Hope you’ve all done your philosophy homework.
What’s the Story?
Ayanokoji Kiyotaka is a melancholy and unmotivated student, or is he? He’s attending a government- established school for Japan’s best and brightest that has a 100% success rate in its graduates either going on to college or employment. Of course that’s if they survive, as the students soon discover this hi-tech institute filled with its own cafes and facilities isn’t the paradise they first thought. Here a studious attitude and achievement are rewarded with points that can be used as money, but on the flip side no points means no money. This spells trouble for Ayanokoji who finds himself in Class D, where the schools rebels and misfits are put. Yet Ayanokoji isn’t all he seems, can he help Class D rise to the top?
There must be something wrong with Japan considering it keeps putting its students in situations were they have to kill one another to get to the top (I mean I know psychopaths make good businessmen, but this is ridiculous). Then again there must be something wrong with the rest of us for there to be so many of this type of show to make it its own sub genre; it’s certainly popular. Maybe ‘wrong’ is the wrong word, twisted is better.
And yes, I know, so far in this series no one has actually died and the school faculty would probably frown on it (probably), but with the lengths the students are already having to go to get ahead I can easily imagine things getting a bit bloody if we get a Season 2. The best way I can sum up the series is Battle Royale but with academic achievement on the line, as opposed to your very survival (though I guess that depends on how import academic success is to you). There are some interesting scenarios like when the gang get stuck on an island and work to overcome the other classes without falling apart themselves, or when one of their number is framed and they need to find the evidence to provide their classmate innocent. There’s a clear focus on manipulation and chess playing rather than bloody conflict. That does bring up one problem with this series though, unless you’re wholly invested in these characters it can be a little, dull’s the wrong word, but the stakes could be higher.
I suppose the problem stems from the fact that this series feels likes it’s only just gotten going. There are only twelve episodes and no hint of a season 2 as far as I’m aware. We’ve just started to get to know the characters and there’s plenty of mysteries bubbling away, like why that Class B student has so many points and just what Ayanokoji’s past is all about. All of it kind of goes nowhere though. I mean what about Kushida and the reveal that her warm and bubbly persona is a mask for something far more dark and psychotic? Has no point whatsoever, doesn’t lead into anything, doesn’t affect any plot, it just makes her character a bit more interesting.
That being said it’s time for the saving grace of this anime, Ayanokoji. Now doing emotionless or distant characters can be hard (I’m sure I’ve said it before, if a character doesn’t care then why should I?) yet this series has settled on the winning formula. If a character doesn’t care, at least make them interesting and Ayanokoji is definitely that. He’s the master planner, working away from the shadows and getting everyone to dance to his tune whether they realise it or not. Of course there’s a tonne of mysteries surrounding Ayanokoji, why is he helping the Class aim for the top spot, what does he get out of it? Just who is he and why is he so determined to never get the glory? I suppose the really big question is if he actually cares about anything, or if he ever will? There are moments when you think that maybe, just maybe, there’s a tiny drop of compassion or concern buried under that deadpan expression. I mean would he really go to all of this trouble if he didn’t care? But the more you stare into those cold eyes you realise, no, this is just another part of plan.
They’re good plans too and while the situations themselves come across as a bit ‘been there done that’ at times, Ayanokoji’s schemes feel earned. They bend the established rules without seeming as if they’ve been pulled out of nowhere just to suit the character. It also helps that the other classes have their own schemers who can put together some clever plots for Ayanokoji and the rest of the class to get out of.
The series is well made, it looks good with bright and vibrant colours, the series is well-paced and though we don’t get much chance to dig in deep, the characters are all pleasant and play off of one another well. Now the series does slow down a bit during the island arc, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand the secondary characters get more of a chance to show their stuff, but on the other hand the plot kind of grinds to a halt. Things are moving but none of it feels consequential and there’s too much of the class getting along, which while necessary for the moment when things start to fall about, it does suck out the tension a bit. It would be better if this wasn’t the last thing the anime gave us before leaving (seriously why was this not a 2 cour anime?).
While Classroom of the Elite may not bring anything truly groundbreaking to the table, it’s well made and Ayanokoji is an interesting lead character, a master manipulator who may just turn out to be the biggest psychopath of them all. It’s incredibly fun watching him work his way out of the plots put together by the other classes and his victories always manage to feel earned. The series does stop just as it seemed to be getting going, so hopefully they’ll be a Season 2 down the line to see where this story is taking us.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.