Danganronpa is a series based on a PSP game from Spike, a company best known for their work on various DBZ games. They also worked with Capcom on a very under-rated game called Crimson Tears. This game, I never heard of until the anime came out. So I’m going to be judging the series entirely on its own merits and I’m not going to notice if they screw up something from the game. The adaptation was handled by Lerche, a company that, according to ANN, has only been involved with seven anime productions. None of which I’ve seen. So let’s take a look at the recently finished Danganronpa anime and see what it’s about.
Our story begins with our protagonist, Naegi, walking to his new High School. No sooner does he cross the threshold when he finds himself waking up in a classroom that’s been bolted shut. An announcement plays requesting all students assemble in the gymnasium. He finds himself with fourteen other students and a stuffed bear apparently belonging to Harvey Dent appears claiming to be the Principal. They’re told that they won’t be allowed to leave until they graduate. And the only way to graduate is to kill someone and get away with it. Now, Naegi has to solve the mystery of just what is going on at Hope’s Peak Academy, figure out how to escape, avoid getting killed and solve any death that happens or he, and all of the other innocent students, will be killed. This anime is very silly, but in a good way. It’s like a very macabre parody combining murder mystery with the whole “students being forced/ strongly encouraged to kill each other” genre that was popularised by Battle Royale (which happens to be on one of my book shelves between the Handmaid’s Tale and Suzuki Koji’s Dark Watch.) Now, I don’t just refer to it as a parody because the antagonist you spend most of your time with is a teddy bear. The character designs are also goofy, the tone stays rather macabre but avoids getting too dark by showing execution scenes in very muted colours and leaving the gorey bits to your imagination. There are also some rather silly scenes. To give one example, Kirigiri finds a clue in the underwear of one of the corpses. When asked why she would check there she shrugs it off as no big deal. It’s not like she checked their socks or something. Let’s move on to the mystery elements. This is an area where the series excels. The investigations go by very quickly, but they manage to give you all the information you need to either solve the case or figure out where the discussion should begin in the classroom trial. The only exception is the trial before the last one, in which they disclose very little but I’ll let that one go since there is a good story reason for it. One thing that I really liked is that they managed to make the discussions interesting, even when the solution was obvious. So you never feel like you’re watching a bunch of idiots flounder around to figure out something that should be obvious. This isn’t Hyouka. My biggest criticisms of the series are that they leave a lot of unanswered questions , which I unfortunately can’t ask since most of them involve spoilers, and the ending is pretty cheesy. Now, a lot of the series is cheesy, in a good way. The ending, however, gravitates more towards the facepalm inducing end of the cheesiness spectrum.
Most of the characters in this are pretty typical. Naegi is a lot like many other shounen protagonists, he’s young and naïve but he’s got a lot of heart and great potential. Many of the other students are also representative of rather flat archetypes. Maizono, Ishimaru, Hagakure, Yamada and Oowada to name few. Now, in all fairness, most of these characters are passable even if they aren’t particularly deep. There are some very problematic elements to the way a few of the characters are handled. Particularly Fujisaki and Sakura. There are some characters with really interesting concepts behind them, but they never get fully developed.
The art is interesting. I already mentioned the goofy character designs and the execution scenes, but there are other facets worth discussing. A second way they tone down the gore is by having blood be some bizarre colour like bright neon purple or green. The evidence is also presented in such a way that it feels like a game. It gets brought up in boxes or contradictions will be illustrated by the image of a bullet shattering into a person when Naegi raises an objection. Which does give it a unique aesthetic.
They got some really stellar voice actors for this. Including Ogata Megumi, Ishida Akira, Hikasa Yoko and Sawashiro Miyuki. All of whom give great performances. The biggest issues are with Kujira and Yamada Kappei. Kujira plays a female character but gives a heavily masculine performance, which is one of those problematic elements with Sakura’s character. Yamada just gives a very flat and kind of annoying performance. The music is good. It’s used to accentuate the action pretty nicely.
The Ho-yay factor is a 1/10. This has no Ho-yay. I kept expecting there to be some, just because it is starring Ogata Megumi and I’m used to seeing her play characters with either a same sex love interest or at least a one-sided crush on someone of the same sex like Haruka, Yukito, Kurama, and Ayato. But no, she doesn’t this time.
So, how is Danganronpa? As a horror piece, it doesn’t really work. But if you have a dark sense of humour and you enjoy a good mystery you will likely enjoy it quite a bit in spite of its problems. If macabre elements creep you out or mysteries make your head hurt, it’s not going to be for you. For myself, I give it a 7/10. It’s a good anime and I did enjoy watching it. Next week, horror anime month ends with a look at some cute little animals… from the Petshop of Horrors.