Danganronpa: The Animation Makes a Mess of a Great Game

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A while back, I began watching Danganronpa: The Animation in preparation for my guide on the five summer anime you should be watching. While it didn't make the cut, it did inspire me to buy the game—but that's about the best that can be said for it. Because when it comes down to it, Danganronpa is a mess of an anime.

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Good – The Setting

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Danganronpa has an intriguing premise. Upon getting into the best high school in Japan, 15 gifted students awaken to find themselves locked in the school with only one way out: to kill one of their classmates and get away with it. On one hand, it's a psychological story, showing the different motives that can force normal, easy-going teenagers to murder each other.

Then on the other hand, it's an exciting series of murder mysteries as the characters work hard to not only gather clues but also detect the logical flaws in each other's testimonies—and that’s not even touching upon the mystery of why they are imprisoned in this murder game in the first place.

All in all, it's a captivating setup—but it's how the plot is portrayed in this anime that is where the major problems arise.

Good – The characters and voices

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Danganronpa has an awesome cast of distinct characters. Each of the students is the best in the country at something (for their age). These range from normal—like the “Super High School Swimmer” or “Super High School Class President”—to the ridiculously imaginative, like the “Super High School Fortune Teller” or the “Super High School Biker Gang Leader.” Of course, all these characters are overshadowed by their school principal, the demonic talking robotic teddy bear Monokuma.

This diverse cast is brought to life by what can only be called “voice actor porn.” The rude, trash-talking Monokuma is voiced by Nobuyo Oyama, the former voice of Japanese children's hero Doraemon, while the man character, Naiegi, is voiced by Megumi Ogata—aka Shinji from Evangelion. Simply put, if you are a voice actor nerd, you are bound to be impressed by this cast.

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And since only the courtroom scenes were fully voiced in the game, fans of the game will no doubt be pleased to see many of the game's most powerful moments recreated with full voice acting.

Bad – A Breakneck Pace

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The game of Danganronpa is split into six chapters, each revolving around a different murder case. Each of these chapters is then divided into three parts: the peaceful time before the murder, gathering evidence after the murder, and the class trial. There are, however, only thirteen episodes in the series. Thus, a full chapter of the story must be completed every two episodes.

What this means is that the plot goes fast—far too fast for a story of this type. No sooner are you shown the evidence of the murder than it is being solved on the screen. Half the fun of mystery programs is looking at the same evidence as the characters and solving it before they do. There is simply no time to do this in the 22-minute run time of Danganronpa.

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Bad – Does Little More Than Spoil the Game

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Also due to the show's breakneck pace, little time is spent actually getting to know the characters. A full third of the game is devoted to this; but the anime cuts it out almost entirely. Thus, you have no time nor reason to form any kind of attachment to the characters—and when they die (or murder another character) it’s hard to feel strongly one way or the other.

So with the loss of emotional attachment—and not having the time to solve the mystery yourself—the whole series comes off like little more than reading the wikipedia article of the game's plot. In other words, watching this anime feels like little more than being bombarded by a series of plot spoilers.

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Final Thoughts

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Danganronpa: The Animation is pretty poor as far as game-to-anime adaptations go—though I admit I don't see how it could have been done much better with only thirteen episodes of run time. If you have played the game, by all means, give this a watch—you'll probably enjoy getting to see all your favorite scenes fully animated and voiced. But if you haven't played the game, then just give this one a pass until after the game hits the Vita in English early next year.

Danganronpa: The Animation aired on TBS in Japan. It can be watched for free and in English in the United States on Funimation.

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Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

To contact the author of this post, write to BiggestinJapan@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @BiggestinJapan.

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DISCUSSION

ravenwarrior88
ravenwarrior88

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll say that I had never heard of this franchise until after I started watching the show, have not played any of the games, and honestly probably never will. That said, I really don't think this is a fair review of the show. Have you ever considered that maybe there are people who like mystery stories that maybe don't want to be in direct control over the pace of the plot, thus don't want to play the game? I do agree somewhat on the pace being slightly too fast, but the execution of the murder/trial/punishment formula works well here in my opinion; I feel like I can stay engaged with the story as the base premise expands outward and the murders get more complex. Also I think not having all the info on everyone on a personal level adds a different wrinkle to trying to figure out who did what crime when following along with the show. There's more mystery in trying to deduce something when you don't have perfect information. Plus with any sizable cast where they can be eliminated one-by-one, there are going to be some characters there just to set up the early eliminations (or in this case early kills/killers). It's simple reality show theory and you can't really fault this for having characters you didn't feel like you knew well, because you were never really meant to know them in the grand scheme of things.