「悪とは何か――弱さから生ずるすべてのものだ。」 (Aku to wa Nani ka? Yowa sa Kara Shouzuru Subete no Mono da.)
“What is Evil? Whatever Springs From Weakness.”
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A lesson to live by.
Youkoso Jitsuryoku Shijou Shugi no Kyoushitsu e—or Youzitsu, as I will subsequently refer to it as, because jeez these titles are getting out of control—is a story about the meritocracy on steroids. It’s also a show that I’m simultaneously interested in and worried about. I feel like this story shows flashes of brilliance, and not in the backhanded compliment kind of way that says “the rest is shit”; the rest is a cipher. I feel like this show could be very good or very bad, and it’s a tricky proposition to guess which way it will go, because if this first episode is anything to go by, the story will be told about as well as this story can be told. What it will come down to is whether the story is broken or not.
Let’s take a step back. The natural comparisons to this show are BakaTest and AssClass, but there’s something crucial about them that’s lacking in this series: they’re not serious. Or they’re not serious all the time, at least. The absurdity of Ansatsu Kyoushitsu serves to sneak the serious subject matter in under your radar until it can deliver it’s payload of feels, thoughts, or lessons for characters and audience alike. Likewise, BakaTest takes a school system that, by any objective measure, is horrible and counterproductive, and turns the whole thing into a delightful farce. Youzitsu does neither of these, and it exposes the audience to the unvarnished truth of the situation without anything to lighten the load: that this school is bull$#*%. Forcing students to play a game without telling them the rules isn’t fair.
And yet, compared to what the students in AssClass or BakaTest had to endure, being short on cash—if you were unwise enough to spend it all, because not all were, as the credits show—doesn’t seem so bad. It’s certainly going to be rough for the next month for those who spent too freely, but if that’s all it is, that’s not so bad. In fact, there’s an argument to be made for using cash to incentivize students to learn, something that’s being tried in various settings in the real world right now. The social sciences run experiments too, after all.
This isn’t all that’s going to happen to the students of Class 1-D, is it? Oh my.
So the central premise of taking what has previously been treated as satire or farce, and taking it seriously, is an experiment whose success I don’t know. I’m worried, but I’m also interested. The same can be for main character Ayanokouji Kiyotaka (Chiba Shouya) and co-main Horikita Suzune (Kito Akari). Neither is likeable, and I don’t just say that in the “They’re not nice people!” kind of way. Fuck that, I’m fine with unlikable characters, I’ll watch shows with pure bastards if those bastards are interesting.
And that’s the key. Kiyotaka starts out so damn uninterested in everything that’s going on around him that I found it hard to be interested in him. Initially. Then wants-to-be-friends-with-everyone girl Kushida Kikyou (Kubo Yurika)—side note: calm down, girl. Friends aren’t pokemon to collect—recruited him to lure Suzune to the cafe so she could friend-ambush her, and I realized that Kiyotaka is oddly daring for such a laid-back guy. He also admits his screw-ups, though he also doesn’t do anything to fix them. Uncaring characters like Kiyotaka are hard to do right, because that passivity is poison to audiences, and the same can be said of Suzune as well. The glimpses of maybe something else, though, make me interested, even if I remain unsure.
Which may as well be my appraisal of this first episode. The storyteller in me is interested in this series, because I see it as trying to do several things that seem not all that difficult, maybe even natural and/or derivative, but are actually much more difficult than they seem. The viewer in me is interested too, though not as much—though, still enough to watch a second episode. This here show is a conundrum to me, and definitely one I’m going to need another episode or two to get a handle on. Until then, I’ll say that I’m interested. The real test begins now.
- “I have no interest in contributing to society.” Seriously? THIS is the hill you decide to die on? This mofo pissed me off inside of minute two. Still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but damn if it wasn’t effective.
- The wonk in me hears 100% employment and college entry rate, and remembers that even “full employment” isn’t 100%. There has to be some churn. Probably that’s author ignorance, but it sounds like they’re forcing people to get jobs and/or go to college to me. Which, given the rest of the episode, might be what happens.
- Kiyotaka noticing the camera and picking up the trash can is a nice little moment of character. They aren’t portraying him as a good person, but he is a perceptive one.
- Anything, within the realm of reason, can be bought on campus using points. Whose reason are we using here? Seems like an important question to me.
- I gotta side with Suzune against Kikyou. Just because she would be lonely doesn’t mean Suzune would be. Perhaps she prefers to be alone, which is fine. Though, even as I say that, humans are social animals, and having a social life (of some kind) is instrumental to nearly EVERY human’s happiness. That doesn’t mean it can be forced, though.
- There’s a lot of pointed camera placement in this show. They’re not showing their eyes for a reason. The characters are hiding, from themselves as much as others.
My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for exclusive content. At stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: I get it now!; Guardians of the Galaxy, Glee, & Firesign; That’s not supposed to go there . . .; and The Carcer Principle.
OP: 「カーストルーム」 (Caste Room) by ZAQ