Well, it’s been quite some time, hasn’t it? Unfortunately, like in this series, school sort of took over my life and it’s been quiet a trial, to say the least. But I have since escaped its clutches unharmed and gotten a chance to watch a series that asks “what would it look like if we mashed together Highschool of the Dead, Lord of the Flies, and The Hunger Games“? Long story short, I am glad my experience with the educational system had a lot less neon pink blood.
Let’s take a look at Danganronpa: The Animation.
A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment.
Based on the popular game, Dangaronpa: Kibo no Gakuen to Zetsubo no Kokosei, marketed in English as Dangaronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the show follows 15 students trapped inside a high school for the super elite and told that in order to escape they must kill each other, according to the evil teddy bear that runs the place. There’s a catch, however. The only way one of them will escape is to commit murder and get away with it, as after every murder the students must hold a trial and convict someone as the killer. If they choose wrong, they all die except for the killer. However, the high school hides many secrets and as such, our protagonist Makoto Naegi, the one “average” student accepted into the program, has to uncover the truth before he’s the last one left standing.
If there’s one flaw that sticks out like a sore thumb, it is the ending. It very much plays out like a video game ending but without the hours put into the interaction and effort, the payoff is just not there for the audience, especially with the focus on “hope.” It is also hard to inspire investment when there were so many questions left about the reveal. What is the event that changed everything? How were their memories taken? How did they survive and how did they set up such impressive security measures so quickly and with so little help? I know there’s going to be a sequel series that will answer some of these questions but it’s not a great sign that after watching the anime I had to go out and try and look up what happened in the game. I will say the twist itself is great, and I didn’t guess it until just before the episode where it was revealed.
I never played the game, so I have no idea how it holds up when compared to the source material. However, I do think it is a little weird that in the trial sections of the show they still use the verbal bullets. Aspects like the clue highlighting and neon pink blood feel more like nods to the original and add to a unique aesthetic to the show, but the verbal bullets only work as a game callback and a flashy animation gimmick. It might have been cleaner in terms of storytelling if they had just kept them out, but I’m sure they were just trying to avoid the ire of angry fanboys.
The art style closely resembles its video game roots, and that’s not a bad thing. The CGI is used sparingly, and for the most part, it only adds to the game-like effect. That doesn’t mean it looks particularly good, but the character designs do look great in 2D form. Like with most shows, the animation varies in quality but for the most part, it holds up well.
In terms of dub versus sub, both versions have their merits but I ended up watching the majority of the series in the dub. Not only was the dialogue hilarious (with a few translation liberties), but Monokuma is by far less annoying and grating in English. The dub has the typical issue of the high schoolers just sounding a touch too adult for their age, but honestly, I think it adds to the satirical nature of the show. After all, part of that fun is that the narrative makes fun of the typical high school time tropes with an absurdist premise. The music, a sort of dance-rock-techno mix is insanely catchy, particularly the ending song, Zetsubousei: Hero Chiryouyaku by Soaru, which has a fun pixelated theme for the credits.
All in all, Danganronpa starts strong and ends on less than stable footing, one of those shows where the journey is by far more interesting than the destination. It’s fun, it manages to create an thrilling murder narrative for a time, and ultimately creates a group dynamic that works to keep the show enrapturing. Murder, mayhem, and overqualified teenagers; who could ask for a more rip-roaring good time?
– Great characters.
– Good music and voice acting.
– Strong plot overall.
– Some game callbacks serve no purpose.
– Ending leaves a lot left to explain.