Classroom of the Elite, Vol. 1

By Syougo Kinugasa and Tomoseshunsaku. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Timothy MacKenzie. Adapted by Jessica Cluess.

By the end of the first volume of this new light novel series, I finally had an idea where the author was going with the series. It’s something of a thought experiment, examining a school that functions similar to the Assassination Classroom school. The school has a hierarchy, and once you find yourself in the ‘D’ class, comprised of the seeming failures, its impossible to climb back up and you are belittled and ridiculed by the rest. Naturally, our heroes are in this class. That said, it takes about half the volume to get to the point where the author does anything more than drop ominous hints. Before that, unfortunately, what we get is a painfully normal light novel with the ‘average’ hero who doesn’t stand out, the grumpy beauty who doesn’t like talking to anyone, her contrast in the perky upbeat girl who wants to be friends with everyone, and, sadly, the perverted best friends who only want to talk about sex. You have to crawl through this to get to the point.

Of course, all is not as it seems. Horikita, the grumpy, sullen heroine of this volume, is the closest thing to being exactly what she seems, fortunately – the only hidden side she has is a desperate need to please her brother. Our hero, Ayanokouji, meanwhile, takes pains to not stand out – indeed, by the end of the book it’s becoming clear that he’s going to ridiculous lengths. His scores are average, but they’re the sort of average that requires brilliance to achieve. He’s very muscular, but denies being in any sports clubs. And he seems somewhat desperate to be at the school – I smell a tragic past. Sadly, he’s also almost as stoic and unfriendly as Horikita, which means both the narrator hero and the heroine of this first volume are downers. There’s some brightness with Kushida, the typical perky upbeat girl you see in every shonen school series… only, of course, she has a secret dark side as well. I’m pretty sure they all do.

That said, I’m not entirely averse to the ideas here, provided that they also include later character development. There are hints it may happen. The premise is that the world is fundamentally unequal but we should strive to be as equal as possible anyway, something that the school is seemingly opposed to – though this could all end up being a secret test of character. By the end of the book, Horikita is marginally more social, even if she’s unaware that her very unsociability is why she’s in the class in the first place. So I’ll definitely get the second volume. That said, everyone in this is depressing to read. Even the teacher seems sadistic for no other reason than that she enjoys it. If the series slowly works to make these kids better people and to grow up, I may enjoy it a great deal. If it remains an intellectual thought experiment, though, I’m out.

I understand that the anime, which I haven’t seen, took a number of liberties with the novels, so fans of one should definitely pick up the other. I’d also pick this up if you like Dark!Grey Harry Potter/Naruto fanfics or arguing about rationality on Reddit. As for light novel fans, your mileage may vary.

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