Danganronpa: The Animation (“Danganronpa“) is an anime series based on the popular PlayStation Portable (PSP) game of the same name. Rated R -17+, the anime is classified as a psychological murder mystery series with dark humourous undertones.
The series centres on Hope’s Peak Academy, an upper class, elite high school, which annually selects ‘super duper high school’ students who are the very best in a particular field, along with one ‘super duper lucky student’ who is merely an average high schooler selected by luck of the draw.
This ‘lucky’ student is Makoto Naegi, who attends his first day at Hope’s Peak Academy only to lose consciousness and wake up in a room with fourteen other students, all of which possess their own unique talents, personalities and rather interesting fashion styles. It is here that we are introduced to a character that both intrigued and annoyed me, Monokuma (or Monobear), a sadistic stuffed toy bear who happens to be the principal of Hope’s Peak Academy. He informs the students that they are forced to live at the school forever unless they are able to graduate. However, in order to graduate, students must commit the murder of another student and get away with it.
The premise of Danganronpa is interesting. It’s almost like a cross between The Hunger Games and Cluedo as each time a crime scene is unearthed, a class trial takes place, in which the students who remain alive must investigate, uncover and come to a conclusion as to who the murderer is. Upon being caught, the murderer is executed and the surviving students are once again forced into the high school’s deathmatch, until one one remains standing.
Danganronpa felt reminiscent of other animes I have watched in the past, where the main plot is to kill or be killed. Such a murder mystery plotline usually intrigues me and keeps me glued to the screen as I too attempt to figure out who the killer is. This was such the case when watching Danganronpa and definitely an aspect of the anime that I enjoyed.
However, I found several flaws with this anime series that I felt didn’t do Danganronpa justice. The series felt rushed and a little forced. The first episode did well to build up the anime’s story and introduce each character, however, almost as quickly as each character was introduced, a murder had taken place, which to me, didn’t fit very well. I would have rather there be a bit of character building and relationship development between each character early on before the anime delved right into the main plot. As it is based on a video game, 13 episodes, each at 20 or so minutes long, for an entire series just didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps another season should have been added to truly build the series.
The art style of Danganronpa was modern, with bright colours and wide, open spaces that was visually satisfactory, allowing viewers to take in the world in which the students are all in. Of particular note is the animation of Monokuma. A two-toned stuffed bear, Monokuma was white, plain and innocent looking on one half of his body and black, dark and pure evil looking on the other. No wonder this bear has issues.
Monokuma irritated me. I wasn’t sure if it was because of his annoying voice (I watched the Japanese version with English subtitles) or whether it was plainly due to his psychopathic tendencies. Nevertheless, I cringed internally each time Monokuma made an appearance and I believe that this is partly why I didn’t enjoy Danganronpa as much as I should have. As for the rest of the characters, I’m not sure why, but I didn’t feel much for any of them. When it comes to characters, I prefer an emotional connection, a sort of kinship that I am able to share with a character. In Danganronpa, identifying with a character was certainly tough.
All in all, Danganronpa had incredible promise and would have been an amazing series had there been more focus, more character and world building and characters that viewers are able to identify with. The plot was too rushed and as a newcomer to the series, it was all too confusing. If you’re interested in picking up this title, perhaps have a read of the manga adaptation or play the video game first.