Classroom of the Elite – S2 12 – Introduction to Fear

I didn’t give Karuizawa Kei enough credit last week. Yes, she does come ever so close to giving up and descending into an abyss of despair. But at a certain point, she decides that no matter how much torture Ryuuen doles out, she’s not going to tell him the name of the mastermind. Period. Even soaked and freezing, the fire in her eyes mocks Ryuuen’s efforts. Fine, he says; he’ll just keep going.

Kiyotaka and his friends are about to go into the karaoke parlor, but he craps out at the last second, citing fatigue from an all-nighter. Like the ANN reviewer of this show, I was not particularly looking forward to an entire episode of Kei getting tortured (even if it wouldn’t get Ryuuen what he wanted), so I was relieved that after informing both Chabashira Sae and former StuCo President Horikita Manabe of the situation, Kiyotaka arrives in the lion’s den.

At first Ryuuen, Mio, Ishizaki and Albert are amused by the notion this guy is a.) the Class D mastermind and b.) dumb enough to come there alone. However, they are the ones who should be scared. They may think they’re lions, but Kiyotaka is a dragon, and a particularly unemotional one. Ryuuen sends Ishizaki and Albert at him to test him, and both underlings go down in seconds.

At no point does Kiyotaka raise his voice or break a sweat taking down two of the toughest motherfuckers in the school. But they’re only tough compared to everyone else. There’s no comparing anyone at the school to Kiyotaka. Kei can only sit in the corner, shiver, and enjoy the show, just as gobsmacked as her torturers by Kiyotaka’s skill.

Mio, more pissed off at the situation and by how fucked up both Ryuuen and Kiyotaka  are, does her duty as the next opponent, and while her kicks are impressive, she is absolutely no match for Kiyotaka, who knocks her out with a well placed hand to her neck.

Yet Ryuuen still doesn’t panic. Why would he? he believes himself to be the school’s foremost expert and wielder of violence. It’s likely none of his underlings would last five seconds in a fight with him, but the gap between him and them might as well be the length of a car, compared to the gap between his strength and Kiyotaka’s.

Ryuuen hangs in there only because his fighting style is unique to him, developed from a life of fighting. Unpredictability and raw talent in the place of formal training and discipline will serve you well…right up until it doesn’t. Ryuuen’s fatal flaw isn’t that he thought he could win in a fight against Kiyotaka…it’s that he could evoke any emotion at all in their fight.

Even as Kiyotaka is fighting back yawns while he meticulously bashes Ryuuen’s face into paste with his deadly fists, Ryuuen talks about how he’s never felt fear, and how even if he loses this fight, he’ll be around every corner, 24/7, waiting to spring on Kiyotaka. Instead, Kiyotaka not only gives him a much-belated introduction to fear, but shrugs off his “victory” as a “mundane task” that would never inspire the slightest bit of emotion from him.

Once Ryuuen has stopped moving, Kiyotaka covers Kei up and holds her as she shivers and weeps. When asked why she didn’t give him up, she says, simply, “for myself.” It was loyalty to Karuizawa Kei, not Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, that fueled her resolve until he arrive. That’s not to say she’s not happy he came, and that she wasn’t wrong to believe he would.

As Manabe told Chabashira, Kiyotaka went into that lion’s den to “end the war” all by himself. I can’t imagine Ryuuen will be able to hide the marks of his fight anytime soon, nor do I think he’s in any hurry to tell anyone who was able to beat him so thoroughly. Class C has been dealt a serious blow, but as he always ruled with violence, I imagine plenty of Class C would welcome his downfall.

While in general I abhor violence as a means of solving problems (it usually only begets more violence), this situation is rather unique, due to the fact that a villain like Ryuuen was never going to be defeated by any other means but superior force, and the fact that Kiyotaka took no discernable pleasure in the victory.

That said, he does express regret for making Kei suffer so much to achieve this result, and reiterates his promise that should she ever find herself in trouble again, he will rescue her without fail. After what she witnessed, I daresay Kei can trust in those words. But to answer a question she raised in her monologue, yes, Kei, you are extremely effin’ cool.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 11 – Stone Cold

God, Kiyotaka sucks so much. Can’t even say “Good Morning” back to Kei. Even so, I had no idea just how deep and harmful his sudden, impulsive cutting off of communications would end up being by episode’s end. With no new tests being announced, Ryuuen strolls into Class D on a fishing expedition.

He and his crew end up following and confronting Koenji. Ryuuen’s goal is to determine if the blonde bombshell is the Class D Mastermind. You have to admit, he looks the part, and his seeming indifference and passivity to everything is the perfect cover. Of course, we know he’s way off base, but it’s still a ton of fun watching him verbally spar with Kouenji, perhaps the only student more self-involved than he is.

But hold on, here comes Arisu and her crew, who stick their noses into the confrontation. When she uses Ryuuen’s least favorite nickname “Dragon Boy” twice, he rushes her and prepares to dropkick her. It’s a testament to Arisu’s toughness and confidence in her underlings that she doesn’t flinch an inch, but lets one of those underlings block the kick.

Ryuuen may not have bagged the Mastermind, but he takes solace in knowing one less possibility is off the board. He tells Mio that he’s having a shitload of fun. His next move is to prepare bait for the Mastermind in the form of Kei, whom he knows the Mastermind protected thanks to Manabe.

Ibuki, your standard monstrous collaborator who does nothing to stop evil, instead takes part in it, sticking around as Kei is lured into a refrigerated space with no security cameras. There, Ryuuen threatens to expose her bullied past to the whole school if she doesn’t give him the name of the Mastermind.

Never has Ryuuen been more cruel and menacing than in this scene, underscored by the dramatic, theatrical lighting and intensely cold atmosphere. Like Arisu, and as we know, Kei is tougher than she looks, and refuses to give up the name, even when bound and threatened.

So Ryuuen has his underling slowly pour a bottle of water over her, and then another, then covers her head with a cloth and pours another one on. It’s essentially waterboarding, only with the added threat of hypothermia. It’s here where I throw up two big middle fingers at the show for continuing to put Kei through the ringer. This is truly sickening, to the point I needed a nice hot shower after watching this.

Worse still, we see Kiyotaka agree to hang out with his new friendly friend group to celebrate the end of their term with some karaoke. His promise to protect Kei is rendered toothless by the fact she can no longer contact him via phone. Even if somehow Kiyotaka senses something’s up, it’s way too late for him to come to her rescue, isn’t it? The damage is done, with Ryuuen dragging her deeper into the cold darkness, making a promise of his own: to utterly destroy her.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 10 – Farewell My Lovelies

“The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play.” —Marla Daniels, The Wire

Paper Shuffle came and went with no students being expelled, and thanks in no small part to Class D’s increased unity and harmony, they picked up quite a few points on Class C. Ascension seems imminent, they just need to remain focused. When Kiyotaka’s study group spots 1-A’s Sakayanaki Arisu chatting with 1-B’s Ichinose Honami, whom Haruka deems “too perfect”, as someone has to have some flaws to be likable. Kiyotaka notices someone is hiding behind a pillar eavesdropping on them.

While walking along with Maya, Kei notices she’s being tailed by a large and unpleasant Class-C student; on their nightly call Kiyotaka tells her she can safely ignore the tail as it’s unlikely to escalate further. But how can he be so sure, and will he be in a position to keep his promise to protect Kei if the harassment does get worse? Meanwhile, Kei snapped a photo of the girl stalking his study group; she’s from Class A, suggesting she was doing so on Arisu’s orders.

In class, more reports of Class-D students being messed with by Class-C, suggesting the class is desperate with D about to supplant them. Suzune asks Kiyotaka if he’ll keep helping her bring their class to Class A. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, he says “as long as it remains necessary”, and then she gives him a book called Farewell My Lovely to check out at the library, as he’d stated his interest in it.

While at the library, Kiyotaka exhibits a measure of chivalry by taking a book off a high shelf for the petite Class-C student Shiina Hiyori; the two have a pleasant little chat about books. Kiyotaka is then taken aside by Chabashira-sensei, who tells him he has a visitor: his father.

Papa Ayanokouji doesn’t mince words: the White Room has resumed, and he wants Kiyotaka, who has strayed from the path laid out for him, to sign a letter expressing his wish to withdraw from the school.

Kiyotaka refuses, Mr. Ayanokouji threatens, and their stalemate is broken by a very unexpected party: Mr. Sakayanagi, Ayanokouji’s former secretary, the current school chairman, and Arisu’s father.

He explains that this school puts a high value on the independence of its students, and he won’t allow a parent to bully one of them into withdrawing against their will. That is that, as Mr. Ayanokouji leaves, but only for now. His mission to bring Kiyotaka, his “most prized possession”, back into the fold has only begun.

Kiyotaka learns that Sakayanagi was the one who recommended him for enrollment, having had his eye on him for some time and seeing his potential (no doubt Arisu sees it too). It’s also clear that Chabashira never knew Kiyotaka’s dad. He considers this a betrayal, for now it’s clear Chabashira has only been using him to try to advance her class to Class A.

That’s something that no longer interests him. He’s content to leave Suzune, Hirata, and the others to continuing those efforts, and he won’t get in their way, but he’s personally done trying to advance the class to Class A. What he’ll do instead remains to be seen, but one of his first calls is to Kei. He apologizes for getting her mixed up in so much trouble, but when he abruptly tells her they’ll no longer be having these phone calls, she’s shocked and genuinely hurt.

Watching him interact with and even seemingly befriend other students of late might’ve softened his image, but we know this kind of brutal coldness is Kiyotaka’s normal M.O. He’s never come out and named any of the people he’s interacted with friends. He even uses the “transactional relationship” label to him and Kei.

While he might not be 100% wrong on that note, the fact is their relationship has evolved to something beyond that, and his inability to see that or act accordingly is one of the flaws that make him likable, despite him acting like such a cold jerk most of the time. I can only imagine Suzune’s outrage at his sudden decision to walk away from the game.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Classroom of the Elite – S2 09 – Relationship of Convenience

Ryuuen agrees to feed Kikyou with the questions he wrote for Class D, which she’ll use to win the bet and get Suzune and Kiyotaka expelled. In exchange, Kikyou will help make sure Class C wins Paper Shuffle. Ryuuen then takes his gang to go investigate the study group with Kiyotaka and Yukimura, bringing along Shiina Hiyori to try to determine if the Class D Mastermind is among them.

While the experience shakes the group, Haruka likes the vibes they’ve created and decides to formally make them a group, complete with everyone in it being on a first-name basis Airi suddenly inserts herself into the group and asks to join in, presumably to be close to Kiyotaka, and the group agrees.

That night, Kiyotaka calls Kei, but not to invite her to the movie his study group is going to tomorrow. Instead, he has a favor to ask of her. Kei, who wants to become closer to Kiyotaka, has a birthday gift wrapped and ready for him, but has to settle for a LINE sticker, to which he reacts with his usual Ayanokouji stoicism.

The next day when the study group heads meet at karaoke to discuss progress, it becomes clear what Kiyotaka asked Kei to do. She confronts Kikyou for her unrelentingly sweet good girl attitude and accuses her of looking down on her, even tossing a drink on her uniform. Yousuke scolds her and she apologizes, tearfully asking if she can get Kikyou’s uniform washed; Kikyou agrees.

The big day of the Math test that will determine both Suzune and Kiyotaka’s fates arrives, and Maya makes it a point to greet Kiyotaka, only to be shuffled off by a clearly jealous Kei. Yousuke can tell how she’s taken a liking to Kiyotaka, and suggests that having a non-fake boyfriend would probably be best for her.

Before pencils up, Kiyotaka and Suzune revel in the class unity that’s been created through their efforts. Then the test begins, and Kikyou immediately realizes that the test questions she gave Ms. Chabashira are nowhere to be found. Just like that, she’s lost the bet, and she knows it.

Kikyou can’t even pretend to hide her rage when she slams her hands on the desk and then storms out of the classroom. While she’s been a lot more bluster than bite as a villainess, it was still satisfying to see her brought low after she thought she had the Shuffle in the bag.

She meets Ryuuen to voice her anger, but Ryuuen tells her he doesn’t owe her his loyalty, since she couldn’t deliver what she promised him. The bottom line is that before she even made a deal with him, Suzune already had her beat, by going to Chabashira before her and getting her to agree to only accept questions from her, the official class rep.

Kiyotaka explains this to Kei, who then wonders why he had her plant a cheat sheet on Kikyou’s uni. That was only meant to be insurance in case Suzune’s gambit failed. But Kiyotaka has to hand it to Suzune, she achieved this victory all by herself, proving she’s grown as a person and and operator.

Considering the witness, Kikyou has no choice but to abide by the promise she made should she lose to Suzune. Suzune reaches out her hand as a gesture of trust, and is determined to get Kikyou to like her, but Kikyou assures her that will never happen. She also makes clear that while she promised not to try to sabotage her, their deal didn’t say anything about Kiyotaka.

Still, I have to think that the fact that Kikyou and Ryuuen sever their brief alliance can only hurt both parties and help Kiyotaka. He probably knows that too, which is why he presented Ryuuen with the facts on the ground; that Suzune already had Kikyou beat, and got him to agree to a deal to alter Class C’s questions.

Ryuuen doesn’t like one bit that the Mastermind used him the way he so easily uses others, so he plans a bit of revenge in the form of destroying Kei, sending Kiyotaka a photo of her to make it plain. Combined with Kikyou preparing to focus all of her efforts on getting him expelled, Kiyotaka now finds himself in the crosshairs of two adversaries at the same time.

Is that just fine with him? You bet. He welcomes both Ryuuen and Kikyou coming at him with everything they’ve got. It will only make his victories over them that much sweeter. And as huge a prick as Kiyotaka usually is, his commitment to protecting Kei, like his pride over Suzune’s growth, is genuine and admirable. I’m not about to bet against him now.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 08 – The Sword of Truth

Class D splits into study groups, with Suzune and Kikyou overseeing. When two students paired up despite having the same strengths and weaknesses ask for help, Yukimura volunteers to lead their group, and Suzune has Kiyotaka join them. After his performance at the relay, his classmates tell him he should stop holding back.

When Kiyotaka agrees to sit in on Suzune and Kikyou’s group, Maya tags along, and despite him not putting in any effort, other students still view them as a cozy couple. Honestly I feel bad for Maya, who could have had a crush on virtually anyone else and fared better.

Two notable exceptions are Ryuen and our two-faced charmer Kikyou, whom Suzune meets one-on-one in an empty classroom. She tells Kikyou that she only knows vague rumors about what went down in middle school, Kikyou has no way of trusting her. So Suzune proposes a bet.

She’ll let Kikyou choose one of the eight subjects they’re being tested in. Whoever gets the higher individual score will win. If Kikyou wins, Suzune will leave the school of her own free will. If Suzune wins, Kikyou will cease her vendetta. Suzune brings in Manabe, whom both trust and respect, as a witness, and the bet is formally agreed to.

Of course, Kikyou is well aware that Kiyotaka is listening in on Suzune’s phone, so later that night she meets with him and Suzune and proposes an amendment to the bet: if she wins, Kiyotaka leaves the school too. Suzune is against it, but Kiyotaka will bet on Suzune winning every time.

In exchange, he asks that Kikyou tell them both exactly what happened. If they’re putting their school lives on the line, they deserve that much. Kikyou agrees, and slides into Dark Backstory Mode. It all started in grade school when she’d get praised and recognized for every little thing she said and did.

When that automatic praise stopped and started to be distributed across her classmates, she vowed to become the friendliest, most helpful, most trusting classmate she could be; indispensable to all. This took an emotional toll, and she needed an outlet for her pent-up rage and resentment. Perhaps misguidedly, she chose a public blog.

While she changed all the names in her blog entries, it became a receptacle for all the class’ dirty little secrets, which she of course collected by being everyone’s best friend. The system worked until someone found the blog and exposed her, and suddenly she was everyone’s worst enemy.

Rather than cower or run, Kikyou fought back, dumping all of the secrets she hadn’t written about in her blog to that point. With that tinder she set the entire class against each other, resulting in its rumored annihilation.

Suffice it to say, she wants anyone who knows anything about this incident out of her life so she can reset things as everyone’s best friend. So now Kiyotaka and Suzune know the full story, and the full depth of Kikyou’s depraved, bottomless desire for recognition, praise, and of course, dirty secrets.

Even now she’s collected enough of Class D’s to destroy the class, but would rather not. Instead, she’s staking everything on getting a better math score than Suzune. I can’t imagine she’ll succeed. It’s not that such an outcome wouldn’t be interesting; it just doesn’t seem plausible for our two leads to suddenly drop out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Classroom of the Elite – S2 07 – Casanova

There’s a changing of the guard at the top of the school pyramid, as Manabu resigns to make way for Nagumo Miyabi of Class 2-A, who intends to turn the school into a true meritocracy.

Meanwhile, Kiyotaka is suddenly Mr. Popular, earning praise (and a warning about Ryuuen) from 1-A’s Katsuragi to being asked out by Satou Maya, who was smitten with his athletic performance. Kiyotaka agrees to an exchange of numbers and a platonic start.

Of course, hot on the heels of the sports fest is the next special test, which is called “Paper Shuffle” and involves everyone being paired off and taking tests with questions prepared from the other classes.

As is typical of CoE the rules are stubbornly labyrinthine, but the Kiyotaka and Suzune agree that the most important aspect of the test is how people will be paired off, which will be chosen by how everyone scores on a mini-test.

Suzune, Kiyotaka, Ken, Kei, and Yousuke meet to talk strategy, and are joined by Kikyou, whose presence Suzune doesn’t protest. Hanging back with Kiyotaka, Suzune tells him that she went to the same middle school as Kikyou, and there were rumors she was singlehandedly responsible for the utter destruction of an entire class.

While Kiyotaka suggests she try to get Kikyou expelled, Suzune still believes there’s a way to make Kikyou their ally. She also makes a point to earnestly thank Kiyotaka, since she knows he was the one who saved her from Ryuuen.

With true villains like Ryuuen stalking about, that’s not an unrealistic hope. He wastes no time outing the Class C traitor, who turns out to be Manabe, a nice connection to a previous special test and the person who more or less brought him and Kei together. Manabe tells Ryuuen that the Class D “mastermind” is either Kiyotaka or Yukimura, the only witnesses to her bullying Kei.

At the cafe, Suzune leads the group in the strategy meeting, proposing that their class be split into four groups based on their academic performance, and for the lower two quarters of the class intentionally get zeros and ones on their mini-tests, so that they’ll be paired with the strongest scores and thus result in a balanced group and minimizing the possibility of any expulsions.

It’s a nifty little plan, and not only does Kiyotaka not involve himself in the meeting, but leaves it all up to Suzune to convince the class, which she does admirably due to her growth in the sports festival softening her edges.

That night, Kei calls Kiyotaka, worried about how things went with him and Satou Maya. He posits that she’s worried he may shirk his responsibility to protect her if he gets close to Maya, but he tells her that they only agreed to exchange numbers for now, and even if it amounted to more, he promises he’ll have her back come what may.

Even though I feel bad for Kei being caught up in Kiyotaka’s web of awfulness, and like Maya I’d strongly suggests not harboring a crush on him, I’m also just glad that she feels happy and safe, and equally certain Kiyotaka is a man of his word when it comes to protecting her. He doesn’t even add “so long as you keep doing as I say”.

Unfortunately for Kei, Kiyotaka ends up being paired up with Maya for the Paper Shuffle, while Suzune ends up with Ken (no surprise there). Everything’s going according to plan so far, but the threat of Ryuuen looms, as does Kikyou’s assertion that expelling Suzune and Kiyotaka is a higher priority than rising to Class A. I certainly hope Suzune makes strides in her peace talks.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Classroom of the Elite – S2 06 – The Mask Drops

The title of this episode comes from Lord Byron, but one could quote Yoda too: failure is the greatest teacher. Suzune was too busy trying to be accomplished and exceptional enough for her brother to look her way to realize that sometimes failing is the point.

While at first I thought Kiyotaka was throwing out random rumors about Kikyou being the Class D traitor, when pressed, she happily owns up to it. Without dropping her outward syrupy demeanor, she admits her primary goal right now is to get Suzune expelled.

She also offers Kiyotaka a friendly reminder that she still has evidence of him groping her if he ever tried to expose her. Not only that, she’s decided on the spot that before she can think about helping Class A, she’ll want him expelled along with Suzune.

Sudou is still angry from how things went down thus far when Suzune first approaches him, but she remains standing near the elevator when he decides to return. Suzune realize the two are alike in their obsession with seeking acknowledgment, but now she knows that going it alone won’t be enough. She asks Sudou to help her, and when he agrees, she flashes an exceedingly rare Horikita smile.

Sudou returns to the class, bows, and apologizes for being a dick, showing growth, while Suzune bows out of the final relay, meaning Kikyou will run in her place. When another student bows out, Kiyotaka takes his place, and Suzune’s brother happens to be beside him in the relay.

Manabu is impressed with Class D’s sudden turnaround after they seemed to be circling the drain, and Kiyotaka tells him whatever happened to get them back on track, it was Suzune’s doing. Manabu acknowledges that, then accepts Kiyotaka’s offer to race him.

The other two runners in their row start off before them, but it doesn’t matter: Kiyotaka and Manabu are running their own race. Not only that, they’re both so freakishly fast it doesn’t matter how big a head start the other runners had.

In the end, Team Red won while Class 1-D ranked dead last in class points. That said the results of the sports festival don’t cause a dramatic shift in the status quo. But it wasn’t a wasted opportunity for Class D, because Suzune was able to learn from her failures and grow, just as Sudou was. Suzune also now has the “weapon” in Sudou that Kiyotaka insisted she procure.

That leaves the post-festival groveling, which an honorable person like Suzune would never back out of. When she arrives before Ryuen, Kikyou is also there. Suzune, who knows she’s the Class D traitor, asks her to drop the cutesy act…and what to you know, she does! Dark Kikyou is a lot of fun, and makes no bones about her only immediate goal being to eliminate anyone who knew the “old her”—even her current ally Ryuen, someday.

Suzune gets Ryuen to discuss how he and Kikyou manipulated the sports festival from the get-go and even got Saki to pretend her injury was worse than it was. Suzune reveals she’s recording all of this on her phone, but Ryuen points out that he prefaced his explanation as “indulging her fantasy”, meaning there’s reasonable doubt he was being serious. Also, he recorded everything too, in case Suzune tried to edit hers.

Just when Suzune is ready to eat crow and grovel as instructed, Ryuen gets a text message with a third audio file: one in which he’s heard instructing Saki to intentionally injure Suzune. He claims not to know who recorded or sent him this, but he can only tip his hat to that person, as it creates a stalemate from which he and Kikyou withdraw for the time being.

Why he wouldn’t suspect Kiyotaka of being behind this move, I do not know, but that’s who I assume did it, perhaps with Kei obtaining the actual recording for her new “handler”. In any case, the triple-twist, combined with an always welcome appearance of Dark Kikyou, made for a surprisingly entertaining finish to the outing.

Considering the modest gains Class C enjoyed from the festival, I’d say this is a net win for Team Kiyotaka/Suzune, due to the aforementioned emotional growth of the latter and the former at least knowing the score vis-a-vis Kikyou’s goals.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Classroom of the Elite – S2 05 – Losing Streak

Kiyotaka suggests that Kikyou may have sold out Class D for private points from another class, and if Suzune ever wants to lead the class, having a traitor among them is an intolerable threat. When Kikyou joins them to scout Team White, Suzune comes right out and asks if Kikyou betrayed the class, and of course Kikyou denies it, asking that they trust her.

The day of the sports festival, Sudou is full of vim, vinegar, and confidence that he’ll be able to lead Class D to victory, aiming for a clean sweep. Arisu quietly observes under a tent, paying particular attention to Kiyotaka, whom she no doubt understands is D’s true mastermind.

After getting out to a comfortable lead, things start going all Scuderia Ferrari on Class D. Sudou is beaten down by a cheating Ryuen outside of the watch of any teachers. Suzune collides with a Class-C girl and injures her ankle, suspecting it was intentional. The ace of the boys is increasingly pissed off, while the ace of the girls is hurt.

When the girls lose the Piggyback Joust, Sudou vows to Hiyotaka (on whom he has a crush) that he’ll win enough for the both of them, but he loses too. Hiyotaka rattles Suzune’s cage, telling her to “be useful” for once as she’s the only one who can bring back Sudou after he flips out and quits. Kei asks Kioyotaka if there’s any chance they can come back from their deficit; Kiyotaka says he never had any intention of winning.

No, his goal is to lose as much as possible. As for why their participation list was submitted when he knew there’d be a leak, he says it was Suzune’s idea. Finally, just as Kiyotaka is trying to track down Sudou, Kikyou tells her she’s wanted in the nurse’s office, where she not only finds a severely injured Class-C girl she collided with, but Ryuen as well.

The girl, no doubt manipulated by Ryuen (her injury might not even be real, but if it is, that makes him that much more of a jerk), accuses Suzune of intentionally injuring her. Not wanting to cause trouble for her StuCo president brother, Suzune asks what she can do for the complaint to be dropped. Ryuen says he needs a million private points…and to grovel before her after the festival.

So yeah, Class D and Suzune in particular are going through some shit. When she crosses paths with her brother, she’s happy he even bothered to stop to hear her say she realizes how incompetent she is, but she’s resolved not to cause trouble for him. And all of this shit she’s enduring is being either passively or actively endorsed and/or caused by Kiyotaka.

To what end? The title of the episode is the clue: Every failure is a step to success. Kiyotaka isn’t interested in fun or easy victories. They won’t become Class A that way. No, they have to fail and suffer again and again and again, harden themselves, and use what they’ve learned from those failures to succeed when it matters most.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 04 – Three-Willed Race

With the class back on school grounds, Suzune reveals the method by which Ryuuen was able to win: the planet names of the teams were a major hint. When placing the members in alphabetical order, whoever is the number of the planet’s order in the system was the VIP: Kei fourth in Mars, Kushida third in Earth, etc cetera. That said, as long as Ryuuen tries to rule like a dictator, Class C won’t be fully united.

The class’s seats aren’t even warm when Chabashira-sensei announces the next test will be the Sports Festival, where Class D will be paired with Class A and C with B. As you’d expect, there’s a whole big list of rrrrrrrules, and Kiyotaka believes that using orthodox rather than underhanded tactics will win the day.

The class itself has full control over who participates in what events, and Suzune wants to pair the most athletically skilled with the least so that they can spread their talent the most widely to the benefit of the classs. Kei stands up to disagree, saying Suzune’s way is cynical and even cruel. She also asks Kushida’s opinion, who says they should try a hybrid approach.

The class puts it to a vote, and Suzune’s way narrowly wins even with Kiyotaka abstaining. After class Kei meets with Kiyotaka on the stairs, asking him why he emailed her to oppose Suzune. He’s not interested in explaining himself to her, only in her carrying out her orders, and he admits she did well.

I bet it was also an opportunity for him to test out the “newest tool in his box,” so to speak, as Kei proves capable of bringing others to her cause simply by the power of her personality, which at least outwardly is a lot more pleasant than sourpuss Suzune. In short, Kiyotaka’s hand is stronger with Kei working for him, even if he and Suzune are still ostensibly allies.

At the strength and aptitude tests that precede event practice, Kiyotaka is oddly ignorant of what constitutes an “average” grip strength, and makes the mistake of listening to the burliest classmate who says it’s 60 kg, when it’s really more 45-50. It’s clear Kiyotaka could probably grip harder than anyone, but intentionally stops at 60.

As for Suzune, she’s faster than most, but in the three-legged race refuses to match the pace of her slower partner, instead insisting she try harder to match hers. Kiyotaka shows Suzune the error of her inflexibility by putting her in the other girl’s shoes and running faster than Suzune when their legs are tied together.

An aside: it cannot be understated just how utterly miserable these two are as anything resembling a couple. Just completely hopeless. And yet they persist in cooperating most of the time because they want the same thing: Class A. To that end, Kiyotaka wants Suzune to join both him and Kushida in performing recon on the White Team, also mentioning he thinks Kushida was a traitor in the cruise test.

There’s an underlying atmosphere of unpleasantness to this impending sports festival that not even the most chipper of students can cut through. Any educator will tell you that the point of such festivals isn’t just to showcase athletic talent and foster teamwork, but for the participants to have, ya know…fun. Suzune and Kiyotaka aren’t just disinterested in that aspect, but are likely incapable of it.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 03 – Slap in the Face

When Yukimura simply can’t watch anymore, he steps out from his hiding spot to put a stop to Shiho and her cohorts’ abuse of Kei. But if he’s expecting gratitude from Kei, he doesn’t get it, and Kiyotaka probably assumed that would be the result of getting involved. When Venus group’s test concludes early, Kiyotaka deduces that Class C is the favorite to win, and starts making some moves.

Those moves involve arranging so both Kei and Chiho’s gang meet in the bowels of the ship, and this time Chiho brings Rika, the girl she demands Kei apologize to. The girls rough Kei up some more, culminating in Chiho realizing that Kei has been traumatized by bullying, and even gets Rika to start slapping Kei silly. All of this is to get Kei to “rock bottom” so he can recruit her for his purposes.

After Chiho leaves, Kiyotaka approaches Kei, who is an absolute wreck, and twists the knife like the true piece of work he is. He tells her he knows what she truly is, and that she and Hirata were never actually dating, and she assumes he’s blackmailing her for her body or something to that extent.

Of course, we know that’s not Kiyotaka’s style, but it’s still a dark and unsettling scene between the two. Kiyotaka would argue, however, that it is all necessary to send Kei to the absolute brink so she’ll take him seriously as an ally. He shows her video of Shiho’s crimes, and offers to protect her from now on in a way the previous guys couldn’t. Because for all the wounds Kei bears—emotional and physical—he still believes she and not Suzune is the best chance of Class D uniting and rising.

Before the final discussion on the last day of the test, Kiyotaka finds Ichinose dozing on the couch, and the two talk about their mutual desire to graduate in Class A (and how she knows he knows how many points she has, but she’s not going to say anything more about that). When the discussion begins, Hamaguchi proposes that everyone should show the rest of the group their phones to reach a better outcome.

Kiyotaka knows that while Hamaguchi presents this option, Ichinose is behind it, and it fits the gambit he already prepared. One by one, Mars Group is convinced to reveal their phones until the VIP is exposed: Yukimura. We then cut to a flashback of Kiyotaka and Yukimura switching phones. Even so, Ichinose calls Kiyotaka and exposes Kiyotaka and Yukimura’s scheme.

But that’s fine, because Kiyotaka isn’t the VIP either…Kei is, and always was. Not only did he switch phones with her before switching with Yukimura, but he also used his personal points to buy the means to switch out the SIM cards, so if someone called his phone, her phone (in Yukimura’s hands) would ring. It’s a great double-switcheroo trap that Mars Group falls for…except for Ichinose, who figured it out, but didn’t stop it because of her rapport with Kiyotaka.

So Class D is the victor, right? Wrong. Class A loses the most points while Class B breaks even, but in a gut punch of an ending Class C is revealed as the ultimate winner. Ryuuen, of whom I am getting thoroughly tired, was able to learn from a Class D student that Kikyou was a VIP. He once again confronts Suzune to gloat and continue to act like a skeevy prick around her. Kiyotaka shows no emotion, but can tell that as this cruise test ends, it’s not going to be smooth sailing for Class D.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Classroom of the Elite – S2 02 – Kei the Lamprey

Unsurprisingly, Koenji makes the biggest splash of the test by apparently discovering the true VIP, resulting in Jupiter Group’s test concluding. Hirata gets a rumor that Kushida is a VIP. Horikita and Ayanokouji meet in an area of the ship heavy with lovey-dovey couples. Ryuuen proposes the other three classes ally against A, but Horikita isn’t having it.

They determine that uniting Class D is the best move they’ve got, using Kei and her “powerful sense of presence”. Kei is still recovering from her shower breakdown, calling herself a “parasite”, while Ayanokouji gets unexpectedly hugged by Kushida, who is feelingly lonely due to all being around all of the couples.

As the teachers drink in a private bar, Hoshinomiya-sensei asks Chabashira-sensei how Ayanokouji ended up the leader at the end of the Island test, but Chibashira is tight-lipped. Ayanokouji happens to be in the vicinity when Karuizawa meets with Hirata, who tells her that there are limits to what he can do to help her.

This angers Karuizawa, but Hirata tells her this is the way it’s always been since they started fake-dating. Karuizawa got a boost in popularity and a degree of protection, but Hirata won’t help her settle grudges, even as he later tells Ayanokouji he sympathizes with the perennially bullied Karuizawa.

Mars Group’s third and fourth discussions come and go without much of any progress being made, with Karuizawa hanging out with the first-years and flirting with Machida. After the fourth discussion, Karuizawa  is followed out by Shiho and her two cronies, who corner her in a hallway. Yukimura and Ayanokouji follow just in case.

When Shiho & Co. start getting nasty with a Kei who is increasingly breaking down, Ayanokouji tells Yukimura not to intervene too soon; he wants to gather as much research as he can on Kei before “tainting the experiment”, so to speak.

Two episodes in, and I must admit I’m respecting CoE more than I’m actually enjoying it. There’s definitely something clever in the works, but I can’t deny that there are some pretty dull stretches—even those possibly containing key clues. It doesn’t help that the show simply doesn’t look that good, though the soundtrack makes up for that a bit.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 01 – Strife on Mars

Do you like enormous casts of people mostly acting standoffish and suspicious of one another as they navigate school tests with rules that read like stereo instructions? Well, your five year wait is over: the kids are off the damn island and back on the boat, but a new Special Test that threatens all the strides Class D made is waiting for them.

After an uneasy interaction between Ayanokouji Kiyotaka and Karuizawa Kei involving Hirata (who wants Ayano to join them, but Kei objects), Ayano and Kei end up at the same table anyway, as two of the four Class D reps in Mars, one of eight groups named after planets.

There are a lot of rules, and it’s almost impossible to summarize easily, but I’ll try: there are four outcomes, each of which has specific pros and cons to either the individual, their group, or their class. Four possible outcomes involves who guesses who the VIP is, when, and whether they’re correct. A lot of private and class points are on the table.

Of course, a lot of personalities and loyalties are on the table too. Having each group made up of three students each from Classes A and B and four students each of C and D creates an enticing imbalance; Ayano’s Mars Group’s Class A decides right from the get go that they’re abstaining from all discussions in order to avoid the worst case scenario.

Class B’s idol Ichinose Honami insists that the best way forward is together (even if she ultimately intends to stab some folks in the back). Ayano can’t be 100% neutral, as even saying he’d “like to cooperate” is taking a stand against Class A and its leader Machida Kouji.

After Mars Group’s first unproductive meeting, the three Class C girls gang up on Karuizawa, accusing her of bullying their classmate. She says she has no idea what or who they’re talking about, but when they try to snap her picture she quickly becomes upset. Machida helps Karuizawa and tells the C-girls to buzz off, earning Karuizawa’s cutest smile.

Mars’ second meeting of Day 1 is just as unproductive as the first, with Class A gumming up the works with their refusal to discuss…anything. Even when she says they should just relax and shoot the breeze, it seems like Ichinose is carrying out some kind of strategy. As for Karuizawa, she seems normal enough at the meeting, but that night breaks down into a sobbing mess in the shower.

Continuing as if five years were merely a week, CoE returns to its distinctive blend of clashing personalities and motivations, split loyalties, and absurdly complicated rules (Karuizawa even gets the line of the episode: “I’m not sure I followed all that.” With the necessary setup of this new test out of the way, perhaps next week will be a little more exciting.

Classroom of the Elite – 12 (Fin)

The first seven episodes of Classroom of the Elite were solid, but gave way to an increasingly unfocused and often downright tedious Island Arc. After pointing out how delicate and demanding the girls are compared to the guys, demonstrating the class’s appalling ignorance of outdoor fundamentals (except for one character who camps out a lot), and introducing a set of rules and objectives only slightly less complicated than the U.S. Tax Code, we were then treated to thrilling whodunits involving the theft of a girl’s undergarments and the burning of a manual.

Class C student Ibuki was planted as the obvious culprit to everything, but we can’t be sure if she’s really the culprit, because the biggest question mark of them all is, and has always been, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, whom it’s implied was the sole “survivor” of a “gifted kid farm.”

Meanwhile, his interactions with Horikita Suzune have been dull and repetitive (due in no small part to the nebulousness of his true motives and  intentions), while what had been perhaps the best character dynamic of the show—that between Ayano and Kushida—has curiously been abandoned altogether, with no further exploration of her character. Some of Kushida’s screen time was replaced by Sakura, whose puppy love for the unperceptive Ayano isn’t nearly as compelling.

But WHO CARES? This was a bad-ass finale. It stuck the landing.

It starts slowly, in basically the same place we left off last week: in a state of confusion and frustration. Horikita wakes up to find Ayano nearby, telling her she should drop out and that whatever goal she has in mind, whether it’s making Class A to prove something to her brother, or something else, she’s going to need allies. She faints again, and Ayano carries her to the teachers.

Ayano tells Hirata everything that’s happened and how it will effect the points, and Hirata is devastated, no doubt believing he let his class down…but Ayano asks a favor of him. When the day the Special Test ends arrives, Sakura asks Ayano what he thinks their points will be, and Ayano simply looks over to Hirata, who is holding the leader identification form.

All of the classes assemble on the beach, except Class C…but a dirty, disheveled Ryuuen does appear…in his mind, to declare victory. Once he lays out his scheme to gain the names of all three class leaders, things don’t just look bad for Class D, but Classes A and B as well.

Ryuuen’s plan is extra-complex, as befits the finale of CotE: signing a binding contract with Class A in which they’ll supply 200 S-points in goods and provide the names of B and D’s leaders, using Ibuki and another C-class student as spies D and B.

Of course, Ryuuen intended to betray Katsuragi, because an ally of Katsuragi’s rival Sakayanagai gave him the name of Class A’s leader…which was never Katsuragi to begin with. Ryuuen runs the math as the calculations are displayed on the screen.

Then the points are announced: Class C gets ZERO points, Classes A and B make just over 100 each, and Class D…WINS, with 225 points. SHOKU!

How’d it happen? Cough-cough. C’mon now, you know: it was all Ayanokouji-frikking-Kiyotaka. What Horikita doesn’t know is how. Class A continues its internal strife as Sakayanagi’s ally antagonizes Katsuragi’s furious levies, while Ichinose doesn’t feel too bad about her class’s high score, since she’s likely close to amassing enough points to buy her way into the class of her choice (which I’m assuming would be A).

Ayano managed to win by pivoting from a strategy of spot-occupation points to leader identification points, and used virtually everyone and everything he had on that island to discover the identities of the leaders of Class A and C (leaving B alone to preserve their alliance). He even used Horikita’s illness, which was actually crucial to giving him a “legitimate reason” to change the leadership of Class D to him at the very last minute. Thus, Ayano was right about Ryuuen and Ryuuen was wrong about him – a 100-point swing.

As an apparent apology for using Horikita and potentially making her even sicker, he had Hirata tell the rest of Class D they owe everything to her, not him. It’s a brilliant move that accomplishes two things: it keeps Ayano in the shadows where he can do the most, and brings the class together, which was Hirata’s goal all along.

Kushida seems to know there’s something a little off about Horikita being the hero here, but can’t get a straight answer out of Ayano when she asks which girl he’d choose. It’s not much, but I did appreciate one last scene with “Real Kushida,” especially in which she resents the fact a girl like Horikita doesn’t have a “side to hide.” But Ayano rightly points out that most people have one.

In his chat with Chabashira-sensei in the ship’s theater, she commends him for having performed up to the standards not only she, but “that man” (AKA his dad) expected. There’s talk about Daedalus and Icarus, but Ayano doesn’t intend to lose his wings any time soon. That’s good, because Ryuuen (and his loyal lieutenant Ibuki) are coming for him, armed with a windfall of points thanks to one other stipulation in their contract with Class A.

Finally, Horikita loses her throng of admirers long enough to track down Ayano and ask him why he told Hirata to spread the word that she, not he, was the class savior and mastermind behind their victory. He tells her, in a scene that’s played quite tenderly at first, to remember when he said she needed allies to succeed – giving her the credit helps get her those allies (and she did suffer in sickness for the cause).

Horikita’s Tsundere Levels reach critical levels as she both thanks Ayano and acknowledges him as an ally while making it clear their future interactions will be purely professional in nature and focused on getting to Class A.

She’s fooling no one, but Ayano is fooling her along with everyone else, because, at least according to his inner thoughts, he’s only looking out for one guy: Ayano. Hirata, Sakura, Ichinose, Kushida, and Horikita are nothing but stones he’s all too willing to step on to win, because winning is all that matters to him.

A dark ending…but also a wide-open door for a sequel down the road. Horikita has changed a lot, and she says it’s all Ayano’s fault. Maybe she, along with Kushida and the others, will get a chance to change him. Or maybe he’ll just dance on their corpses when he’s king of the world. Here’s hoping we get to find out!

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