Danganronpa: Kibou no Gakuen to Zetsubou no Koukousei – The Animation Review: High School Survival Game of Despair

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A week ago I watched the last episode of Danganronpa: Kibou no Gakuen to Zetsubou no Koukousei – The Animation, or Danganronpa for short.  Back in my Kara no Kyoukai 1 post, I mentioned that there was another series I had watched through a good portion of, and this was that series.  Truth be told, I hadn’t intended on watching through this anytime soon (especially since I had previously been told to stick with the game), but a friend of mine insisted on my watching through it, and upon reaching the halfway point I figured there wasn’t much point in stopping my watching and decided to pull through with the anime.  Danganronpa’s the kind of series I knew I would enjoy from the beginning, although there were quite a few problems that kept me from loving it as much as I could have.

Danganronpa is a story about 15 students who are going to attend Hope’s Peak Academy, a high school that is said to guarantee a successful future upon graduating.  However, the students are trapped in the school, where they might very well be trapped forever.  Monokuma, a strange teddy bear who serves as the principal of the school, tells the students that there is a way to graduate: to commit a murder and get away with it.  If the other students successfully discover who the murderer is, this person will be executed for disturbing the order.  However, if the students make a mistake in pointing out the killer, everyone except the actual murderer is executed, thus allowing the murderer to graduate.

Knowing that this story was a survival game story of sorts, I was quite excited to watch it, as I tend to enjoy those types of stories thoroughly.  Even more so because of the Classroom Trials, which reminded me of the Ace Attorney series (which I have lots of love for).  And indeed, the story itself was great fun for me to watch, as psychological mystery stories of this sort are quite thrilling for me and seeing how everything would unfold in itself was quite enjoyable.  However, there was one fatal flaw as far as the story goes in this anime: pacing.  While I did not have major problems with the plot and events themselves, it is not too difficult to guess that an anime with only 13 episodes is going to be quite limited in its storytelling.  And indeed, the story went by very quickly, to the point where much was not explained and the entire anime felt very rushed.  Only a few episodes were set aside for a given case, which was quite disappointing because investigations went by so quickly that it was nearly impossible to make a worthwhile deduction as far as the mysteries went.  Even the ending itself doesn’t explain everything, and while part of this might be attributed to the fact that there are other installments that most likely elaborate on some story elements, it is disappointing that some things are ignored.  While the story itself felt quite engaging and I enjoyed seeing how everything played out, it could have been handled in a much more satisfying way.

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The characters are quite an unusual bunch, and there are indeed a variety of unusual personalities in our wide cast.  However, again, 13 episodes heavily limits the amount of development characters can get, especially considering some die very quickly.  While there are likeable personalities within the group and some characters have memorable moments, the amount of actual growth and development the cast has is relatively little and the events happen so quickly that it’s hard to become truly attached to most of the cast since they express little beyond their personality quirks at face value.  That said, however, some characters do stand out in spite of the anime’s limitations.  I should probably start by mentioning the protagonist, Naegi Makoto.  Naegi is a relatively ordinary character that doesn’t stand out a whole lot, though he is a very optimistic individual that often pulls through when major problems occur.  My personal favorites are Kiyotaka Ishimaru and Mondo Oowada.  Ishimaru is a serious, orderly individual who values proper conduct and doing what is right, while Oowada is a hot-headed delinquent that gets angered easily.  Needless to say, those two are different to the point of conflict, though both of them have great moments (particularly in case 2) that really got me attached to them.  Truth be told, part of the reason that I liked these two is because it felt like they had the most development as far as this anime went, as most of the characters remained largely the same and didn’t have many great moments as these two do.  Other characters I feel I should mention are Kyouko Kirigiri, the detective girl of the story (and probably the most popular character in the series, or at least the first Danganronpa) and Byakuya Togami, heir to the successful Togami family and an arrogant but intelligent boy.  There are many others as well (some much, much weirder than others) but it would take a while to list them all, and they don’t all get significant development in the first place.

Even though Danganronpa has its share of flaws, however, there are a number of reasons why I found I really enjoyed it.  To begin with, Danganronpa is one of those psychological mystery stories, which I find I almost always enjoy.  Even with rushed pacing, the story was largely engaging and I always found myself interested when trying to figure out who the killer was for a given case and figuring out some of the mysteries not only for each case but the entire story itself.  Like mentioned before, the Classroom Trials reminded me a lot of Ace Attorney, especially with how Naegi points out the contradictions in a given character’s statement using evidence found from the investigations.  To go on a bit of a tangent, I believe I’ve heard at some point in time that Danganronpa is a sort of a combination of Zero Escape and Ace Attorney, and I suppose there is some truth to it.  It certainly has the horrific, despair-inducing atmosphere at times with the entire cast trapped, just as Zero Escape’s story is, though it also has the crucial murder mystery elements and even courtroom trials very similar to Ace Attorney.  I imagine the similarities might even be stronger with the game, as it is a visual novel and also has the gameplay elements for investigating and the courtroom proceedings that Ace Attorney does.  I wouldn’t say that Danganronpa was quite on the level of those two series (at least the anime, the VN might very well be as good) but it was still an enjoyable watch for me and I do hope that they animate the second game, ideally two-cour so development doesn’t feel like such an issue.

Danganronpa was a very entertaining watch, especially since I had seen the first half of the anime with my friend when I started, although the adaptation was limited in quite a few ways.  Story pacing was often a problem (and it’s all the more unsatisfying since there are still many things left unanswered) and character development was very limited, with some characters having no development at all.  Had the anime been 24 or so episodes, I imagine it would’ve had a 9/10 with ease.  However, as much as I enjoyed watching overall, 13 episodes is simply too little for a series of this sort to act on its full potential, so in the end I would rate Danganronpa an 8/10.  Sooner or later I hope to play the visual novel to see how much more it expands on the story, as I imagine that development in all areas is given much more attention in the source material, especially because it is not limited to a mere 13 episodes in which to tell the entire story.  In any event, it’s taken me this long to write about Danganronpa so hopefully I can write about Shingeki no Kyojin (my other recently completed ongoing) sooner than later.  I can only imagine how much writing I’ll have to do once all of those fall ongoings finish…….

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  1. I’m interested to hear your thoughts after you played the game.

    I never did watch Dangan Ronpa, with the exception of a few clips (but I finished the game), but one thing that bothers me the most is how much similar it copy-pasted the game’s visual designs. Furthermore, the execution scenes were straight out extracted from the games! That, to me, is just lazyness on my part. As the game also proceeds in a kind of visual novel-interface, it kinda works in game indeed, but in anime, there’s hardly any animations. All the character movements feel pretty stiff.

    • I imagine I’d probably be harsher on the anime once I’ve played the VN since I’ll actually know personally what was missing, but I’ll just have to see when I do get around to it.

      There’s definitely a lot of recycled material as far as the anime goes. I did notice that the executions had a very different style that was obviously from the game, though I imagine it would’ve been difficult to properly convey the atmosphere they had using typical anime means. As for the character designs, I thought they were pretty nice and from what I’ve seen of the VN art I like it a bit more, though the animation in the anime isn’t particularly great so it doesn’t make such a huge difference. All that said though, Danganronpa’s one of those things where I didn’t mind all of that so much since they aren’t among the most crucial aspects of the series. Not that the story/character flaws in the anime were nonexistent, but as far as visuals and animation go I’m willing to be a bit more lenient on the anime just because of the nature of the series.

  2. I bought the Vita game yesterday and have just completed the first case. I want to play the game before watching the series as it wouldn’t be much fun going through the game if you know the outcome of the cases.

    • Sorry for the horribly late reply, school’s really been picking up the workload (in my last semester of high school at that, probably the worst time possible) and my schedule’s been pretty bad. Luckily I’m on spring break now so I have a bit more time, hopefully I can get in a few posts too before my free time gets tossed out the window.

      Awesome, I really want to give the game a try sometime. I noticed that you wrote a review for the game since you’ve actually finished it up, I haven’t read through it yet but I’ll go give it a look soon. And that’s very true, a big draw of the story is seeing how the twists and mysteries play out, something I won’t get to enjoy with the game now that I’ve seen it all happen in the anime. Admittedly that will take away a bit from my experience but it will still be worth seeing how much depth and detail the source material has in comparison to the adaptation, which I still enjoyed a lot but was far too short to be what it could have been at its best. I probably won’t get around to it for a while so at least the details won’t all be fresh in my mind once I do play, even if I still know the identities of the killers and whatnot.

  1. October 8th, 2013

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