(*Note: The review of the first episode is copy-pasted from when I reviewed it for The Summer 2022 Preview Guide—which also includes an additional review of this episode from another ANN reviewer. The episode 2 and 3 portions of the review are completely new.)
Boy, this premiere just has no issue throwing us all into the deep end without any warning at all, does it? to recap, Classroom of the Elite is the story of a school that takes the class point system in Harry Potter to the extreme: everything you do in public or private affects your class’s score—which in turn affects your living expenses. However, because the school is trying to train these kids to think outside the box in the most devious possible way, anything that isn’t specifically against the rules is allowed, regardless of how immoral it may be.
When last we left off, Class D had an overwhelming victory over the other classes in the camp survival game—one that could potentially upset the class standings when they are tallied at the end of the month. So, of course, before that can happen, the administration throws out a new test that threatens to undo all of Class D’s gains.
While it’s stupidly overcomplicated, what our heroes currently face is an iteration of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which makes sense on a thematic level. The key theme in Classroom of the Elite has always been the struggle between the success of the individual and the success of the group. The whole point system is specifically set up so that an individual can profit by sacrificing the group, though trusting in the group and acting accordingly can give a stability that can only come from having others covering your weaknesses while you do the same for them. The twist here is that there are now three factors, each character has to balance instead of the usual two: self-interest, group interest, and class interest.
Amidst all this is the situation revolving around Kei. The typical stuck-up popular girl is now clearly facing some issues that may or may not be related to the current test. It’s a solid personal mystery that gives us a good excuse to get to know more about her as the season moves forward.
Episode 1: Rating:
Episodes 2 and 3:
Before I discuss these episodes, I’ll need to dive into what I see as the only major misstep of this first arc of the season: the color palette used in the engineering room scene. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand what they were going for with the imposing atmosphere. Everything is dark, bathed only in ominous red light, with the bullies appearing almost as demons with glowing eyes…it’s an effective visualization of the “hell” that is Karuizawa’s bullied life. The issue, however, is how it obscures the visual storytelling of some of the scene’s key moments.
Karuizawa’s confrontation with Ayanokoji is the climax of this entire arc. Everything so far has been to establish who Karuizawa really is and why she is that way—the overly-complicated prisoner’s dilemma game is a largely irrelevant backdrop. This scene in the engine room is the moment where everything changes for her—where she is reforged into someone new…and you can’t see a damn thing that is going on. Karuizawa is almost completely in shadow. You can barely make out her facial reactions most of the time and the big reveal moment—where Ayanokoji grabs her—is just a blur of darkness. I’m not going to lie here. I watched this scene several times and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be seeing. Was he grabbing her chest? Reaching between her legs? What was the secret he had discovered? I honestly couldn’t make it out. Finally, I just had to pause the episode and max out my screen brightness and see the big reveal: we were looking at her midriff and the massive scar across it.
This is a vital piece of visual storytelling that redefines Karuizawa as a character (hence why it needed to be clearly identifiable on even a cursory watch). While throughout the arc we’ve learned that she was bullied for the majority of her school life, the scar indicates that it went far beyond words and bruises: someone literally sliced her open. This is why she doesn’t fight back in the moment—she knows where that can lead. Instead, she reacts as her bullies expect her to and gives them what they want, hoping that they will eventually leave. But here’s the important bit: she’s not resigned to her fate. In fact, she does everything she can to prevent it from happening again.
The most surefire way she’s found so far is to attach herself to someone who is willing and able to protect her. Hirata, the most popular boy in class, seemed like a good choice. However, the reason he is popular is also the reason he can’t really protect her—he is a people pleaser. He won’t risk making people mad for her sake (and seems to shut down when he is unable to mediate conflict).
However, Ayanokoji shows Karuizawa that he isn’t afraid to play dirty. He will do whatever it takes to stop her from getting bullied, even setting up a trap to get the bullying caught on camera. And instead of being angered by this, she is reassured. She will gladly take momentary discomfort if it stops long-term pain. All she has to do to be safe going forward is help him manipulate the class by becoming the leader of the girls. To her, this is basically a win-win. Moreover, this means that Ayanokoji has gained something he never had before: a person willing to do whatever they are told, no questions asked and no further manipulations needed.
All this, in turn, reinforces what we learned at the end of the first season: Ayanokoji is a full-blown psychopath. He literally sees people as tools for him to use, especially those closest to him. He is not afraid to do anything that is needed to get his way—hence why he uses both the carrot (offer of protection) and the stick (threatening to reveal all he knows and open up the bullying floodgates if she goes against him) on Karuizawa. He may be a monster but he’s our monster—and at least he isn’t planning on mentally breaking a girl and having his way with her, certain other members of the school.
Episode 2: Rating:
Episode 3: Rating:
(Would have been a 4.5 without the visual issues mentioned above.)
• The moment I got the mail from Lynzee saying I would be reviewing this one, I spent the next five hours or so rewatching the first season. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
• Welp, it looks like our fledgling Light Yagami has gotten his very own Misa.
• Honestly, the most heartbreaking moment for me was when the shy girl who had supposedly been wronged was peer pressured into hitting Karuizawa—only for her to soon start reveling in having power over another.
• I’m glad we’ve gotten back to that Ichinose subplot about her having over 2,000,000 points. It’s clear she wants to be in Class A and has the points to change classes—yet she hasn’t done so. Is it because she wants to make Class B the new Class A or is it because she thinks some other class will surpass the current Class A so it’s too soon to join?
• Poor Yukimura. He has no way of knowing that some of those class points gained were because of him. In his eyes, his class lost a ton of points because he couldn’t convince everyone that he was the VIP.
• I know we’re supposed to be focusing on Ryuen and Class C, but I’m far more interested in the Class A power struggle subplot. Katsuragi has had a string of monumental losses on the school trip. By sitting things out, Sakayanagi is going to come out looking like the better leader by far.
• Remember the moral of the story everyone: if you have enough money, normal rules don’t apply to you!
Classroom of the Elite II is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Richard is an anime and video game journalist with over a decade of experience living and working in Japan. For more of his writings, check out his Twitter and blog.