Danganronpa Anime Review
Written by: ClayDragon
If you’re a regular reader of our articles and Top 10 lists, then you’re probably aware that Shiggins is a large fan of the Danganronpa video game series (if you didn’t know this, you do now). And for a long time now, he has been getting on at me to get into the series. However, since I’m not one of the handful of people who own a PSVita, nor am I a member of the glorious PC gaming master race, the only way for me to experience Danganronpa is to watch the anime version. And since he formally requested that I review it, I was left with no choice.
|"How dare you interrupt our tea time?"|
The story begins with Makoto Naegi, the main character, waking up in a school building along with fourteen other pupils. None of them have any memories of what transpired, and all the doors and windows in the building are barricaded and sealed shut, so it’s not exactly an ideal situation. To make matters worse, they’re confronted by a walking, talking teddy bear named Monokuma, who tells them that the only way out of the school is to kill or be killed.
Basically, should someone commit a murder and get away with it, they would be allowed to walk free whilst everyone else dies. However, if the other students realise who committed the murder, then the murderer gets executed. Furthermore, Monokuma offers numerous ‘incentives’ in order to goad the pupils into killing their peers. Of course, it isn’t too long before the deaths start piling up, forcing the survivors to try and find the killers.
Danganronpa is based on a computer game, and the anime has all the hallmarks – 8-bit graphics are used on occasion, the scenes where characters gather evidence are very reminiscent of games like Ace Attorney, and some scenes use animation styles taken directly from the game itself. However, the series also falls into one of the main pitfalls of visual novel adaptations – the main protagonist is infuriatingly bland. Naegi’s not a bad character, per se, but compared to everyone else in the show he’s just…average.
Speaking of the other characters, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some characters, like the rich asshole Byakuya Togami and the amateur detective Kyouko Kirigiri were both memorable and likable, but (without naming names) there were a number of pupils who I was quite happy to see get killed off. Despite being occasionally grating, Monokuma is a competent villain since he constantly bounces between being hilarious and terrifying, and sometimes manages to be both at the same time (seriously, there’s a lot of black comedy in this show).
|His bear arms are cute and useless.|
The animation is pretty standard, and there are a few scenes during which the animation style changes to more closely resemble the game. Sometimes, this has the desired effect, such as during the accusation scenes where the pupils try to figure out who the murderer is. Other times…not so much. See, in the game, blood is coloured purple due to the Japanese rating system and the anime kept that aspect. Whilst I understand why they did it from a stylistic point of view, it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of the deaths just look like the characters were unlucky during a game of paintball. The animation also changes during the execution scenes, but it’s so different to the rest of the show that it comes off as feeling a bit unreal. That, coupled with the coloured blood, makes it a bit difficult to take any deaths seriously.
|"Give me a minute, there's a Pikachu somewhere in this building."|
In terms of the soundtrack, Danganronpa performs well. The background tracks are memorable – especially the tune that plays whenever a body is discovered – and the ending is pretty awesome, as it looks like a throwback to the NES era. The only aspect of the music I can really fault is the opening, since it never really clicked with me, but maybe that’s just due to my own preferences in music. Danganronpa does have a dub, but the sub is the clear winner here, due in no small part to Bryce Papenbrook as Naegi (I don’t mean anything against the man, since he can do good voice acting, like Henry in Fire Emblem Awakening, but every anime role he has seems to be sub-par). Plus, the dub has a couple of pointless name changes and removes a potentially important bit of foreshadowing.
The main problem I have with this series is that, since it’s trying to adapt about 30-odd hours of gameplay into 13 episodes, the pacing is incredibly rushed. It starts off okay – there’s just enough time between the first murder and the trial for the viewer to piece together an idea of what happened by themselves – but as the series goes on the time difference between murder and trial gets so small that there’s no way you’d be able to figure out the culprit, and given that this is the whole point of the game, it’s quite irritating.
|Of course, there's always time for some fanservice, right?|
This also has the unfortunate effect of characters getting little or no screentime. Granted, trying to fit in development for all fifteen students would have been impossible, but I found myself having no reaction to any of the deaths simply because the characters hadn’t been expanded upon nearly enough. And again, given that the game is about making you like characters before killing them off, the fact that very few of the deaths elicited an emotional reaction from me is a pretty bad sign.
|Okay, I never reacted like this, but still.|
Finally, the pacing issues also mean that a number of revelations towards the end of the series don’t make much sense at all – so much so that I had to send Shiggins a list of questions I had about the show once I’d finished watching. There’s a particular reveal late on that was played as a game-changer, but it had received no foreshadowing whatsoever, making it feel more like it was pulled out of nowhere as opposed to being a legitimate twist. Furthermore, there’s a spoilery character that shows up at the end and is revealed to be one of the major players in the series, but they get only fifteen minutes of screentime before they’re whisked away again. Yes, their appearance is memorable, but they don’t get fleshed out nearly enough.
It’s a shame, because when I was watching the show I kept feeling that there was a great series in there somewhere. I’ve never played the games, so I don’t know if they’re any different (although Shiggins does claim that the game is much better). Most of the characters seem interesting, and the overarching mysteries made me want to find out more about this world, but the pacing and execution are utterly botched. At the very least, I can recommend getting into this series, but watching the anime is not the way to do it. You’d be better off just sticking to the game.
|Who'll survive? Taking all bets!|
Good Things: Genuinely interesting premise and central questions.
A number of students are genuinely likeable.
Monokuma is a funny yet terrifying villain.
Good soundtrack and amazing ending.
The climax of the final trial is pretty damn awesome.
Bad Things: Naegi is as bland as they come.
Lots of characters don’t get the screentime they deserve.
Animation styles rob the deaths of some of their impact.
A number of plot holes/unanswered questions due to rushed pacing.
Do you have a suggestion for an anime I should review? Let me know in the comments, or submit it to ask.fm/ClayDragon! Thanks to Shiggins, who requested this review!
|I don't know who made this gif, and this character isn't even in the first Danganronpa, but it was too important not to share.|
ClayDragon has finished studying Physics at university, and understands about as much as he did when he started. The main method of contacting him is his Gmail account at email@example.com. He has an ask.fm account at ask.fm/ClayDragon. When not playing games or reading, he can be found with his head in his hands whilst trying in vain to figure out what to do with his life. T minus 16 days until No Man's Sky...