The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Classroom of the Elite
How would you rate episode 1 of
Classroom of the Elite ?
What is this?
Koyotaka Ayanokouji is just about to begin his first year at the prestigious Tokyo Metropoiltan Advanced Nuturing High School, an academy dedicated to fostering the best of Japan's student elite. Not only does it boast a 100% college acceptance/career acquisition rate, it functions as a lavish community all its own, giving students all of the amenities and entertainment they need using a specialized local economy of digital currency, with a lump sum of 100,000 “points” loaded to students’ accounts every month. Despite the school's reputation, the laconic Koyotaka finds himself in the schools’ most notorious class of slackers and layabouts, Class 1-D, where he finds himself befriending the outgoing Kikyo Kushida and the perpetually aloof Horikita Suzune. There won't be much time for aimless socializing soon, as Class 1-D discovers the school's method for weeding out the incompetent among their ranks. Points are awarded based on performance, and if the class continues to fail, they'll be spending their time here completely broke. If they want any chance at a successful high school life, Koyotaka and his friends will have to defeat the odds and climb to the top ranks of this cutthroat educational meritocracy. Classroom of the Elite is based on a light novel series and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Wednesdays at 12:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
If you took Koro Sensei out of Assassination Classroom, then added in the leading trio from My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, you'd end up with something very similar to Classroom of the Elite. The harsh consequences for slacking off at school are reminiscent of the literal exiling of class 3-E in Assassination Classroom. As far as the characters go, Kiyotaka, Suzune, and Kikyo are dead ringers for SNAFU's Hachiman, Yukino, and Yui respectively. This isn't necessarily a bad combination on paper, as both of those shows offered some clever commentary on the difficulty of fitting into society. Unfortunately for Classroom of the Elite, it also means that it's inviting comparisons to a couple of very strong titles. This first episode isn't bad, but it struggles to measure up to that standard.
The writing certainly feels reminiscent of SNAFU in terms of style, especially during Kiyotaka's frequent narration. That same desire to provide snarky commentary on human behavior is present, but Classroom of the Elite seems to lack the kind of vicious wit necessary to make it work. Kiyotaka doesn't seem bitter so much as bored, which makes his musings less compelling. The show also seems to lack the raw force of personality that kept Assassination Classroom entertaining; the kids of class 1-D don't seem all that memorable, and the general atmosphere is a little too stark and grim for its own good.
Still, there are some signs that this show deserves a chance to find its footing. Its only major mistake in this episode is in waiting too long to reveal the nasty side of the school's point system. Apart from that, it's a generally competent effort. I'm interested to see how someone as studious as Suzune ended up in the loser class, and there's an intriguing desperation behind Kikyo's desire to befriend everyone she meets. The hierarchy between classes doesn't get a huge amount of play here, but it does look like the series is setting up a “rise of the misfits” storyline based on the way the older students pick on the 1-D kids.
Classroom of the Elite is a tough show to call based solely on its first episode. I like a lot of the individual bits and pieces, but I'm not yet sold on the show's ability to put them all together. The story could either improve or fall off a cliff depending on how things play out over the next couple of episodes. I'm on board for now, if only to see where this series is going.
There are two distinct appeals captured in the first episode of Classroom of the Elite, and both of them really intrigue me. I wouldn't say this was a “great” episode - some of its musical and visual choices undercut its storytelling, I had minor writing quibbles throughout, and it probably dragged its central reveal out too long. But it was undoubtedly an interesting first episode, and a messy but interesting thing can be its own kind of great.
First off, Classroom of the Elite's first episode is very good at nailing the internal voice and circumstances of the high school loner, reminding me of early My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU! In fact, protagonists Ayanokoji and Horikita can be pretty directly mapped to SNAFU's Hachiman and Yukino, though neither the dialogue nor internal monologue of Classroom is quite up to that show's standards. But still, Classroom of the Elite's first episode does a great job of making Ayanokoji specifically feel like a well-rounded social outcast, from his middling but largely accurate evaluations of his classmates to his own lack of eloquence when actually speaking. Ayanokoji feels real, his rapport with Horikita is strong, and this episode overall demonstrates an understanding of voice that puts it near the top of this season's character stories.
The show's second appeal, and the trick this episode is structured around, is a promised interrogation of social order and ideals of meritocracy. The show opens with Ayanokoji musing on the myth of “everyone being equal,” and then illustrates that thought with a somewhat ham-fisted sequence where an old lady can't get a spot on the bus. Though the scene's extended length and ridiculous musical accompaniment somewhat undercut its dramatic power, the basic idea that “pure equality is its own form of injustice” came through clearly, and felt like a fine thematic starting point.
The rest of the episode built up unease about the societal order in more subtle ways, like the glamorous depiction of Ayanokoji's exclusive student life. Ayanokoji's school blesses its students with everything they might need, a gift that is simultaneously framed as both the will of the government and a strange kind of local capitalism. Students are treated less like people than commodities, and the episode's punchline is “given your performance this previous month, you are now worthless. For the next month, you get no money at all.” Meritocracies are never truly fair, and the distance between “fair” and “equal” is vast as well.
That punchline felt a little too contrived and drama-ready for me, an issue that came up off and on throughout the episode. A couple fanservice shots here also undercut some of its dramatic moments, and Ayanokoji's more upbeat classmate felt a little unreal. Still, my complaints are fairly minor with this one, and in spite of its issues, this show's thematic ambition and solid ear for dialogue leave it with one of the highest potential ceilings of any premiere so far. If Classroom of the Elite can simultaneously capitalize on its strong character work and really say something about the ugliness of a meritocratic society, it could be a very special show. Here's hoping it follows through.
Although I generally liked Assassination Classroom a lot, the thing that always bugged me about the series was the whole business about deliberately making a “lowest of the low” class so everyone else could look down on them. At least that setting was up-front about the fact that there would be consequences for poor performance, though. The same was true with Baka and Test: students pretty much knew what they were getting into from the beginning. This series uses a similar “merit is everything” premise but with an ugly twist: they play a “gotcha!” trick on new students by not letting them in on the full story up front about how the school actually works.
As a career educator I have a big problem with that because it's incredibly dishonest and professionally irresponsible. Yes, it makes for a suitably dramatic approach. Yes, it can teach the students a very harsh lesson in reality, and yes, more students should have been suspicious about what was going on with the monthly allowance, as should be the case in any “too good to be true” scenario. That doesn't change that it's a mean-spirited trick. The teacher deliberately not enforcing discipline in the classroom just to see how low the class would fall without it is in the same vein. Educators shouldn't ever fall into this kind of “gotcha!” mentality. Even this state of reality being buried in the school manual (which I assume will come up next episode) doesn't change that unless the teacher makes a point to bring it up. The whole things seems intended to be a blunt commentary on student motivation and poor/irresponsible behavior, which makes me wonder if the original novelist isn't a disaffected teacher. After all, the opening quote from Nietzsche equates weakness with evil.
Professional objections aside, the big twist at the end is readily hinted-at throughout the episode, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to any viewer. The main cast members introduced so far also seem like a perfectly fine mix of personality types, though having the most laconic character as the viewpoint is always a questionable choice. At least he's the smart and cautious one rather than one of the hapless ones. The artistry makes some interesting choices with the generally dim lighting and stark metal walls in the classroom scenes, especially towards the end of the episode when things take a turn for the worse, and the overall artistry and technical merits aren't bad. While this definitely isn't a blatant fan service series, various camera angles and shot selections do distinctly linger on the busts of various female characters and/or subtly highlight their sex appeal.
I'm giving this one a lower grade because of my distaste for how the premise is handled. However, I'm not discounting that there still may be a worthwhile series here.
Of all of the series I've previewed this summer, Classroom of the Elite is perhaps the most peculiar. Based on its description it's clearly a very high concept idea, but the actual tone of the story would be anyone's guess. Going into it I expected either a screwball comedy or a more serious and suspenseful battle royal type of story, with good grades taking the place of decapitated heads. What we actually get is something much more low-key and slow paced than either of those things: a relatively quiet high school drama. There are possible shades of romantic-comedy or competitive suspense here, but in this first episode they remain possibilities more than concrete directions for the show to head in. Evan after watching the first episode in its entirety, I'm not entirely sure what Classroom of the Elite is actually going to be about.
I will say I do dig the premise being set up here. The kinds of questions the show is asking about the benefits of a meritocratic educational system and the need to push students to succeed academically are ideas I deal with every single day in my own classroom, so I am perhaps a little more predisposed to enjoy the concept of this series than someone going in expecting a little more excitement. The show also looks pretty good, though I'm torn on the wild eye colors most of the main characters have. Koyotaka has this weird yellow green combination that just seems unnecessarily strange, and poor Kikyo's reddish-pink irises make her look either somewhat demonic or extremely stoned, depending on the lighting of the scene she's in. This more otherworldly effect works a bit better on Horikita, since she's supposed to come across as intentionally distinct and set apart from the peers she tries so hard to avoid. It isn't a bad artistic style, just an odd one, and I can see it either being a bonus or a turn off depending on the individual viewer.
Despite my enjoyment of the premise, though, I think Classroom of the Elite plays things a bit too close to the vest in this premiere. Up until the last few moments of the episode the prestigious school these kids are attending seems like little more than an especially lavish prep-school. Couple that with the very stock character archetypes and a protagonist that isn't so much calm and collected as he is straight up somniferous, and you have an episode that really struggles to keep your attention. The final reveal sets up some potential conflicts later on, but we still don't know enough about this school or what necessarily needs to be done to succeed to really gauge how our protagonists are going to proceed from here. I'm still interested enough in the premise to give the series one more chance next week, but I wouldn't be surprised if Classroom of the Elite's sluggish pacing and vague storytelling lose a lot of its audience before the first episode's credits even roll.
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