Classroom of the Elite – 01 (First Impressions)

As per a reader’s suggestion, I’ve decided to contribute to our Summer ’17 “reboot” by taking a look at a show I initially overlooked—Classroom of the Elite.

We follow Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, who has enrolled at the prestigious Tokyo Metropolitan Advanced Nurturing School, which sports a 100% college and employment placement rate. Aside from being built on reclaimed land in the bay, TMANS is a fully self-contained “high school city”, and its students given free reign and a generous monthly stipend of 100,000 yen-equivalent points ($903). It’s a neat and efficiently-explained system.

While cliques quickly form, Ayanokouji fails to make any friends, aside from the girl who insists on being friends with everyone (Kushida Kikyou) and the girl who is friends with no one by choice (Horikita Suzune). Thankfully there’s no onslaught of characters: these three are the focus, and rightly so.

Kushida, desperate to make friends with the last holdout, conspires with Ayanokouji to meet with Horikita at the school’s Starbucks. Horikita immediately suspects she’s been set up and storms off, while Kushida sticks around with Ayanokouji, and seems to think that Horikita and Ayanokouji are “close”, even though neither of them would charactarize it that way (aside from their physical proximity in the classroom).

Ayanokouji and Horikita have a lot in common. They use few words (he has trouble getting them out, she prefers not to talk), and both are reasonably thrifty, spending very little of their points over the first month. Meanwhile, all of their Class D classmates spend wildly and talk, goof off, and sleep in class regularly, conduct their teacher Chabashira doesn’t call them out for.

But one of the great things about this first episode is that while laying out this school system, there’s tension that builds amongst all the “debauchery” and carefree-ness. Like the other shoe is about to drop, and it’s going to be a doozy.

That other shoe…turns out to be the fact that monthly stipend is not 100,000 points. It’s just a starting number; henceforth students are judged by merit, and the next stipend determined accordingly; in this case, ZERO. Despite having done pretty well for themselves, our protagonists receive the same valuation as their slacker classmates.

At least they instinctively understood that the money and many temptations around them were all a test that most of the class failed. If they keep failing, they’ll go nowhere, so some serious shaping up is in order. That’s a hell of a hook, ensuring I’ll be back for the next episode.

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Noragami – 07

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Usually we like our anime series’ mythologies to be kept as simple and un-embellished as possible, but Noragami is a notable exception, where the more we (along with Hiyori) learn about the whys and wherefores of the divine world, the more rich and immersive the experience becomes. After bowing in respect to Yato last week, Bishamon’s right-hand (or to be precise right-ear) shinki Kazuma and Lord Tenjin expand our understanding of the situation quite a bit.

In short, Tenjin cannot take Yukine on as one of his regalia because that would make Yukine a “Nora”—shinki with many names akin to a stray cat. Such agents are apparently a necessary evil, as they essentially do dirty work gods don’t want to sully their own regalia with. Like Hiyori, we’d thought Nora was just Yato’s on-and-off shinki’s name, but it actually describes what she is: trouble. But even if Tenjin agreed to take Yukine in, there are other issues.

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Far more dangerous than Nora pestering Yato is Yukine continuing to think impure thoughts and commit misdeeds, forming the defilement covering Yato’s body that will ultimately kill him. The logical, pragmatic, and honorable Kazuma owes Yato a debt, so far from harming Hiyori when they cross paths, he lets her in on this truth, and how something must be done to prevent Yato’s demise. Kazuma believes killing Yukine is the best way, but when Hiyori saw the chemistry and teamwork of Bishamon’s regalia, she glimpsed another, less killy way.

Yato isn’t ready to give up on Yukine either, even after he attempts to steal the disaster charity donation box from the convenience store where Yato works the night shift. Before he and Hiyori find him for a phantom battle, Nora gives Yukine the “You’re Useless” talk that always proves so devastating to kids in his emotional state. But Yato chooses a dull, uncooperative Sekki to running back into Nora’s sinister clutches, and as Hiyori begs him, he looks poised to adjusting his behavior towards Yukine, treating him not like a tool or object, but as the person he is.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • We could say this about every Noragami, but this was a beautiful episode, especially the diverse use of lighting: Bishamon’s ethereal bath; the fluorescents of the convenience store; the robust sunsets; the pale city lights; the stark shadow in Yukine’s room.
  • We liked the episode opening with Bishamon, who is far from an overbearing tyrant, and Kuzama, whose scolding advice she actually takes to heart.
  • After hearing her sweet voice in Kyousogiga, it’s more than a little unsettling to hear Kugimiya Rie spewing such awful, if poetic things. She definitely evokes a healthy fear.
  • It’s been a Kaji Yuki-heavy week. He plays an angsty Yukine here we’ve heard a lot of him as Hope Estheim in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII—the first (and hopefully not last) U.S. FF release with an available Japanese language track (and yes, that track makes the game infinitely more enjoyable; the English dubs are abysmal). On top of that, Kaji voices Shuu in Nisekoi and the Prince in the latest Space Dandy.

Noragami – 06

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Yato’s quick return to greatness is further impeded by two obstacles that rear their heads this week: the beautiful walking armory Bishamon (Sawashiro Miyuki doing her standard Tough Chick routine), and the increasing difficulties Yato is having with Yukine. You can hardly blame Yukine, who isn’t even sure he should be on Yato’s side, considering Yato’s Dark Past, which includes killing one of Bishamon’s regalia.

As Yukine continues to think impure thoughts and steal that skateboard he had his eyes on, he’s doing damage to Yato in the form of a growing “blight” on his neck, and we imagine would kill Yato for Bishamon if it gets out of control. For now, dealing with problems on all sides, Yato goes into survival mode, telling Yukine to shut up and shape up, and thanks to Sekki’s power, is able to avoid most of Bishamon’s whips, bullets, and…lions.

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Hiyori is as conflicted as Yukine at the moment about whether she can trust Yato, but she has no choice; she’s stuck between shores and needs his help if she’s to avoid full phantom-hood. So she remembers his advice to seek the help of Kofuku and Daikoku, and after some brief wrangling and some cool “Yatolocation” Hiyori and the cavalry arrive just in time to save Yato. Even Nora pops her head in to deliver an assist.

Even so, this rescue was provisional: Kofuku did it because Hiyori begged her for help, but Bishamon will be back and will be just as eager to kill Yato, and the compatibility problems with Yukine continue, to the point Nora pesters Yato to use her instead. Yato hasn’t once apologized for his past, and even said he killed Bishamon’s regalia because he wanted to. But something tells us he’d rather not have to rely on Nora too much. Almost as if Yukine is his fresh start.

7_very_goodRating: 7 (Very Good)

Noragami – 05

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Hiyori has taken a liking to Yukine, and doesn’t want Yato corrupting him, so she invites Yukine to stay at her gigantic house, where her maid and parents can’t see him, which is just fine for her. She’s also undeterred by the prospect of someone who is (or at least was) an adolescent boy living and at one point sharing a bed with her. To Hiyori, he’s a little brother that needs better shelter than the musty old shrines where Yato crashes. More importantly, he needs love and kindness, something she has in spades.

But considering Yato is the one who receives the stings whenever Yukine experiences temptation—be it for Hiyori’s boob or a five-finger discount skateboard—Hiyori has things backwards: it’s technically Yukine who is corrupting Yato, in terms of physical harm, at least. And while Hiyori may have a highly mobile soul, she remains a naïf when it comes to the extent of the god-regalia (or god-shinki) dynamic. Yato makes it clear that regalia are the conduit through which gods are able to fathom human morality, something gods aren’t subject to. It’s also a way of documenting the amount of sin a regalia commits, which goes into the calculation of their eventual divine punishment, something Yato warns comes to all, including Yukine.

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While we liked the scenes in which Hiyori was treating Yukine as her adoptive brother, and we know she’s sincere in her desire to care and protect him, the reality is she isn’t powerful enough to do so. In the darkness, trouble will always come looking for Yukine, and when he wanders off on his own, his own compassion almost leads to him being snatched up by a phantom. He meets the lost soul of a young girl killed by a hit-and-run (by the leading cause of death for young girls in animeland…anime drivers are monsters!), and witnesses her becoming possessed by a phantom. It’s a heartbreaking twist, but ends up serving as a powerful wake-up call to Yukine and Hiyori alike.

Neither of them are strong enough to stop the phantom, and it’s too late to save the girl, so when Yato arrives, the only course is to kill her, freeing her from everlasting hell. Even in sword form Yukine protests and wavers, but Yato uses him to rend the phantom anyway. Once the darkness takes someone, it doesn’t give them back. Under these circumstances, Hiyori is still being way too reckless with her body, while Yukine now appreciates that his best chance at surviving a dangerous world is by continuing to work with and learn from Yato. Meanwhile, a beautiful lion-riding, pistol-wielding god has taken notice of Yato’s activities and new regalia. That should be an interesting meeting!

7_very_goodRating: 7 (Very Good)

Otorimonogatari – 03

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Expecting to find Koyomi in his bed, Tsukihi is surprised to find Nadeko there. They have a heart-to-heart, in which Tsukihi suspects Nadeko takes comfort in persistently loving someone who will always be unattainable. Bored with that stance, Tsukihi snips Nadeko’s bangs. The next day at school, Nadeko is as different a person, confidently, angrily chewing out her teacher and classmates. She leaves school early, and asks Kuchinawa to tell her where his object of worship is so they can part ways quickly. The object is at Koyomi’s house – a talisman hidden in porn. When Kuchinawa asks her what she wants (other than her bangs back) in return for helping him, she asks if he can make Koyomi fall in love with her. Koyomi enters the room and says no.

Well, Nadeko’s “honeymoon” with Kuchinawa is over; and by episode’s end she wants a separation. After an immersive, somewhat wall-crumbling talk with (and haircut by) Tsukihi, Nadeko becomes a new person at school. To that end, Hanazawa Kana dispenses with her cutesy affectation and goes into full Bimbougami-ga mode, firing with both barrels. Nadeko shocks her teacher and classmates, but she, Kuchinawa, and we all know that this wasn’t a case of Kuchinawa taking over her mind and body. This was a look at the Nadeko within – prodded by the oddity and enabled by Tsukihi’s frustration with her. Disheartened by the realization all she’s been has been cute, in one day she upturns that persona – without even thinking.

We think she scares the crap out of herself, leading to her suggestion to split with Kuchinawa at the earliest possible convenience. Her desire for alacrity suits Kuchinawa just fine, since he’s after his object of worship…which just so happens to be in the house of Nadeko’s long-time object of desire. Once Kuchinawa offers to do more than simply restore her bangs, Nadeko contemplates doing what those bangs allowed her to do: take the easy way. Instead of looking straight at people and speaking her mind, she’d always look down and apologize. Instead of going after Koyomi’s heart the hard way (like Tsukihi wished she would), the shortcut tempts her. And then Koyomi catches her in his room. We’ll see if the jig is finally up.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Aku no Hana – 02

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Kasuga gives in to temptation and takes Saeki’s gym uniform home with him. The next day the teacher reports the theft and requests info. On the way to the bookstore, he runs into Nakamura, who knows he took the uniform. She wants a ride, but he runs away, leaving her with his bike. He contemplates fessing up the next day, but he can’t gather the courage. Nakamura makes him meet her in the library where she ambushes him with Saeki, pushes him into Saeki’s bosom, and then tells him they have a “contract”: she’ll stay silent, but she’ll take “something precious” from him in return.

We decided to watch Oregairu before this this week, and you know what? Aku no Hana was the better episode tonight. Last week was very much a setup of Kasuga Takao’s existence, but we were left hanging with only our assumptions about what would transpire. This week he springs into action, letting his hormones get the best of him, hating himself for committing such a heinous sin, and of course getting caught in the web of the quiet, weird, sullen girl who get’s a very devlish grin on her face when she’s about to torture him.

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I’ll fess up. I’ll apologize before Nakamura can tell everyone. I’ll give Saeki her clothes back tomorrow.

Of course, Kasuga does none of these things. Even feaing Nakamura squealing, he just can’t face the consequences of confessing. Nakamura gave him the day to do so, but he didn’t. She calls him a coward and weakling, and then she has him. Sitting directly behind him, perhaps she’s jealous of all the attention Kasuga showers on Saeki from a afar; she who has done nothing to deserve such adoration. Perhaps Nakamura even likes Kasuga, but can’t express it properly, so she’ll choose to bully him. Or maybe this is just how she gets her kicks. The fact of the matter is, Kasuga did do something wrong, and she’s not going to let him off easy.

For the second straight week the series proves adept at building scenes fraught with tension, both by the somewhat unsettling character design and the understated ambient score. The rotoscoped characters are jarring (whoa! They’re human-looking!), but we won’t deny it’s refreshing to see such realistically-proportioned and naturally-moving characters. It sets itself apart visually from anything else we’ve seen this year, and fits well with the whole uncomfortable vibe of this world. And that ED themetrippy as shit.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)