Classroom of the Elite shows us that there is a thin line between genius and madness. Or rather as the show has so aptly quoted, “Genius lives only one story above madness”.
Utilizing the many wise words of reflections and maxims as episode titles like the above-quoted Arthur Schopenhauer, COTE weaves an interesting tapestry of philosophy, psychology, and in-depth exploration of basic human nature cleverly disguised as borderline fan service or even harem anime when examined only at its surface level.
So, What Exactly is Classroom of the Elite About?
Classroom of the Elite follows Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, an almost unassuming wallflower who tries his best to stay out of others’ way. Getting exactly 50% of questions right on his tests, he is assigned to Class D while attending the almost utopian Koudo Ikusei Senior High School. At this special school designated by the Japanese government, students can buy anything with a certain number of points allotted to Class A – D.
One day Ayanokouji has a conversation with another student, Horikita Suzune, who happens to be the student council president’s little sister. The two observe free products being offered in one of the surrounding campus stores, and question their need if points are given to students freely each month.
Ayanokouji’s classmates quickly go berserk, spending their allotted number of points on designer handbags, and expensive video game consoles conveniently located at stores on the high school’s insular campus. This leads to the reveal that Class D is filled with students believed to be ‘defective’ or ‘imperfect’ compared to the other classes. Their behavior of frivolous point-spending reinforcing what the school already believed.
Soon after, it is shown that Class D has received 0 points for the month due to their poor conduct, and a scramble ensues for the classmates to survive another month with the bare necessities.
The Genius of Ayanokouji
As I mentioned above, Koudo Ikusei Senior High School relies on a points system. However, there is no real code of conduct or methods of obtaining points that are forbidden. Despite having a few rules, for the most part the school endorses achieving individual goals in a typical by “any means necessary” Machiavellian fashion.
Students are expected to lie, cheat, scheme, and use their cunning to earn points, and maintain their class ranking in the school’s hierarchy. Or if one so desires, a student can even simply buy their way into another class should they have enough points.
Despite proclaiming that he just wanted a ‘normal’ and ‘quiet’ school life, throughout the first season it becomes painfully obvious that Ayanokouji is holding back his true skills.
Ayanokouji says he doesn’t know how to fight, yet holds his own when confronted by the student council president. He receives half marks on tests, yet it is revealed he purposefully got the hard questions right and threw the easy questions to preserve Class D’s grading curve average to help the weaker students succeed.
Based on all this, you would think that Ayanokouji is simply the titular bored anime character that sits by the window seat, right?
Is Ayanokoji A Psychopath, A Sociopath, or A Very Skilled Manipulator?
Well, towards the end of the series whether or not Ayanokouji is a psychopath, or even a sociopath is called into question. There is a saying in ‘conspiracy theory’ circles, or even among those who are familiar with the practices of masons or other secret societies.
“Ordo Ab Chao” or “Order Out of Chaos” is a concept (and almost philosophy) that states in order to achieve a goal, chaos must be held.
In the final episodes of season one, Ayanokouji freely embodies this philosophy by throwing his own class into turmoil to conceal his motives, and achieve his true personal goal. This is also where the maxims before each episode start to make sense.
Through his backstory, it is revealed that Ayanokouji is a highly intelligent young man who while growing up in the ‘White Room’ was encouraged to believe that others were dispensable. Therefore, Ayanokouji views the other humans surrounding him as nothing more than tools he can manipulate to bring himself a personal victory.
By strategically giving others credit for his successes and concealing his motives, he gains favor in his class when others vouch for him and his perceived good deeds. While in reality, Ayanokoji is prepared to sacrifice anything to prove his father wrong, and reach Class A by even going so far as to feign friendships and purposefully make other students ill while all making it seem like happenstance.
Maxims For Advice on Daily Life and Social Conduct
Over the centuries, maxims have unfortunately fallen out of favor with the general public. Most people don’t even know they exist – I for one was unaware until only recently; deciding to collect antiquarian copies of Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn and The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian.
If you ever find yourself unawares socially, or wanting to know how to improve your social standing or at least perceived social standing or ability, maxims are very helpful in understanding acceptable etiquette given your own circumstances.
Which is why I absolutely adore that Classroom of the Elite decides to use maxims, reflections, and quotes of philosophy before each episode, as we watch high school students battle through intellect and ideology for twenty-some minutes on screen.
Through the study of maxims, you can almost glean Ayanokouji’s true intentions or receive a hint at his next motive regarding what situation the school has placed the Classes in.
(This is especially helpful for viewers like myself who have yet to read the famed Light novel, or even check out the lesser-rated manga series.)
If you’re interested, here are two books where quotes were referenced, and how you can legally read and download the ‘worldly wisdom’ for free.
Episode 1: “What is good? – All that heightens the feelings of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? – All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? – The feeling that power increases – that a resistance is overcome.” From ‘The Antichrist’ by Friedrich Nietzsche.
Episode 2: “It Takes a Great Talent and Skill to Conceal One’s Talent and Skill”
Or “There is great ability in knowing how to conceal one’s ability” From Reflections: or Sentences and Moral Maxims by François de La Rochefoucauld.
Is Classroom of the Elite Worth Watching?
In my own heart, I truly believe Ayanokoji is a genius, employing his skills in a stealthy way that does not upset the delicate balance of ego and insecurity within Class D.
Continually downplaying his own ability also allows Ayanokoji to outwit the other classes and their ‘genius’ characters like Katsuragi Kohei, Ryuen Kakeru, Sakayanagi Arisu, and even resident two-faced villain Kushida Kikyou – who tries and fails to use her own sex appeal to gain what she desires in her school life.
Classroom of the Elite is a good anime that although sometimes appears inappropriate due to the fanservice, is a great character study on what it takes to succeed in society today and well-worth watching. While I personally don’t believe Ayanokoji Kiyotaka is a psychopath, it is personally up to you – the viewer- to decide how to judge him.
With the long-awaited Season 2 of COTE currently streaming as of July 4th on Crunchyroll, now is a great time to see if this seinen anime series is for you.
But, tell me your thoughts.
Have you watched COTE Season one, or read the Light Novel?
What is your personal take on the true character of Ayanokoji Kiyotaka?
Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more Classroom of the Elite Season 2 Episode Reviews and Discussions!
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