Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Retail Price: $64.98
The anime and video game series Danganronpa is very different from many current anime series and has achieved cumulatively positive reactions from anime fans of many genres for its - unique story to say the least. The story takes place in the twisted high school known as Hope's Peak High. The school is very particular in who can join the ranks of its prestigious students -- but not for what you'd expect. The schools requirements suggest that if they want to achieve "academic" success, murder will be something needed to intertwine into their busy schedules. The series hones in on Makoto Naegi, a seemingly normal young man thrown into the chaos of equally disturbed students hoping to murder each other to attain freedom in a twisted hunger games style plot. The series begins to toss you into this oddly constructed ongoing anime that is full of twists, turns, and some unexpectedly peculiar choices…
From the moment he steps foot on campus, Naegi is thrust into the school that thrives on “despair” waking up in a mysterious room, before finding how was to a room full of countless students. None of the others seem to know why they are there, or quite what occurred – but the primary focus is to introduce varied characters with polarizing traits to give at least everyone a character they could potentially root for. When the quirky school’s principal (a half friendly/half evil teddy bear) is introduced, he explains the high stakes program they’ve entered. Unfortunately for them, they cannot leave the school (as in ever) unless murdering a fellow student, setting it up to see most of them die before the 12 episode anime concludes. I enjoyed the initial mysterious plot – and the characters attempts to initially band together, but you know that this will soon fall apart once someone succumbs to the malevolent setup.
As the murders slowly (but surely) begin, they take a nod from parliament with a trial, requiring the murders to get away with the crime in an allotted time. After some time has passed and the trial commences, the crude bear will reveal the outcome – and if the jury selects correctly, the killer will not be allowed to graduate (which is their only way to escape.) If the jury is incorrect, there will still be a punishment of death to a random member. The trail is yet another form of manipulation that turns them against each other more frequently, and potentially increases the attempted murders for the wicked principal’s plans. Unlike many horror survival series, the deaths pile up with every episode and the 14 characters are soon all in jeopardy whether or not they are responsible for the deaths of others. The murder mystery aspect of Danganronpa is a great concept for an anime series (it’s a void that needs to be filled) and although the results aren’t always what I’d hoped, I applaud the commitment to an ongoing whodunit plot. Along with the murderers within their ranks, the principal makes an additional villain that you continuously hope to see meet their very own demise (but I won’t spoil that end result).
While I do enjoy the mystery and survival aspect of the series, there are a few attributes to the series that don’t exactly sit well with me. For example, the deaths of the characters are “extreme” as the small bear explains, and more often than not are graphically violent if someone else is caught (so yes, mainly the characters who commit murder themselves) but regardless can go too far – most noticeably at the end of the series when a main character’s involvement is determined. The trial and justice system is an interesting notion to toy with for an anime, but the odd choice of punishments in Danganronpa is my biggest gripe about the series. In terms of characters, it took me a few episodes to actually establish that I liked a few of them, and one of the relationships I became most invested in was the bond between Ohwada and Ishimaru. The two begin as rivals, and quickly become close friends in dire circumstances which is a strong example of the personal relationships that begin to develop among the 14 captive students.
Fujisaki was another character in the anime who stood out and strongly defied typical anime characteristics. Fujisaki wasn’t a major presence in the anime but was a character that wasn’t necessarily looking to label his sexual identity, without being used in a cliché or insincere plot device. If anything, Fujisaki was one of the kindest characters in the series – yet his light was something that didn’t belong in the traumatic school of murder. His relationship with another character was also one of the most upsetting, surprising, and emotional reveals of the series, making it well known that Danganronpa does have characters you can invest in. The main character Naegi plays the largest role, often connecting with each character, overlooking their flaws, and being the leader behind the investigations conducted. They make sure that if he’s going to be the focal point that he serves an importance to the plot, and over time he becomes a solid lead character for the video game adaptation. My only issue about each character in the series was that introducing so many made it difficult to feel anything genuine about their deaths, with less time to become attached to them – even with the standouts – there could have been a little more depth. The characters that did meet their demise tended to be the more intriguing characters, which was another risky choice that sometimes worked, and sometimes fell short. Without spoiling, I generally had little interest in the core group that made it to the final stretch.
The animation of the characters took me almost the entire series to adjust to the very outlandish cartoon-y features, but there were a few (very few) who were tolerable. The dub cast was a major pro for Danganronpa, bringing back veteran voice actors Christopher R. Sabat (who funny enough voiced a character with similarities to his former Yu Yu Hakusho character, Kuabara.) Justin Cook, Kara Edwards, and Bryce Papenbrook. The talented cast is a hugely favorable inclusion to the anime, as an example of actually enhancing the quality of the franchise. The emotional range of the cast (mainly those I listed) was translated efficiently with the distress of the characters’ gloomy situations. The ending of the series provides closure to the story, though admittedly it wasn’t the conclusion I had hoped for – slightly underwhelming to an intense season. In a series that uses mystery as a major storyline, there were plenty of sleuthing opportunities to appease people trying to solve cases, but the person(s) who survives is what made the ending feel lackluster when paired with my least favorite punishment of the series. Despite the moments that I didn’t enjoy in the series, there are still plenty of positive attributes to Danganronpa for fans of a mystery/survival genre.
Overall Score: 7/10
Aedan’s Final Thoughts:
-Finally a good mystery series that explores a combination of the Saw franchise and a slasher film
-My attachment to specific characters was the final nail in their coffin, assuring they wouldn’t have a happy ending.
-If another season is adapted, I hope it creates more well-rounded characters and a decrease in certain brutal scenes.