Classroom of the Elite sets up a cutthroat competition with high stakes and uncertain rules
If there's one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s psychological thrillers, and nothing has quite the same atmosphere as the closed room variety. So you can imagine my reaction when I discovered Classroom of the Elite. The Tokyo Metropolitan Advanced Nurturing School is meant to foster the next generation of leaders in Japan, boasting a 100% university enrollment and employment rate for its graduates, which is achieved through an extremely elaborate disciplinary system using collective punishment and reward. In addition to playing with around with some sociological concepts, Classroom of the Elite has also puts characters in an antagonistic, high-pressure situation with ambiguous criteria for how to achieve success, which makes for one of the most compelling premises of the season.
The academy uses what’s known as the S-System, which ranks each class based on point totals determined by test scores and student behavior. Rather than disciplining students on the spot, activities like cutting class or phone use are silently recorded. At the beginning of each month, a stipend is provided to the students of each class based on their classes total point value, which increases based on test scores and suffer deductions due to misbehavior. Total class points are also used to categorize the classes from A to D, with the vague implication that D student may not enjoy the academy’s promised employment upon graduation in addition to surviving on the lowest income.
The intentions of the system are tied to the academy’s mission statement, but the implications for what that means for this system are unclear. Their teacher was decidedly antagonistic to the students after revealing the “catch” to their monthly stipends, so the premise seems less than optimistic. Instead, they’re promoting a cutthroat environment where the students must self-manage among their classes. You can’t choose your political environment, only what you do within it, and the negligence and antagonism of others can ruin that environment for everyone.
Class D have an uphill battle against them which has already been illustrated in the second episode. There are several members of the class who appear completely undeterred by the consequences of their actions, not only to themselves, but the entire group. This shows one of the flaws in a system of collective punishment, as it disenfranchises those who are willing to follow the rules and empowers those who have no fear of the consequences. While this has yet to become a plot point, those three could theoretically demand a ransom for their cooperation. In a system where consequences are more meaningful to some than others, that inequity can be exploited.
Being stuck with your classmates is reinforced by the system itself. Where the school uses collective punishment for violating school rules, it also uses a system of collective reward for test scores. Class ranking and the amount of their monthly stipends are both determined by total point value which is earned through test score. Where a student failing results in their immediate expulsion, removing their negative contribution to the class in the future, it also reduces the classes point gain in the present. Allowing your fellow student to fail out on their own becomes an analysis of their current cost vs potential benefit.
This dynamic is particularly fascinating because there seem to be clues leading toward two conclusions. The school is either setting up an antagonistic environments in the hopes that the students will rally and work together despite apparent disincentives or the structure of the academy is one of cutthroat utilitarianism meant to weed out the weak. The cameras ominously scattered around the campus are obviously meant to monitor the student's behavior, but is their purpose to record misbehavior and abuse outside of class as demerits or indications of potential beyond the scope of the school? The teacher said the criteria for point loss and gain are secret, so beyond tardiness, misbehavior in class, and test scores the qualifications for success are a mystery.
There is one final component that could indicate the future direction of the series. Collective punishment is typically discouraged in education not only because it can discourage students or even drive them to misbehave, but can also breed an antagonistic relationship between the class and their teacher. Showing individual results but being punished due to circumstances outside your control can lead to feelings of distrust toward authority as their consequences begin to feel capricious. Their teacher seems to be actively nurturing just that sort of relationship. Whether her verbal abuse was meants to drive them to work together against her, perhaps to even intended to encourage them to try to game the system, or was simply an open contempt for the worst class in the school, is a question for the future.
So far, Classroom of the Elite has ambiguously framed the setting. The jail cell slam of the classroom door and muted colors during the dramatic scenes give the series an antagonistic bent but their classmate Kujita’s unpunished, even rewarded, optimism and the positive outcome of the second episode indicate the key to their future success may result from more honest methods than manipulation. Whether the conflict boils down to student vs student, class vs class, or students vs teachers and whether the means of victory lie in teamwork or treachery all remain to be seen, but Classroom of the Elite has given itself a ton of latitude for intrigue.