Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) is one of the more ridiculous shounen anime to air in the past few years. In it, a bunch of middle school students are tasked with assassinating their teacher before he destroys the world. The assassination assignment gives this class of outcasts purpose and confidence. And the teacher, despite his plans to destroy the world—and his strange octopus-like appearance—provides the best instruction and encouragement they’ve received in a long time. Think GTO meets Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu. With guns, bombs, and assassination training.
The combination is ridiculous, yes. But still, the students learn and grow in valuable ways, and some of those ways are actually worth reflecting on. Terasaka, a bully with no aspirations beyond an easy life, has one of the most eye-catching transformations. As I prepared to write about him this month, I realized that I, like him, have a decision to make—and it’s one that I must make again and again.
This particular class, 3-E, is meant to set an example to the other students at their elite school. The students with the worst grades are all stuck in an old building in an out-of-the-way corner of campus and scorned by all the other students and teachers. Most teachers have no hope for them, so the students have no hope for themselves, either.
But Koro-sensei, their assassination target, believes in them. They blossom under his tutelage, even as they mercilessly attempt to kill him.
Or at least most of them do. Terasaka refuses to let Koro-sensei influence him, and not because the sensei plans to destroy the world. He says in episode 14, “A world in crisis, self-improvement in the name of assassination, recovering from being left in the dust… Honestly, I don’t give a damn about any of it. I just wanna live each day easy as it comes.”
To that end, he teams up with outsiders Shiro and Itona to assassinate Koro-sensei. Now, remember, assassinating Koro-sensei is a good thing in this show. And Itona, who shares many strong traits with Koro-sensei, should have more of a chance than the students of 3-E. Here’s what’s not good: 1) Going behind the class’s back and giving outsiders a shot at the reward money. 2) Trusting people who care more about their goals than about the other students’ well-being.
Shiro and Itona’s plan puts Terasaka’s classmates in serious danger. As in almost-crash-down-a-waterfall-and-crack-heads-on-rocks-before-drowning danger. He did not expect or want that.
Finally, Terasaka comes to an important realization: “Shortsighted guys with no vision and no goals are doomed to be played by smart guys like them.”
Basically, if you have no vision or goals, then others can use you more easily for their goals—often without you realizing it, or realizing the consequences. Or rather, if you’re not intentional about your choices and what you allow to guide them, you might find yourself with unintended consequences. All Terasaka wanted was for Shiro and Itona to help him get rid of the annoyingly motivating teacher—not to make trouble for his class. He was shortsighted.
He’s still shortsighted, and he recognizes it. But, he says to his classmates, “at least lemme pick who’s pullin’ the strings.” Then he turns to Karma, the most cunning in the class. “So, Karma—why don’t you try controllin’ me?”
With Karma’s direction, Terasaka helps rescue the rest of his classmates and ensure that Koro-sensei remains alive for them to target another day.
After this, Terasaka changes. He lets Koro-sensei and his classmates influence him, changing him into a team player. He starts to care. And it’s a choice.
Who Pulls Your Strings?
Humans have free will. But we often choose not to use it, or at least not to use it well. Terasaka desired an easy life, and that desire drove him to let people use him for an unsavory plan. Really, his strings were pulled not just by Shiro and Itona, but by his shortsighted vision.
I, too, often allow shortsighted desires and goals to decide how I live. I’d like to say I let God, through the Spirit, pull my strings, but honestly? Too much of the time, I don’t. I let work and my desire for entertaining stimulation (TV, anime, K-pop) control my daily decisions. When this happens, all my other desires and needs—including my need to grow in the Lord—are at the mercy of work and entertainment. Recently, that’s meant staying up until after 3 a.m. binge-watching a show—and then skipping morning devotions because work emails need to be answered and money needs to be earned before exhaustion renders me inoperable. On the one hand, these are choices that I’m responsible for. But it’s worth noting that once I’ve made one choice, it, to some extent, controls what happens next. My nighttime choices strongly influence my morning choices.
The Bible frequently uses slave or servant analogies in compare/contrast situations. And the contrast isn’t between slavery and complete independence. Rather, it’s often between servitudes to different masters: righteousness and sin (Romans 6:15–23) or money and God (Matthew 6:24). Basically, even if we think we’re living unintentionally and as we wish, we’re actually serving something or someone else. And there are always unintended consequences.
My shortsighted desires may not lead to my classmates falling off a waterfall. But, like Terasaka, I need to (often) stop and think about what I’m letting control my days. Then I need to actively choose what (or rather, who) will pull my strings. I don’t have a great vision for my life, so I turn to the One with all-encompassing vision. I’m not great at that. But when I do seek his will through reading the Bible and praying, I find that his plan brings far more life and freedom than any I could come up with on my own.
What Influences Your Thoughts?
I’d like to note a more subtle element of Terasaka’s transformation. He finally chose to let Koro-sensei and classmates influence his perspective on life.
It’s worth it to consider not only what influences our actions in obvious ways, but also what’s impacting our perspectives. We need to choose to let some people influence us—even to the point of drastically changing our perspectives on things. And we need the discernment to recognize negative influences, whether they’re coming from other people, the music we listen to, the shows we watch, or unhealthy thought cycles in our own minds.
Today, as I’m struggling through another day of sleep deprivation, I’ll reflect on a few questions: 1) What vision drives me? 2) What’s pulling my strings? 3) What godly influences do I need to open myself to?
I hope you’ll join me.