It’s amazing how far some parents and even teachers will go to push their kids up a grade or two at school.

Personally, my school rigorously trained us in ways to pass the state’s standardized test. It wasn’t about what we learned, but rather about getting a result that would eventually lead to us getting into a good college, and then a good job. While I can’t agree with this system where results are more important than knowledge, I can now say that I’m just glad that the adults in my life during high school didn’t act like the ones in the Cheating Craft anime.

Cheating Craft–an anime based off of a Chinese comic–takes place in a country where background determines worth. Passing the “National Special-Level University Exam” is the deciding factor that measures one’s worth. Pass, and you’re set for life. Fail, and you’re basically screwed. Two kinds of students exist that take this test: L-Type (Learning Type) students who are born with overwhelming intelligence and take the test fairly and C-Type (Cheating Type) students who will use any method necessary to pass.

In the anime, it’s not just the kids who are attempting to cheat. No, the parents of even studious kids will go so far as to physically alter their kids with contact lenses that can translate any language immediately and artificial skin transplants that contain the answers to the test. In the first episode, we see one cheating student go so far as to shoot anyone in range with his mechanical pencil machine gun to knock them out so he can grab some answers off of his buddy’s test. Heck, he even ends up blowing up the entire test building! Why go this far for a mere exam?

Watching this episode and the lengths taken to pass an entry exam, I was reminded of the scenes I had seen in other anime and manga; ones where kids got into university by checking for their number on a board like in Lovely Complex, or where kids were ranked by their grades like in the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga. It’s such a foreign concept to students in the west that in the case of the latter example, they had to put a translation note explaining why the kids were being ranked. I talked with my Japanese friend about the system at lunch.

She explained to me that while ranking kids is something most schools have done away with because of fears that kids would get too competitive, parents focusing on their kids passing entrance exams–whether high school or college–is still very real. Because some of the content on these exams are not even taught in the classes the children attend, a large number of students in Japan are sent to cram school to study even more. When I asked her whether this cram school was just after school during the week, she noted that there are also cram schools with sessions on the weekends. I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school, I personally spent my weekends playing video games to relax after building up stress during the school week.

The biggest test for high schoolers–and the one they will spend preparing for through their entire three-year term there–is without a doubt the college entrance exams. The grade you get on the exam doesn’t exactly matter, as long as you pass. When a senior in high school is accepted to the college of their choice, they will see their test-taking number on a bulletin board. If not, they will have to remain out of school for an entire year and wait for the next test to come around so they can try again–as seen in classic anime Chobits and Love Hina. Therefore, it’s completely obvious to see why students are pressured to pass their entrance exams by their parents.

That’s why although Cheating Craft is based off of a Chinese comic, the anime reflects a very real standard in Japanese education. There is a reason to be desperate in the testing room. While I’m positive Japanese students don’t shoot pencil lead at each other in order to get ahead like in Cheating Craft, I’m pretty sure some would, given the chance.

In a way, Cheating Craft might be representing the inner struggles of Japanese students. In a society where entrance exam results are thought to decide an individual’s success or failure, nothing else but passing them matters. The violent and utterly absurd battles that happen in the classroom between the students and teachers as well as between the students themselves represent the panic and desperation that Japanese students feel when their turn comes around to pick up the pen.

You can watch Cheating Craft now on Crunchyroll with English subtitles worldwide outside of China, Japan, and Korea.

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