Classroom of the Elite is, by most measures, not an especially good anime. But thematically I think it’s great and I’ve been enjoying it.
The whole setup is a pretty obvious analogy for capitalism. The students enter a school where they earn money each month based on their performance. They are literally divided into classes and forced to fight in class warfare. The upper classes have all the advantages and the lower classes are treated like trash. All while the upper classes and the teachers pretend that this system is fair and just.
Allow me to point out a few parts of the analogy I find especially poignant:
- Even the lower classes have managed to delude themselves into believing that this class system is fair. They are unable to even imagine a different system.
- The capitalist system is so pernicious and prevalent that even personal relations are understood only in terms of debt and repayment. Even the supposedly fair teachers can be bought off with money, and no one sees a problem with this.
- The lower classes spend their time ineffectually fighting among themselves, ignoring the oppressive capitalist system itself.
- At one point, the student council holds a trial which is a complete farce. The words of the upper class are trusted over those of the lower class, and the lower class is guilty until proven innocent. The upper classes are the judge and jury.
- The lower classes are subject to collective punishment for the (presumed) misdeeds of a few, the upper classes are not.
But the main point I wanted to focus on is the one seed of hope in Classroom of the Elite: Ayanakoji’s refusal to play the game. He has no desire to rise to a higher class. He knows that the game is rigged, and to play is to lose. Or to make someone else lose, which is just as bad.
His classmates don’t understand.
And of course, the powers that be will not accept this.
The teachers reserve their worst possible punishment for refusing to strive to acquire more wealth and rise above his classmates. They know that Ayanakoji is a threat to their entire system. It’s just like why the Roman empire killed Jesus.
This thread of the story made me think about the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27):
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds,* and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’
It’s interesting that because we are so enmeshed in an oppressive capitalist society, the vast majority of Americans (including myself until only a few years ago) are utterly unable to even read this parable. The typical way this parable is explained in American churches is that you should be like the first two slaves, who invested wisely what they have been given and were rewarded by their master, a stand-in for God.
But… this is the exact opposite of what the text says. The king is not God. He is a wicked and harsh man, a tyrant who oppresses his people. In fact, it’s believed he was an actual king, who did indeed murder the delegation who protested against him in Rome.
Think about this: how do the first two slaves earn a 500% and 1000% return on their investment? The same way everyone else in history has earned those sorts of returns, by oppressing and cheating the poor. But the third slave refuses to play their game. He says “Fuck you! I don’t want your filthy money! I’m afraid of you, so I’ll give it back, but not a cent more!” And then even what little he has is taken from him.
Unlike most of Jesus’ parables, this one pointedly does not reference the kingdom of God. It describes the world as it is, not the world as it ought to be. “To all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” That’s capitalism. And that’s what’s going to happen to Ayanakoji.