Classroom of the Elite, Vol. 2

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.

Tempting as it is to paste my review of the first volume in for the second and see if anyone notices, I will make an effort to say new things. The series’ strengths and weaknesses remain the same. It’s compulsively readable, always a good thing. Its premise can be teeth-grindingly annoying, especially when everyone turns into a vicious sadist for no reason, with a lot of “ha ha, you will fail forever now” sneering. I’m still not entirely clear if this school has a purpose beyond abusing 1/4 of its student body, and I suspect this is not a question I’m going to get answered anytime soon. We do get a couple of new characters here, though, including one who I actually did not want to punch in the face, which is a monstrous improvement from the first book. Sadly, she isn’t in Class D, meaning I am probably out of luck unless we get a spinoff series or something. Plus honestly, shee likely has a dark side too.

The other new character introduced is Sakura, who isn’t annoying so much as passive. In fact, her very passivity is the problem, as she’s also an important witness to an assault by Class D hothead Sudo on three Class C students. He now faces suspension, of course, and every single thing over the course of the entire book does not help his cause. First off, he’s claiming self-defense, but that’s hard to prove when you beat up three guys and you’re fine. Secondly, no one believes him anyway because his first response is to punch everything. Of course, if Sudo gets suspended Class D will lose the few points they gained from the first book (which aren’t given to them as money, by the way – it’s implied they never will be). Can the rest of the class overcome their antipathy towards Sudo and apathy in general and help clear his name? Or will they need to be a bit more… creative?

As I said, there’s also a girl from Class B that we briefly met in the first book but who gets a genuine introduction here. Ichinose is so refreshingly normal that I was almost crying in happiness. She’s friendly and outgoing without (so far) having a scheming dark side like Kushida. She tries to use Ayanokouji to help her with a problem (girl is confessing to her, need a pretend boyfriend). She ends up being of great help to them in the climax of the book. Really, I want her to be the star. She’s certainly more fun to read than grumpy Horikita, who spends the book attempting to help Sudo while being miserable about it, or our “hero” Ayanokouji, whose desire to be average and not stand out is so great that even his own inner narration lies to us – frequently he talks about Kushida as if he knows nothing about her secrets, and there are other points where I suspect he’s straight up lying to the reader. Which is the point – their teacher is trying to get Horikita to figure out why he’s like this – but again, it’s not what I’d call fun.

I can see why this is popular – I sped through it very quickly, and want to read more. This despite the fact that I was frowning most of the time and occasionally wanted to slam the book against a wall. Classroom of the Elite is a war between the writing and the characterization, and it may take more than two volumes to figure out who’s winning.

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.