain happy faced octopus.
I myself can be a little harsh. I’m not quick to pardon characters with Freudian excuses. If you’re a villain, then be a villain. I love a great baddie. But don’t expect me to think of you as some tragic hero just because you got stood up at prom. This said, as far as they go, Asano probably has the BEST excuse, or rather motivation, I’ve ever heard.
In this first classroom Asano had only 3 students. Naturally, this allowed for a pretty strong bond to form. Studious and knowledgeable Nagai, clever and adaptable Mori and optimistic and lively Ikeda. Asano spend his days giving absolutely all he had to give his students their best start in the world. Their accomplishments were his driving force, setting aside personal glory and material gain for what he held as the greater goal.
When Ikeda, Nakai and Mori graduated, all entering the schools of their choice, this was an absolute victory for Asano and he was overjoyed. As a new batch of students entered his school, he was thrilled to once again put his convictions and skills to good use and help yet another group of youngsters. This was his life’s work and his dream manifest. So when he got a call from Ikeda he couldn’t have been happier at the notion of catching up with his old pupil. He was in the middle of class but would be in town the following week. They could talk about old times while discussing the future. I knew something was off. I’m pretty sure Asano knew it too. I braced for impact and expected to worse.
Ikeda’s suicide didn’t surprise me, it did however affect me more than I would ever had expected, and I only knew the character for one episode…
I’m not sure I should mention this, it really isn’t my story to share but some time ago Kimchisama shared her struggles with a similar situation. At the time it broke my heart. I really admired Kimchi’s strength in sharing her pain with us and her ability to channel that into something positive was beautiful.
However, as I watched these scenes it hit me once again and with full force. A student is a little like a child. Teachers pour their hearts and souls in the hopes of creating a bright and happy future for their students. At least, the good ones do. It’s mind-blowing and I will always be impressed by people who are capable of it. The idea of losing a student, to suicide no less, must be one of the most difficult ordeal anyone can possibly go through. The pain and guilt and anger have to be suffocating. I don’t know how Kimchi does it. I’m not sure I could.
So with this very concrete and very raw example in my mind, I found myself if not excusing, at least understanding Asano.
This could never ever happen again. Whatever means where necessary to ensure that would be worth it. Asano had to make sure that the students who graduated from his school would be though. They would be capable of enduring any hardships life threw their way. He would harden them and beat any vulnerability out of them until they were impervious to whatever came their way. He considered what happened to Ikeda his fault and his failure and he had to make sure he never made the same mistakes. To this day, the man can’t sleep for more that 1/2 hour at night.
I still think he went about it the wrong way but if I’m being completely honest with myself, I probably wouldn’t have done any better. I have come to realize that there was never any monster in class 3E, simply a teacher deeply haunted by the ghost of a student he believes he failed and tortured by guilt and pain.
When Mori and Nagai go to visit their now disgraced former teacher in the last episodes, we see the former man peek through. He was wrong and made many mistakes, but he’ll try again. He’ll do his best. Because he’s a teacher and his life is for his students.
This little side arc resonated deeply with me. I don’t think I will ever understand all the implications and responsibilities of having so much influence over someone else. I remain deeply impressed by teachers and the work they do. I have a feeling that Yūsei Matsui feels the same way.