Danganronpa The Animation (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 331 minutes approx.
Supposedly an elitist school, average student Makoto Naegi is surprised to have won a placement at Hope Peak High School via lottery and is even more surprised when he is knocked unconscious the moment he enters the premises. Naegi awakes to find a note instructing him to attend assembly in the cafeteria, where he finds fourteen other students already gathered.
A remote control half black-half white bear then appears, introducing himself as the school principal Monokuma, and reveals the student’s upcoming syllabus – they will remain in the school for the rest of their lives unless they can earn their graduation by killing the other students. Naturally balked at by the students, Monokuma suggests they try to find a way out if they can, while feeding each student a video to inspire them to mount an early escape campaign by turning on the others.
Danganronpa is based on a popular video game franchise which in turn has taken some of its plot cues from the classic novel and film Battle Royale. Obviously being an anime this has a little more fun in playing with the character tropes and creating outlandish scenarios for the students, incorporating a series of murder mysteries to be solved.
No, this isn’t a spoiler since it is inevitable that some of the students will be panicked enough to off one of the others for their own gain. However Monokuma isn’t letting them get away with it completely – each time there is a murder, there is to be a classroom trial where the evidence is discussed and the vote is cast as to who the culprit may be. Guess correctly and they suffer a fatal punishment; get it wrong and the rest of the class are punished.
This sets the scene for a tangled web of intrigue as the disparate group learn to trust and work alongside each other in the name of survival, both collectively and individually. There is also the wild card in Monokuma who may have set some traps or instigated the murders himself – after all Naegi overhears him discuss a sixteenth student who is never seen.
Perhaps this is for the best as having fifteen students and Monokuma makes for an already crowded cast for a single cour show, even if some aren’t around long enough to make an impact with the audience. They are a bizarre looking bunch though – Celestia Ludenberg has ridiculously oversized corkscrew pony tails; Sakura Ogami is a huge man beast with rippling muscles, deep voice and a scarred face despite being female (!) and Yasuhiro Hagakure has the wildest braided afro you’ve ever seen.
The personalities of others are physically defined like track suit wearing Aoi Asahina, rich family heir Byakuya Togami, ice cold Kyoko Kirigiri and writer Toko Fukawa, who has a deadly alter ego in the Gene Simmons-esque tongue wiggling Genocide Sho! Then there is computer whizz Chihiro Fujisaki with a huge secret revealed under unfortunate circumstances.
Anime adaptations of video games have met with various degrees of success, depending on the nature of the game, in which some can survive purely based on the basic plot and character alone. Games which require in depth player interaction that tell complex and interwoven stories which last for considerable amounts of time are destined for trouble insofar as how much material is to excised and what can be remoulded to fit the anime format.
To that end Danganronpa has met with harsh criticism from fans of the game for such liberties being taken with this adaptation, not in the least due to the condensing of the material. Even if you’ve not played the game (guilty your honour) thirteen episodes is clearly not enough to explore the various plot twists in depth nor is there sufficient opportunity to become familiar with the characters, a key facet of the game being the interaction with the rest of the cast.
Similarly the classroom trials are frantic and contrived affairs in which the students present their suspicions and try to justify their opinions using the evidence they have either obtained or surmised. No-one can deny that we are treated to some wonderful moments of scholarly deduction but too often, the arguing party – usually Naegi – will bring up something that the viewer didn’t see to prove his case, all the while confounding our own role as detective in the absence of such vital information.
Because the story demands that students are killed off in such a short time, the execution sees the series being struck by an immediate dilemma – do they run with the formula of murder, trial, murder, trial, until the finale? Or do they try to build the characters and situation up then hold a murder very two or three episodes?
Time constraints mean the latter is out of the question while the former creates repetition which is the enemy of drama and suspense. Thus for director Seiji Kishi – who helmed other game adaptations in Persona 4 and Devil Survivor 2 – this show has been severely compromised from the outset which is presumably why some many players have issue with it. Again, this is evident without having played the game.
Handling the production is studio Lerche with mixed results. The artwork is fine and detailed while the animation isn’t necessarily bad although the characters are largely static during the trials aside from their mouth movements. The punishments are rendered in CGI to add a sinister and nightmarish quality to the gory fate that awaits the victim but the most interesting gimmick is that all blood is fluorescent pink!
Perhaps not as bad as gamers might have you believe, Danganronpa has just enough going for it to satiate that gnarly anime fix if nothing else is available. However the wasted potential of such an intriguing and suspenseful murder mystery due to time limitations is as much a crime as murder itself.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Episode 1 Commentary
Textless Opening Song: “Never Say Never” / “Never Say Never” (Instrumental)
Textless Closing Song: “Zetsubosei: Hero Chiryoyaku” / “Zetsubosei: Hero Chiryoyaku” (Alt version)
Textless Closing Song: “Saisei – rebuild”
Rating – ***
Man In Black