In recent memory, I can’t think of a more bonkers premise for a movie than the Japanese film Assassination Classroom. Which proves I’m a little out of the loop. The film had its U.S. debut at Fantastic Fest, but is based on a mega-popular manga—which was then adapted to an equally popular anime series.

So this is basically a big franchise movie, which means the idea behind Assassination Classroom is old hat for many. But in case you’re new to the material, like me, here’s the deal:

An alien has crashed on Earth, destroying the Moon in the process. This alien, a sort of octopus who looks like an elongated version of the Snapchat logo with a giant smiley face for a head, plans on destroying the entire Earth in a few months. However, he’s giving Earth a shot. He’s agreed to teach a class of underachieving Japanese middle-schoolers to become assassins and, if they can kill him, he won’t destroy the world.

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A classroom full of kids trying to kill one teacher might sound simple, but this alien can move at speeds humans can’t even process and do things like shed his body, regenerate instantaneously and much more. Killing him is basically impossible.

All of that is set up in the first 10 minutes of director Eiichiro Hasumi’s Assassination Classroom, and it’s done with a propulsive energy and wondrous sense of discovery. The beginning is so great, in fact, I don’t think I’ve been more excited to see the rest of a movie for a long time. From there, however, the movie only kind of delivers on that exciting promise. It drags in parts and gets off the main drive, leaving us with a worthwhile, but ever-so-slightly disappointing experience.

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Besides that insane plot though, the other thing distinguishes Assassination Classroom is how cheery, upbeat and funny it is while telling a plot about killing an alien who wants to destroy the world. The kids nickname the alien U.T., for “Untouchable Teacher,” and U.T. really loves these kids. They love him right back too, even when they’re shooting special guns at him or trying to stab him with a knife. He teaches these underachievers that being an assassin is not just about being a killer, it’s about being a well-rounded and well-educated individual. So they have to excel in all their subjects, and he helps them to do that. It’s a nice message buried in a movie that wouldn’t seem to fit in there. Do good in school, and maybe you can save the world.

Lots of that cheeriness also comes from the film’s music, which sounds like it came off a theme park ride, as well as the incredibly bright colors everywhere. Things had better look cheery when your main character is a yellow octopus with a smiley face for a head, and Assassination Classroom doesn’t shy away from that in the slightest.

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Of course this entire scenario opens itself up to innumerable plot holes and logic questions. If U.T. really was going to destroy the world, THIS IS the plan everyone agreed on? Wouldn’t it be a bigger deal? Would these kids be celebrities? The film touches upon the world’s stance, and puts some “transfer students” into the class, but rarely makes the problem feel as massive as it really is. That too hurts the movie a bit, but the students and U.T. himself are all so damn watchable and likable, the occasional misstep is okay.

Though this was the film’s U.S. debut, Assassination Classroom has already been a big hit in Japan and a live-action sequel is underway. I know I can’t wait to see the continuing adventures of this bonkers world, even if the dichotomy of its tone and plot don’t exactly mesh.

Note: We took the title, Assassination Classroom, out of the title of this article so as to not be insensitive to the tragic shooting in Oregon. The title also went out via Twitter, and that was removed too.

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Contact the author at germain@io9.com.