Classroom of the Elite
Episode 3

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 3 of
Classroom of the Elite ?

Classroom of the Elite's third episode revealed more about the show's overall intentions, while generally plugging away at its social commentary/melodramatic battle royale game. Those two sides didn't always meet at a graceful middle, but the particular “pulp drama with a brain” route this show is going for is inherently difficult to execute, so that's to be expected. This wasn't as strong an episode as the first two, but it was likely a steadier indication of where the show will end up.

The character who got off best in this episode writing-wise was likely Sudo. Presented as a one-dimensional hooligan in the first two episodes, this week's first major scene saw him demonstrating real fear, as the upperclassmen thugs held him down and almost put a finger in his eye. “A veneer of confidence hiding a core of vulnerability” isn't the most unusual character type, but I felt his various reactions to this week's topsy-turvy drama all helped flesh him out in subtle ways. It may just be because he hasn't gotten much material, but he feels slightly more believable than the rest of this cast.

As that backhanded paragraph implies, the rest of the characters didn't fare quite as well this week. After last week's last-minute reveal of Ayanokoji's martial arts talents, he spent this week being basically perfect in all conceivable ways. Ayanojoki was initially presented as a character who lacked the social grace to make friends, but it's already clear that he's actually terrific at manipulating people, he's just intentionally chosen to downplay his own power over his classmates. That chessmaster type certainly has its own appeal, but I felt this episode leaned more into Ayanokoji-worship than elaborating on the reasons that people would actually be carried along by his schemes. The show is clearly hiding his motivations and “true nature” for the sake of reveals, but asking us to follow a person who's perfect because “it'll make for a great reveal down the line” is not the most compelling storytelling.

I'd also be more likely to lend the show some rope on Ayanokiji's characterization if the Kushida reveal weren't handled so poorly. There have been slight tonal hints all along that Kushida is more than she appears, but when Ayanokoji finally discovered the truth, it played out about as blandly as possible. As it turns out, Kushida is secretly a foul-mouthed manipulator, and her immediate response to Ayanokoji learning the truth was to say “keep my secret or I'll tell everyone you tried to rape me.” Having people flip their personalities for the sake of a dramatic reveal is cheap storytelling, having the upbeat character secretly be as cynical as everyone else is lazy, and having Ayanokoji respond with a cliffhanger-ready “but which one is the real Kushida” rang entirely false. I can certainly accept some graceless melodrama in my storytelling, but when that melodrama undercuts my ability to care about the show's cast, I start to tune out.

The show did gesture toward some of the thematic ideas it raised in the first two episodes, though that material was largely confined to one confrontation between Ayanokoji and his teacher. Ayanokoji started off by bluntly turning the show's subtext into actual text, asking his teacher “in Japan, right now, do you think society is equal?” His teacher's “no” led into an unexpected semantics argument, as Ayanokoji argued that the teacher's initial statement that “points can buy you anything here at school” obligated her to sell him a point for Sudo's test.

Ayanokoji's reasoning was shaky, but his subversion of the school's alleged ethos pointed directly toward its larger symbolic meaning. We create systems of rules intended to enforce ideals like equality or meritocracy, but those systems are not necessarily synonymous with the actual mechanics of society. Even in this school, “merit” can be attained simply through the exchange of capital - you can directly pay for better placement, just like in the real world. Meanwhile, the systems intended to help the “worthy” rise to the top often just promote stagnation buoyed by the false hope of societal advancement - as Ayanokoji's teacher admits, “in the history of this school, no class D has ever ascended to a higher tier.”

The last detail I found interesting this week was the design of one of the school's ostensible “elites.” Given this show's laser focus on societal ideals and who “deserves” to succeed, I found it interesting that they chose to give one of this society's champions a cane and a pronounced limp. People with physical disabilities are often the first victims of a society dedicated to amoral meritocracy - “people only deserve healthcare if they're fit to work for it” is a repugnant but natural consequence of a meritocratic philosophy. I'll be interested in hearing that girl's thoughts on the nature of this school, though I do hope they handle future characterization a lot better than this week's.

Overall: B-

Classroom of the Elite is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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