'Classroom of the Elite' Explores Theme of Competition
In 'Classroom of the Elite', Kiyotaka Ayanokouji, our protagonist, transfers to a high school with very high entrance requirements. Students are paid monthly in points that act as currency, and with these points they buy everything they use and need, including food. In addition to individual points, classroom points are awarded, pitting the four classes against each other in competition. The competition is because the classes can change their rank (A, B, C, or D) by earning more points than another class.
Over time, Ayanokouji teams up with aloof, intellectual beauty Suzune Horikita, and a seemingly friendly girl, who is later revealed to be two-faced and manipulative, named Kikyou Kushida. I say "teams up with" rather than "befriends" because that's how it is at this school; you don't have friends as much as you have allies or partners in your schemes. The name of the game, get as many points as possible and thwart people's schemes. The wrong move could result in catastrophic classroom point loss or even expulsion.
Through this point system mechanism, the show explores themes such as social Darwinism, pragmatism, and even Sun Tsu's Art of War. In the final arc of the show, the students are made to set up their own camps on an island, allowing the show to explore ideas about leadership and espionage.
Classroom of the Elite
Light Novel and Manga by Syohgo Kinugasa
Themes and Ideas:
- Competition and natural selection:
Classroom of the Elite explores human nature in terms of a struggle for resources. Individuals are given points, and lose points, based on their behavior. However, they don't really know by what criteria the school is actually judging said behavior. So doing well in the school becomes a game where they have to learn what the school wants them to do by trial and error. For example, in the first episodes, students in Class D were not told that their behavior during the first month of class would determine the number of points they get. They end by getting zero points, meaning to earn points they have to change their behavior. But the school doesn't tell them what behaviors cause them to gain and lose points.
- Economics and capitalism:
Since it also uses monetary compensation, with the arc words 'You can buy anything with points' showing up at several important moments, the show also explores economic concepts. The school in Classroom of the Elite is a pure meritocracy; individuals are judged based on their talent and performance, and winners and losers are selected accordingly. Many teachers say something like, "I don't give you a grade, you earn it.", but in this show it is perhaps the most true. Everything is earned. Students are given freedom of choice, but are never sheltered from the consequences of their choices. This is similar to libertarian concepts of economic freedom.
- The Art of War:
In Classroom of the Elite, students form factions, rivalries, and even whole classes try to maneuver around each other to gain points, prevent their own loss of points, to increase relative point ranking, etc. Because the points are so valuable, being just as good as money and even being able to be used to buy special favors or privileges from the school, competition for points can get kind of vicious.
All of this escalates even further when the students are put in an island and a survival challenge is posed that pits the classes against one another. Almost every play or strategy described in The Art of War happens, as the four classes use deception and espionage to try to outmaneuver each other to gain the most class points. Those kids must have been studying it before break.
These days, people aren't really sure if Machiavelli's treatise on leadership, The Prince, should be taken at face value, or if it was intended to mock the authoritarian rule of monarchs, covertly supporting republican rule (rule by elected leaders)instead. It's famous for, if we do take it at face value, prescribing scheming and manipulative tricks to build and maintain power, which is seen as the ultimate goal for any ruler. The prince in this case has two identities; one true self with a single-minded focus on his ambitions, and the public face others see, when he is pretending to support the interests of the people he governs.
Similarly, almost every character in Classroom of the Elite operates like this. Kushida is the one who is probably the most obvious about being two-faced, but other characters are revealed to be as well. Horikita is narrowly obsessed with getting herself from Class D to Class A, her goal because she seeks her brother's approval. But, to do this, she has to make others in Class D see her as an ally, even a friend. In this show, everyone sees everyone else as either tools or obstacles.
- Philosophical Quotes:
Each episode title is a quote from an important literary or philosophical work. The tone of these quotes is usually cynical and pessimistic about human nature. Additionally, quotes are shown for brief seconds on the screen during the ending and opening theme songs. You can read the episode title quotes from the episode list here.
My general impression of this show is that it's good, but could be more. I fully expect this show to receive a second season, a spin-off, movie, or prequel series exploring the main characters' childhoods. It wasn't disappointing, but wasn't super remarkable either. The characters are an interesting new take on familiar high school anime character types. The art is good, especially the character design. This anime/manga is one you should study if you want to learn about making characters who express emotion in a realistic way that makes them sympathetic.
The plot itself was the weak point of the show. I mean, we've all seen "battle royale" shows which plot kid against kid in some kind of a competition, the whole thing satirizing both Japan's stressful school system and the stressful workaholic life it prepares one for. This is that, sort of, without the competition being deadly or necessitating violence. So the cool thing is that the kids have to actually use their brains, instead of just chasing each other around with machetes, but this is indeed a familiar theme for an anime to cover.
There's also a real issue with a muddled message here. In that, students receive individual points for their own study habits, but classes also have 'class points' that are based on how the group behaves collectively. It seems like it is the concept of collective rewards and punishments that makes everyone go bananas on each other. It shows how bullying is silently encouraged by such a school system; whenever the entire class is punished for the failings of one person, that person's classmates will try to coerce them into submission. So, I wasn't really sure if this show was trying to comment on capitalism or socialism here, because this school has elements of both. A truly fair meritocratic capitalist society would not be best represented by a system with collective punishment. They would simply let failing kids fail and let the cream rise to the top. But that's not what happens here; a lot of drama and conflict is caused because the good kids want to rise to the top and are being held back by morons and schemers.
Would I give a second season a chance? Yes. But I kind of want it to be more clear exactly what they're trying to say, and I'd also like to see more about how these kids grew up.