One of Assassination Classroom’s main themes is to get people motivated. Whether it be the opportunity of winning a lifetime supply of cash or the intensity of an academic battle, the characters in the show put in a tremendous amount of effort into seeing their goals through. Everything that comes from effort stems from motivation, and I’ll try to break down the type of motivation present in Assassination Classroom.
Let’s compare the teaching styles of Koro-Sensei and Asano-Sensei, the mindset of the E and A classes and what drives them to excellence, and how these motivational factors are a key component to the results produced by each class.
In the Psychology of Sports Science, Motivation has been broken down into six types. We can see each and every one of these types in Assassination Classroom, as well as their varying degrees of effectiveness. Each type is represented valiantly, either through a person and a mindset, so we’ll go through all of it one by one so you can get a better understanding of the underlying motivators of the main characters of Assassination Classroom.
For some people, the idea that others can be under their control may push someone to act with great enthusiasm. The people who are most motivated by power want to be seen as an authoritative figure, with supportive and obedient followers. They want people to do what they want, when they want, at the time they see most fit. This power can also stem from a feeling of autonomy – they want to be in full power of lives, and heck, while they’re at it, they might as well take charge of the life of others as well.
It is incredibly obvious which character best represents the motivation of power – the A class student president: Asano Gakushuu.
He fits the mold of motivation through power to a T. He clearly has control over the entire class body, having them totally bend backwards to follow his orders and do his bidding. Even the other academically exceptional students ( the big five ) still look up to Asano as a role model, and he often leads them around the school. It is likely that Asano uses this power to motivate himself to study – if he loses even a little of his academic brilliance, his position of supreme ruler of the school may be jeopardised, and thus, he continues to study to ensure that everybody stays under his power.
However, there is another dimension to Asano’s motivation through power – his relationship with his father.
Asano is constantly trying to break free from his father – who is also an academic and business behemoth. Under his shadow, even his brilliance struggles to shine through and his father clearly asserts superiority over him. This is most evident when Principal Asano spoke to the big five members (without Asano) for three minutes, and Asano returns to see his friends totally lost in hatred for the E-class. Just like that, Asano found his power grip over the student body slip. He lost his power over the A class to his father.
Thus, he commits one of the most uncharacteristic yet moving acts in the show – Asano Gakushuu bows his head down to the E class and pleads for them to defeat the A class in the academic showdown. The titan with his grip over the school bowed his head down to the lowest level students and asks them to defeat his former comrades under their new rule.
Although some may argue that this act is uncharacteristic of him – I would say the exact opposite. Asano cannot undo his father’s grip on the student body by himself. He needs the very essence of failure in the school of Knunigaoka to succeed in order for his father’s philosophy to fail. Thus, he is bowing not as a submission of power. He is bowing because doing so is the only way to take that power back.
Asano Gakushuu embodies the psychology of being motivated by power. He fights both to keep the school under his rule and to break free from the tyrant that is his father.
Some people are motivated by the fear of consequences. This need to avoid consequences at all cost drives the person to work and achieve their goal – not in the happiness of achieving the goal but instead in fear of not achieving it. Although sometimes effective, using fear as a means to motivate is often excessive, and as a result is an unsustainable source of motivation.
It’s obvious where we see the motivation of fear into play the most – Principal Asano Gakuho and his mentality of education. He even says directly that fear is a necessary component of education. He does, though, shun the idea of fear through violence, which seems to imply that he has at least some moral fiber.
In the academic battle of Season 2, where the final score of the class is at stake, Principal Asano uses fear to drive the A class forward. Although it is unknown what he says to the students to turn them into the brainwashed demons that they are, their whispered murmurs afterwards says it all:
“Kill the E-Class”
Although this can also be attributed to the aforementioned motivation of power, as the A-class must consistently assert their dominance over the E-class, they are acting now much more out of fear.
In the past, it was indeed a motivation that stemmed from power. “We are at the top, and we must kick down those at the bottom”. However, with the introduction of Koro-Sensei, the E-Class rapidly picked up steam, and found themselves neck and neck with the A-class, even defeating them as a whole in events like pole-topping and baseball. They could not afford to lose an academic showdown.
Thus, a shift in motivation arises. From power to fear.
“We cannot possibly lose to the E-Class, because if we do, we would have to concede to the school’s worst class.”
“We cannot possibly lose to the E-class, because if we do, we may be demoted from this elite A-class”
“We cannot possibly lose to the E-class, because if we do, the students who looked up to us would instead turn to the E-class “
It no longer becomes a matter of obtaining something, but instead a matter of not losing something. Principal Asano Gakuho, whose former teaching style was bright and energetic but resulted in the loss of one of his students, would naturally turn to fear as a primary motivator for the students at the top. He needs to make sure that before they can fight with the purpose of gaining something, they need to fight for the purpose of not losing something.
Although powerful, fear is a motivation with many weaknesses. Firstly, it is not an emotionally healthy way of motivation as it draws from negative energy. It gears the mind to think about sentences with a negative outcome, and with negative outcomes comes a fuel of emotions. These emotions can range from rage to confusion to exhaustion. We can see very clearly in the show the impact that using fear has on the mental stability of the students. Their minds are being eaten away by centipedes, their environment degrades into black mist, their eyes are empty and lifeless.
Fear is also not very sustainable, as it draws on a primary fuel of emotions, and emotions are not meant to last forever. Just like how you can get over your little sister spilling milk over your shirt, the students of the A-class cannot stay outraged at the E-class for long. One of two things happen when the mind is overstretched with emotions:
- The emotions fade into neutrality
- The mind undergoes a mental breakdown
Clearly, Asano Gakushuu is aware of both outcomes. He picks up on the students who are lagging behind and reminds them of the hatred they should have for the E-class, thus re-motivating them and invigorating them with rage. This leaves the students of the A-class one option left = the mental breakdown. That is why they lost to the E-class.
Rewards and Incentives
This motivator is a bit obvious. If you do this, you will be rewarded with this. An attractive prize is put up for grabs to motivate everybody to work towards this goal. Assassination Classroom itself is built upon an incentive goal, as it sets clear in the very first episode:
The idea of potentially getting enough money to live your life away in luxury would entice anybody, especially those students in school who were made to believe that they will never be able to accomplish anything in life. Even the most separated, isolated classroom would come together for a goal like that. Many people are more inclined to act if they know they are going to be rewarded for it, so even the disagreeable people would set aside their differences if they have aligning goals.
Rewards and incentives are great, but if it’s the only thing that compels people to act, they may grow reliant on the rewards and incentives to get them to move at all. Think about it from the students’ initial perspective – why bother studying for a mediocre-paying job when you could just kill this beast and live in luxury for the rest of your life?
Koro-Sensei was incredibly sharp to pick this up early in the series, making sure that the students of the E-class have another door to life besides the assassination funds through his empty threat of leaving the school should they be academically inept. Although in the end he didn’t leave, he reminded the students that you need more than one door to open in life, and every plan should come with a backup plan.
“Those who can’t wield a second blade aren’t qualified to be assassins”
That’s Koro-Sensei’s way of saying to the students that having one plan of action isn’t enough. A ten billion yen bounty is attractive, but too much can go wrong. If Class 3E is truly full of assassins, they should give it their all in not just assassination but also in their academics.
The need to be better than the person you were before can act as an incredible drive for many people. The idea of self-improvement and the building of confidence may push someone to act with greater zest even beyond incentives and power. The person motivated by growth knows that they have a long way to go before they are satisfied with who they are, and they do every act knowing that in one way or another that act will benefit themselves in the long term.
Finding one person who personifies the psychology of motivation through growth in Assassination Classroom is difficult because everybody is somewhat motivated by bettering themselves. From Koro-Sensei’s constant improvement of his teaching philosophy to Karma’s realization that raw talent can only bring him so far before hard work must take the leash, there are too many characters to name whose actions are motivated by growth.
However, I think the most interesting kind of growth to observe is the growth of someone who thought they had no room left to.
Besides the obvious main cast, Irina-sensei is one of the characters who changed the most from the start of the series to the end. She came into play with a perfect skill-set, diverse in all areas of assassination and far, far beyond. This proficiency in everything led her to be overconfident, to the point where she was a horrendously unpleasant face for the students. She was filthy rich, stuck-up and arrogant. The success of her assassination meant everything, and contact with students were kept to a minimum unless it has a positive influence on the students.
Later, she realized that in order to maximize her chances of assassination, her own skillset was not enough. She used her broad skillset and experience to train the students in both their actual lessons and lessons in assassination, and she played a legitimate, earnest role of teacher. For a while, she even seemed to forget that she had an assassination mission – which was taken advantage of by the Reaper and forced her to reflect on what she was doing with her life.
After the event with the Reaper and the heightened relationship with Karasuma, she underwent a drastic change. Her clothing went from revealing and expensive to modest and normal. She cared and protected for her students, supporting them wherever she could. She ultimately even turned down the chance at her bounty, stating that the experiences that Koro-Sensei gave her was payment enough.
Her actions were initially goal-oriented, with a primary motivation of incentive, but her motivation shifted to growth as the series continued. Her actions were to further develop herself as a character, from lending Yada the Yakuza badges for the island trip to teaching Nakamura the English she needed to ace the exams. She found the humanity she thought she had lost in the blood-mist she lived in.
People who are motivated socially are basically the people who act with the goal of expanding their social circle. Whether it be through fitting into others to find a friend group or catching the eye of a loved one, people often find setting these affirmations especially effective in motivating them to achieve their goals. Having a partner in crime to work in parallel works especially effectively for socially motivated people.
In Assassination Classroom, everyone in the E-class somewhat acts with the intention of expanding their social circle. I could use Irina-sensei again to demonstrate the example of social motivation (she’s excellent at expanding her social circle), but instead, for the sake of not repeating myself, I’ll drift to another example – Nagisa.
Nagisa has a fundamental character conflict that he struggles with for the entirety of the series, and he doesn’t overcome it until the very end. Built from the ground up to be the striking image of who his mother wishes she could be, Nagisa’s actions separate him from that of the other members of the class as for a large proportion of the show, he acted with the mindset that he was irrelevant, and thus, his acts of bravery could be considered reckless. Koro-Sensei put it perfectly when he said “This courage of yours is fraught with desperation.” Nagisa’s valor stems from a lack of self-respect and thus can be interpreted as carelessness.
However, upon acting on his intuition and his newly found talent for assassination, he finds himself expanding his social circle beyond what he would have ever imagined. He befriended Karma again despite their fundamental philosophical differences, even dropping the formalities after years of what was formal politeness. He makes Kayano fall head over heels for him, and he knows that the class has his back just like he has theirs. This bond has grown to the point where Nagisa dared defy his mother – something that he would have never been able to do beforehand. His incredible tenacity in expanding his social circle, although initially for the purpose of assassination, gets him over his insecurities.
Some may argue that Nagisa is much more motivated by achievement and power – and expanding his social circle is only a side effect of that. However, there’s a certain event that happens that totally blows this argument out of the water = Nagisa vs Karma.
While arguing about the philosophies of letting Koro-Sensei die, Nagisa finds himself with a clear shot of Karma in the open. Knowing that he has him in his sights, Karma calls out to Nagisa issuing him a challenge in hand to hand combat.
If he were truly motivated by either achievement or power, Nagisa would have shot down Karma right then and there. He would have successfully achieved his goal of winning the game and the whole class needs to follow the ‘rescue’ plan. Engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Karma is basically suicide considering that Karma is much more physically capable than Nagisa.
However, Nagisa decides not to shoot.
Why? Because doing so would separate the class and destroy its social structure.
If Nagisa were to take the easy way out, would Karma’s team truly concede their philosophies? Their leader was shot unexpectedly with no pride or honor. They’d have to go with the person who did it, begrudgingly so. That’s not an outcome that is acceptable to Nagisa because his social motivation tells him that whatever the class chooses to do, it must be done as a class.
That’s’ why he engaged in hand to hand combat with Karma. If he were to lose, it would be okay – he’d be losing fair and square.
By Season 2’s midway point, Nagisa breaks from his mother’s iron grip and tells her that he can and will strive for the autonomy that he deserves in his life. Granted, this can be interpreted as a motivation that stems from power (autonomy over his own life) but that alone would not have been sufficient; after all, if it were, Nagisa would have done so a long time ago. His social motivations assisted in instilling in Nagisa the bravery that he needed to stand up.
Those who are motivated by acheivement want to improve their skills in order to get recognition from others and themselves. There is quite a bit of overlap between achievement, social and growth, but achievement differentiates itself as the skills gained through achievement is not for the purpose of growing as a person or fitting in, but from feedback and applause from others. The person motivated by achievement is the equivalent of someone working for a pat on the back and a job well done. This is different to incentive where there is a clear reward laid out – there isn’t any obvious reward besides recognition.
Everyone is instilled with an innate sense of achievement motivation to some extent. Of course you want to be recognized for your amazing achievements – it’s only human to expect congratulations.
To directly contrast with Asano Gakuho’s primary motivation of fear, Koro-Sensei inspires the E-class to follow the motivational principle of Achievement. The recognition comes from both internally ( their own happiness from triumphing over the A-class that formerly monopolized the top grades) and externally (a pat on the back and a job well done from the unkillable octopus). With this, the E-class studies hard knowing that not only can they take down the titans of the school, they also now have the means to do so through the Koro-Sensei afterimages.
There is no reward for defeating the A-class other than the accomplishment of doing so. Koro-Sensei makes it clear that it is something incredibly desirable to do, and that taking down the entire school structure by having the top and bottom classes switch in rank would send shocks through the arrogant academics.
Achievement motivation isn’t perfect though. By itself, it’s not very powerful. Unlike fear motivation, should someone not achieve their objective, they aren’t losing out on anything. By itself, achievement motivation is heavily reliant on the tenacity of the person, and most humans often don’t have the momentum to carry achievement motivation all the way to the end of their goal (assuming achievement motivation is their primary source)
That’s what Koro-Sensei realized too.
Combining motivational styles
It is possible to combine motivation styles. Take, for example, the academic battle between the A-class and the E-class in the end of Season 1. By itself, this battle would be a battle of pride where the E-Class, with their new found teacher and confidence, would try and take down the A-class, who has looked down upon the E-class for as long as they can remember. If it were just that scenario, and the E-class were to lose, nothing would change. The E-Class would still be below the A-class, and nothing has been lost or gained from either side.
However, Koro-Sensei threw something interesting into the mix.
“Here’s the deal : each student who receives a top score, either overall or in an individual subject, will have the right to destroy one tentacle.”
Suddenly, incentive motivation is now in the mix. If they were to be defeated by the A-class, they wouldn’t necessarily LOSE anything – in the sense that nothing literal that they currently have will be taken away with defeat (besides pride and dignity) . But if they win, it’s not just pride. They don’t just get bragging rights. They get a fundamental assassination advantage. It gets even better when they make a bet with the A-class in that same episode as they were studying in the library.
Suddenly, it’s not just a matter of achievement. Now winning isn’t just a matter of a job well done. To add onto that, there’s a potential victory over the A-class and their best window of opportunity to assassinate Koro-Sensei yet. The extent of motivation has multiplied drastically, and the stakes are higher. Losing the academic battle now has a consequence in the wager against the A class, and winning now nets the E-class incredible opportunities.
Always keep an open mind. I’ve generalized these motivational styles to each person – but reality is much more unforgiving. People are rarely motivated by only one style but instead an amalgamation of many. However, it’s important to know that motivates us best and how we can apply that knowledge to further our goals.
Who do you relate to the most? Do you want to break free of someone’s influence on your life like Asano Gakushuu did with his Father? Do you want to work out of fear of failure or loss like Principal Asano? Do you just want to do things for the simple purpose of bringing people together and developing yourself as a person like Nagisa?
Looking at the example of Assassination Classroom, we can see all of the styles of motivation in harmony. Whether it be motivation in teaching and academics or motivation in assassination, or even motivation in pursuing your own self-interest, the show teaches us that we’re never too weak to pursue our goals. All we need is the right mindset, the right motivation and the momentum to see it all through.
This has been An Idiot’s Guide to the Motivational Styles in Assassination Classroom – but hey, don’t take my word for it. I’m just some idiot.