From about 50 anime that air in summer 2017 season, Classroom of the Elite (Japanese title: Youkoso Jitsuryoku Shijou Shugi no Kyoushitsu e) is probably one of the most talked for. Animated by studio Lerche, Classroom of the Elite is popular because it bears resemble to other popular anime like My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Japanese title: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru, or also known as Oregairu) or another show produced at Lerche, Assassination Classroom (Japanese title: Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)While the comparison with those other shows is understandable, It also feels like an oversimplification. It diminishes the uniqueness of this show and obscures what it is all about.

Often compared with Oregairu’s main trio, there are more to them than meets the eye ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee

Classroom of the Elite tells the story of Kiyotaka Ayanokouji, an average student who got accepted in Tokyo Metropolitan Koudo Ikusei Senior High School. Koudo Ikusei is a prestigious school with state-of-art facilities. All of its graduates are guaranteed to be accepted in any university or job they desire. Koudo Ikusei also gives its student freedom to express themselves. They can choose any hairstyle they want, or even bring entertainment into the classroom. Later, the freshmen found out that their activities in school has been observed by CCTV. From these records, unknown supervisor judge the students’ value. Good behaviour and achievements will lead to better points, which can be used in the school as currency.

It becomes a problem for Ayanokouji because the point distribution is not individually determined, but calculated cumulatively per class. To get better points, a class has  to act as a whole unit. A good deed from a student can be negated if their classmate did a bad thing. Unfortunately, Ayanokouji is enrolled in class D, which consists of problematic students. Many of them are slacking off inside the class, and some of them also have problematic personalitues. It is not easy to trust each other in this class, but Ayanokouji and his friends have to act or class D will lose even more point.

Deceiving through Narration

While there are similarities in characters and setting, Classroom of the Elite feels different to the aforementioned Oregairu in terms of how they present their narratives. To understand this, let’s take a look at Ayanokouji’s monologue in the opening scene of the second episode.

Ayanokouji does not hesitate to tell lies, even to viewers ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee

During free time swimming class, it looks like people naturally break up into their own groups.”

“I see. It seems that I thoroughly failed to make friends”

“(Horikita enters the frame and speak) What are you blabbering about?”

Given the pool setting, that scene feels like an obligatory fanservice scene, where an observant main character narrate his environment to the viewers. But in further inspection, it also tells a lot more about Ayanokouji’s character. In his narration, Ayanokouji concluded that he failed to make friends because he’s still alone while everybody else already play with their own groups. That is not true, because following that monologue is the fact that he talked with Horikita, a girl in his class. He is not alone in that class. He has form his own group with Horikita. It is subtle, but it shows that as a narrator, Ayanokouji can tell a straight lie to viewers.

That scene is simple and easy to miss, but it serves as one of the early hints of what the narrative of this anime is trying to do. As the show goes further, more and more of Ayanokouji’s lies are revealed. In terms of writing, he can be considered as an unreliable narrator, someone who narrates the story but gives many false information. What it also implies is that Classroom of the Elite is not afraid to tell lies to its viewers. Classroom of the Elite‘s narrative is deceptive. What viewers see on screen can be revealed as a lie. Don’t be fooled by the look of the characters and setting, Classroom of the Elite is a mystery thriller anime that encourages the viewers to question which information are true and which are false.

Prior to this scene, this show framed him as an average boring person, but suddenly the composition changes and frames him as a cool guy ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee
That is also the first scene when this show finally admits that Ayanokouji was telling a lie ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee

In Classroom of the Elite, seeing doesn’t always mean believing. Rather, seeing here means questioning. Just like its protagonist, Classroom of the Elite isn’t afraid to tell a lie to its viewers. It builds the story by giving viewers false information and reveal it as a twist later. To be fully engaged with this anime, viewers must first admit that it is a show isn’t hesitate to tell lies.

However, this kind of narrative design has its own risk. By feeding the viewers with lies, it creates a really “unreliable” show. “Unreliable” not in the sense that it is telling a bad story, but “unreliable” because the viewers can’t describe which information are true or false. This is a type of narrative design that can probably be appreciated by mystery fans who want to be surprised, but despised by other mystery fans who don’t like to be fooled.

Don’t be fooled. This is a show that can disguise a devil as a nice guy ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee
This scene shows how tense class-D in the test day. Is that really true? ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee
Sometime this show hide its lie in the plain sight. Nobody probably notices the “no group” Ayanokouji is secretly observing Horikita ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee

Unreliable Identity

Classroom of the Elite isn’t afraid to tell lies. But from this kind of narrative, another question arises: aside from making viewers questioning the information presented by this anime, is there anything else that the show try to achieve?

Because aside from its entertainment value, it feels that Classroom of the Elite has something else to say. The narrative encourages its viewers to question information, but which information should they question? Is it limited to stories? Or should we look at the bigger picture, seeing this anime as a social commentary to society in general? Why did the main character open this anime with a monologue about equality? Classroom of the Elite throws a lot of ideas, even quoting a famous person in each episodes. But after three episodes, nothing really comes from them.

When the idea of equality is discussed, it only serves as a stepping stone to the next plot point ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee

It looks strange because after three episodes it is difficult to decide if Classroom of the Elite has another goal to tell aside from general “Class D have to survive and win” goal. It doesn’t mean this kind of story should have a big thematic idea. It already has a core story, but most of the ideas this show try to add feel inconsistent because they actually never get to be discussed (for its first three episodes at least). The unreliable nature of its narrative also confuses viewers even more because they can’t decide whether those ideas is part of the story or another part of its narrative misdirection.

Interested? Prepare to be Deceived

“Comedy,” “romance,” and “school;” those three are the genres listed for Classroom of the Elite in its My Anime List entry (at least at the time of the writing of this article). Unfortunately, just like the narrative itself, that labeling is also quite deceptive. Classroom of the Elite is better described as a mystery thriller, building it viewers’ curiosity by blurring truths and lies. It also borrows many tropes from survival game type of stories, such as setting its story in a closed environment and encourage its characters to survive not only by obeying the rules, but also by finding the loophole behind the rules and exploit it.

The isolated island of wealthy Koudo Ikusei High School is actually a perfect set for survival game type of story ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee

In the end, while many will associate Classroom of the Elite with other more popular titles, this anime has already crafted its own identity and uniqueness. Classroom of the Elite mixes the element of mystery thriller with school life and juggles its school setting with heavily stern rules that resemble a survival of the fittest environment. This anime can be recommended for those looking for an edgy kind of mystery, full of deceptive acts and lying characters. Just remember, the characters aren’t only thing who are going to lie in this anime.

This anime will even make you question the action of its main trio. So prepare to be fooled ©Shougo Kinugasa.KADOKAWA/Classroom of the Elite production commitee

Facts and Figures

Alternative Title ようこそ実力至上主義の教室へ
Yōkoso Jitsuryoku Shijō Shugi no Kyōshitsu e
/ Youkosozitsu
Source Material Light Novel by Shougo Kinugasa and Shunsaku Tomose
Akari Kitō as Suzune Horikita
Akihisa Wakayama as Ryūji Kanzaki
Ayana Taketatsu as Kei Karuizawa
Daiki Abe as Kanji Ike
Eiji Takeuchi as Ken Sudō
Hisako Kanemoto as Chie Hoshinomiya
Konomi Kohara as Akane Tachibana
M.A.O as Airi Sakura
Masaaki Mizunaka as Kakeru Ryūen
Mikako Komatsu as Mio Ibuki
Mutsuki Iwanaka as Haruki Yamauchi
Nao Tōyama as Honami Ichinose
Rina Hidaka as Alice Sakayanagi
Rina Satou as Sae Chabashira
Ryota Ohsaka as Yōsuke Hirata
Satoshi Hino as Kōhei Katsuragi
Shōya Chiba as Kiyotaka Ayanokōji
Toshiki Iwasawa as Rokusuke Kōenji
Tsubasa Gōda as Teruhiko Yukimura
Yuichiro Umehara as Manabu Horikita
Yurika Kubo as Kikyō Kushida
Director Hiroyuki Hashimoto (Bakuman 2)
Seiji Kishi (Assasination Classroom, Danganronpa 3, Tsuki ga Kirei)
Screnario Aoi Akashiro (Fuuka)
Original Character Design Kazuaki Morita (Danganronpa 3, Assassination Classroom)
Opening Theme “Beautiful Soldier” by Minami
Closing Theme “Cast Room” by ZAQ
Studio  Lerche
Official Website
Official Twitter  @youkosozitsu
Broadcast Date 12 July 2017 (1430GMT / 2130WIB / 2330JST)

The Indonesian Anime Times | by Dany Muhammad

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