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This Week in Anime
The Wasted Potential of Classroom of the Elite

by Nicholas Dupree & Monique Thomas,

The first season of Classroom of the Elite was divisive for both viewers and light novel readers. Nick and Nicky revisit the original season to see where the show went wrong.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Nicky, I've got bad news and worse news. The bad news is we're being sent off to summer school to make up credits we missed back in 2017. The worse news is we're being sent to a school that runs entirely on crypto.
That's just the future when tech corporations eventually take over schools. But other than having my grades and livelihood tied to digital fun bucks, the only thing I'm not looking forward to having to re-learn is math. After all, why should I know how to do algebra when the only subject that matters in life is anime? With that said, we better start crammin' because this week we're being tested on Classroom of the Elite season one!
Somehow this turned into the summer of long-awaited and/or highly unlikely sequels, and while The Devil Is a Part-Timer! definitely had the longer wait, from what I saw, this show's second season took its fans most by surprise. Not every day a less than warmly received light novel adaptation gets TWO new seasons announced! So that made me curious as to just what this whole hoopla is about. And lemme tell ya, I was not expecting the answer to be La Rochefoucauld.
And other philosophers too! A little Nietzsche, a little John Locke. Some of them even presented in the OP's flashy typography like an emo lyrics YouTube video. Now, this is an optimistic interpretation, but maybe it's just a signal to light novel fans to start reading other books?
Eh, I have my doubts the folks who put all those quotes in here have actually read most of where they came from. This feels more like the Live, Laugh, Love aesthetic for somebody who skimmed their Freshman Philosophy syllabus.

What's funnier to me is that all that fancy namedropping would make you think Classroom of the Elite is some high-minded, heady contemplation on the nature of humanity, when it's actually about going to Anime Supervillain High School.
But what's an anime if you're not gonna be pretentious as all hell? The point of anime is to make everything sound smarter and cooler than it is while still having monkey-brained level clichés about all the girls falling for the one Potato-kun. Classroom of the Elite definitely fits that bill. At least ZAQ was there. Her singing is always nice.
So yeah, the setup for CotE is that a bunch of kids get into a fancy, government-funded super school where graduating means you're set for life. But the twist is that the school is run by complete fucking weirdos who like to pit kids against each other in weird game show competitions to determine their arbitrary worth. Enter our hero, Ayanokoji, the man who has never once made a facial expression:
We also open on a scene that shows how pretty much all of these kids are extremely selfish dicks and none of them would even give up their seat to help a lil' old lady. Our protagonist would rather not go through the effort to get involved while he contemplates the meaning of equality within society.
I'll give this to Koenji: he's a dick, but he's also the most fun character in this entire show. I would watch a whole episode just about him Chad-ing his way through life.

Sadly, instead we get a female lead to pair with Ayanokoji who has Resting Tsundere Face.
I can't hate the comedic narcissistic anime men archetype. It's too goofy for me to dislike! But it's a good example because he's basically saying the quiet part loud for everyone else: People who want to succeed don't believe in altruism.
And even after a full season I'm not sure if the show does either. Like, to an extent it seems to believe in teamwork and mutually beneficial action, but despite how Ayanokoji monologues about the nature of equality to start us off, I couldn't tell you what the show's actual stance on any of this weird, unnecessary competition is.
I'll take my time giving my own fuller interpretation over the course of this. For starters, I don't think the show is as cold or "Randian" as its opening wants you to believe. Secondly, I also don't think any of the solutions the show presents really work because it still hinges on having faith in a system that's extremely broken and crummy. One of the first things we learn about the school is that it's purported to have a 100% job and college acceptance rate, which everyone attributes to high academic success. Though, despite this, we never quite learn the rates for drop-outs and expulsions. Like yeah, it's easy to say that everyone wins if you force out anyone with a chance of failing from ever trying.
I mean, that's immediately what I assumed: either they have an extremely broad definition of success or a very narrow graduating class. Turns out it's the latter, as the school basically lifts an idea from Assassination Classroom by having an entire class of outcasts who exist solely to be the punching bag for the rest of the school. Sadly our crew of misfits don't have a smiley-faced alien to Stand and Deliver for them. Just this lady.
To boot, the kids were given a large point-money allowance to spend for the month, but giving a teenager free money to spend is the equivalent of giving a toddler a jar of candy. Most of them end up spending it while assuming they would get the same amount with no effort on their part. However, when the next month rolls around, nobody in Class D receives any points. Without their knowledge, they were being scored on their behavior and performance and so the entire class gets a big fat zero. As expected of a class full of students considered "defective."

That's right! Even before class began, these kids were already set-up for failure. You can't have a school full of winners if you don't have any losers.
And from there basically each arc is about trying to get this class full of clowns to work together and slowly gain back both money and reputation. This is made rather difficult by the boys in this class being absolute garbage. Especially this guy.

Also the spoken and unspoken caste systems of this school are all aligned to keep them down. But mostly it's because these boys suck.
What I find interesting is that, unlike most meritocracies, they're being judged as a group rather than solely the achievements of specific individuals. Since they don't exactly know all the rules of the S-system, none of them are certain what penalties they could eventually face. No matter what, they're being judged by the weakest of them. So you can be like tsundere girl Horikita and get all the best grades and try to do everything by yourself and it wouldn't make a goddamn difference if you don't do anything about the problem children.
It's definitely the most unique factor in the whole setup. It's not enough to just keep your head down and get straight A's—if everyone else around you is failing, you face the same consequences. It's basically what keeps this show from feeling like a low-stakes death game—succeeding together is the only positive outcome, so even if you're a duplicitous asshole you're better served by working with everyone rather than betraying them.

Granted this means that the more interesting and competent characters are stuck babysitting a trio of albatrosses tied around their necks.
I'd also hesitate to call it truly altruistic because they have something at stake. It's part of why it's not a great reflection of capitalist society, because even if all of society is judged by its ills, most people privileged enough will never feel the effect to take any action. Class D is already in threat of failing so of course they feel more urgency to help those in need. It's great that this conflict drives our resident loners and Potato-kuns to come out of their shell, but the show's argument is that a system of hardship actually "works" by forcing them to be kinder people.
Honestly, whatever commentary the show might be going for with this setup is too muddled to get much out of it. I found the whole thing way more enjoyable when I just started thinking of it as a bunch of Death Note wannabes trying to out-genius each other at school. Though sadly their solutions never get nearly as funny as Light Yagami's greatest hits.

Like c'mon guys. At least have Ayanokoji go into a secret underground Test-Answer Dealer lair inside the boys' bathroom or something!
I mean they did have that whole elaborate set-up to peek on the girls' pool changing room for the one episode, which was unfunny and disgusting given how many creepshots the show has on a normal basis. But for a super-school, it could honestly go WAY more ham. I expected a lot more BIG personalities or ploys, but it's also not as boring as I expected either.
Oh we'll GET to that shitty episode.
Like maybe it's just that I consider light novels to be largely a Dearth of Quality that my bar is low, but as far as Potato-kun's go, I actually somewhat respect Ayanokoji for purposefully being a bit dour and underhanded to cover a more humane heart. Regardless, he'll still gets tons of praise and attention from cute girls just for showing the barest amount of decency.
I think I would like him more if there was some actual range to him. Like moments where we actually see beneath the armor of feigned apathy. But the direction and animation of this show are pretty lackluster (not exactly shocking from a Seiji Kishi project), so he spends literally every second of screen time as a dead-eyed cipher silently figuring out every mystery and scheme the school throws his way. Though that becomes super funny once every girl in class starts throwing their panties at him.

If it weren't for the frequent POV shots of him staring at Kushida's chest, you might think Ayanokoji was Ace/Aro-nokoji for all the excitement he feels towards any romantic interest.
I think for the most part the animation doesn't look amazing but it's very clean, at least at the beginning. Kishi is a definitely a workman, so even some of his better work doesn't stand-out except for maybe a few cuts. I wouldn't call it incompetent because nothing looks quite as bad as anything from the Danganronpa anime, a folder buried on my old laptop for whenever I want to feel pain. Every character having a weird hair gradient is a bit of an eyesore though, and the most effort is always put into the T&A shots, like this backbreaking pose.

Ow, my spine!
It rarely looks terrible, but I can't help imagining a version of this show where the direction properly captures the goofy subtext. Like when our main villain is shown in a "night club" in the school trying to act cool while drinking off-brand mineral water.

That's mildly funny, but in the right hands shit like that could be drop-dead hilarious!
There's some jokes, but most of it's deadpan serious and the few moments of true trashiness are Too Edgy 4 Me to enjoy. Most of the show is spent working with the cool and intelligent beauty Suzune Horikita who prefers to be alone or the warm and bubbly Kikyou Kushida who desperately wants to be everyone's friend, but then you have shit like Kushida having a sudden personality shift and threatening Ayanokoji with false rape charges if he tells anyone about her little outrage. Man, she's got nothing on Najimi.
See that was where I was really hoping CotE would dig into something, but after that reveal they don't actually do...anything with Kushida. I assume they're saving that for later on, but it's a bizarre thing to pull right before we go back to staring at her tiddies every time she breasts boobily onto the screen.

Also yeah, the false rape blackmail is also uh, not great, considering what the very next arc's main girl goes through.
Yeah, I was curious what her real motives for wanting to "befriend" everybody was because she seems a little obsessive about it, but it isn't resolved. Similarly, there's some characters from the other classes that should have an ulterior motive or an "in" with the system. It's implied the student council, helmed by Suzune's garbage older brother, definitely knows stuff. But, it wastes a lot of time dawdling and doesn't scrutinize that people could be gaming the system. For characters that want to move from the bottom caste to the top one, something that hasn't been done before, Suzune and Ayanokoji spend a lot of time gambling without really gaining.
The setup is fine, if a bit too convoluted, but the problem really comes in when there's just not a lot of interesting characters. Like the most developed cast are Suzune and Sakura. The former is mostly about trying to live up to her family's name and escaping her reputation as a D-ranker. The latter is...a very clumsy attempt at exploring internet celebrity and stalking, for some reason.
In the midst of trying to save the class delinquent's ass from a bad trial, I might add.
It's a really weird element to toss in to what is otherwise the anime version of the short-lived Disney channel cartoon Fillmore! and the only connecting tissue is that Sakura happened to snap an incriminating photo while taking a selfie.
Also the school is weirdly chill about their underage students taking thirst pics on school property to post online. But I guess that's on-brand for crypto-academy.
Sakura generally being anxious and skeptical to help someone who has done bad things in the past would have been an interesting conflict on its own. I like the conversation where Ayanokoji tells her that it's enough to want to tell the truth.

But instead we get an extremely uncomfortable extended scene of her getting assaulted by her stalker just before Ayanokoji swoops in to save her using the same bluff he used on the members of Class C.
Speaking of, I do also like that the "trial" is solved by them basically double-bluffing the other side into folding.

Can't say the same about the attempted rape scene that just exists so she can fall for our protagonist when he saves her. That was already a tired ass bit when this season first aired, and time has not been kind to it. Especially not with the episode right after it.
The Pool Episode is the show's attempt at light-hearted comedy and it fails completely on every level.
Like hey, it may have sucked, but you had a plot point about a guy stalking and taking covert pictures of Sakura that was taken seriously and treated as the violation it is. And then, six minutes later, you've got a wacky plot where half the guys in class hide cameras in the girls' locker room that's played for japes. Some real Persona 5 energy there, guys.
The Guys™, try desperately to place cameras inside the girls' locker room but keep running into snags in their plan, including the other classes squabbling with each other. Still, the the viewers get their own shots of the girls in their undies and swimsuits. The best part was probably the other classes squabbling with each other and the little focus we get on Suzune. It helps that the plan doesn't actually succeed because Ayanokoji blew the whistle and took out the SD cards but it's still extremely indulgent.

Also, I mentioned the set-up being a bit weak earlier partially because these antagonist don't offer a whole lot of perspective.
All of our villains amount to different flavors of the same Super Genius asshole who wants to crush those upstart D-Classers because that's the only outlet for asserting their supposed superiority. And only Class C's Ryuen actually does anything this season anyway.

Class A's leader spends the entire final arc literally playing chess against herself. And losing.

And all class prez does is kabedon. Though, he did try to punch his sister before Ayanokoji stopped him. Not exactly the high-minded behavior you'd expect from a genius school.
Oh right, also Ayanokoji knows martial arts and is secretly a badass. There's a whole thing about him possibly being some engineered super-student, but that also isn't really explored in this season.
He's the type that acts mediocre on purpose to avoid standing out, but then why someone like that would still apply to genius school? How did get even get in? Suzune gets told to look out for him by their teacher, and later it compares his plight to that of Icarus where either shooting too high or too low can land him straight into the ocean.
It's an intriguing idea that could offer more insight into the show's overall themes about the school's system and our protagonist's motivations. Buuuuut instead we get the school's version of summer homework, which is just the adults trying to get kids to go Lord of the Flies on each other.

What kind of bonkers waiver did these kids' parents have to sign when they applied?
Once again the test is based on points, with each class getting 300 to spend on supplies over the next seven days and then added to their class score when the test is over. They can also earn bonus points by capturing certain areas or undermining other groups' leaders. Points can be deducted for injury, illness, or if their own leader gets found out. They cannot spend bonus points. The goal is simply to not spend any points and enjoy your miserable time roughing it in the woods for like four episodes.

It also somehow continues to double down on sexism, as all the girls are proven as too weak to shit in a cardboard box or freak out when a girl gets her panties stolen. These are seen as hinderances to the whole class.
Oh god, the argument about that stupid toilet. Maybe I'm too deep in the brush since I grew up with pretty regular camping trips, but y'all? Suck it up, dig a hole, and crap in the woods like your ancestors. Fuck's sake.
No, I agree with you. When my extremely suburban middle school went camping we were told to squat like a bear and look out for poison ivy if we had to go during hikes . So it was baffling to me that the show notions that women are too delicate to survive without a real toilet.
Also they're drinking from an unfamiliar water source, so are pretty liable to have butt problems even if the river's clean. Better to just squat behind a tree than have a watery crap box in the middle of camp.

Speaking of poop, the actual tension of this whole arc is kinda shit. If you've watched any mystery or mind game show before, you can spot every hint and predict the outcome three episodes ahead of time, and it makes the rest of the arc a slow grind towards an obvious conclusion. Especially when, like you said, there's a whole subplot about panty thieving.

And once again, I'm disappointed by how little we learn about the other classes when it's supposed to be a competition. Class B gets along by working harmoniously, Class A guards themselves heavily, and Class C simply opts not to play by using all their points to party so they don't get a real penalty when they get tired and give up. As Ryuen plainly states, "This is how I roll."

Class D also picks up a straggler from Class C after she was beat-up and cast out by Ryuen.
Weird how right after they bring in a girl from the enemy class things immediately start going wrong that sow disharmony between them. Oh well, I'm sure it's something that won't take 2 1/2 episodes to resolve.

Like, I know partially my impatience is from knowing more than the characters, but also the show was the one that told me Class C was planning something so it probably should have kept its cards closer if it wanted to surprise anyone.
It's also just unfun to watch people bicker for several episodes and the guys don't want to really out anyone in front of the girls, even though if they did it'd be easier to figure out the truth.
It'd work better if the rest of Class D had more fleshed out personalities or relationships. Like there's an attempt at something with Hirotaka, the sociable guy who becomes their de facto team leader, as he starts to crumble under the pressure and suspicion. But that never really goes anywhere and is resolved basically off screen.

Like maybe it's saying something about how good faith leadership can only get you so far when you're in a trustless environment, but even that requires more leg work than it should.
They also appoint Hirokita as their "leader" and cardholder as she's less likely to be found out by the other classes, but we don't see her for a while and when we do it turns out she's actually been sick this whole time. This is made worse when one of the guys decides to tease her by putting mud on her head. Which gets him almost killed with a judo throw right on top of Ayanokoji for his troubles. She has to go shower under a cold waterfall so we get to look at her soaked undies and also have a reason for the important card to get stolen.

The camping stuff is also absolutely the ugliest and dullest looking part of the show btw, you definitely feel the production falling apart.
Yeahhhh this is where Hirokita's character falls off a cliff. Again, they're trying something with her character where she has to learn to rely on others rather than shouldering everything herself. And that could be nice BUT then it's ultimately revealed that basically everything was secretly being orchestrated by Ayanokoji, including setting her up to eventually drop out so he could pull his big final gambit.

So congrats to our female lead: her bit climactic role was to be knocked out and used as a chess piece by our hero. Everybody clap for her.
It's not really a great way to set up trust if you don't involve them at all, my dude. The other two girls also basically do jack shit so there's very little character interaction overall.
Really, the way the arc plays out basically nothing matters by the end except each team trying to guess the others' leaders, and it's obvious midway through that Ayanokoji has Sherlock'd it all out. Everything else is padding so we can pretend this was a battle of wits and not Icarus flying circles around everyone else.

All we really needed was a reveal that he was actually Captain Aizen the whole time.
It just becomes another thing where the whole cast gets carried by the one guy without them having to do anything. There's a bit of noblesse oblige in Ayanokoji's backstory and that's kind of the least interesting way they could go if the true aim is to have class mobility for the defectives. Especially when it's revealed that he doesn't actually care about them and is only in it to win. Honestly I'm wondering more how some of them got labeled defective in the first place or why they wouldn't just go to a normal school. The only other one who has a real reason for being there is Suzune who wants to impress her brother.
I guess that's where I land with all of this: there's some interesting ideas, a fun premise in a bunch of underdogs working to upend a system that's using them as fodder, but the execution leaves me wanting in basically every way. It's not terrible, but it kind of feels like eating at a McDonald's that insists it's a 3-star restaurant. You might get an alright burger, but you're not gonna convince me it's a prime cut steak.
And by any means, it certainly doesn't deserve the title of "Elite". Maybe the following seasons will pick up the slack and focus back in on the crazier parts of the premise, so I wouldn't fail it yet, but it's not flashy or smart enough to really make me think that this is something that deserves to be top class.
In conclusion, Classroom of the Elite shows potential, pays attention in class and understands the material, but needs to apply itself and stop quoting Goethe in all its essays if it wants to graduate. C-.

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