Dangan Ronpa (2013) Three Episode Review (Redux)

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The original post is located here and was originally published September 6th, 2013.

Just for clarification this is a review of the first three episodes. After approximately an hour of material, the creators should have established story, characters, and style and thus certain, albeit limited, conclusions can be made about the show. Judge the following opinions on this basis, but to continue watching the show past this point is a waste of time.

Visual novels are a common form of entertainment amongst Otaku in Japan, but they rarely make their way over here. The best comparison that can be made is a choose-your-own-adventure book mixed with a video game. You choose paths to follow, but that’s the extent of the interactivity. By having multiple stories, visual novels are inherently tricky to adapt. Several shows have gotten around this, like Steins;Gate and Higurashi: When They Cry, but most shows just opt for one path or a blend of a few notable ones. Theoretically, Dangan Ronpa would be easier to adapt, playing more like an never-ending game of Clue and television is no stranger to murder mysteries.

Dangan Ronpa: The Animation is the story of freshman high school student, Makoto Naegi, who somehow managed to get into Hope Academy, one of the most respected schools in the country. Upon arrival he finds himself and the other students trapped in the mechanizations of a psychotic, reality defying teddy bear named Monokuma that acts as their principal. Instead of math or science, the only taught in this school is survival. In order to “graduate” and thus escape, the student must kill someone, and escape the judgement of their fellow students who are tasked to find the killer. Everyone is reluctant at fist, but things escalate quickly as bodies pile up.

In terms of adaptation, the character models and environment look spot on, in all of its bland and awkward glory. The animation only becomes interesting during the “punishment” scenes, where it into a hyperactive mix of 2D models and 3D environments. It seems this was intended to make the violence on screen seem more tame, but that implies that something horrific would be shown, which never happens.

The pacing of Dangan Ronpa is inconsistent, shifting from boring talking heads to “tense” confrontations between the students and Monokuma. The cinematography and editing can easily be compared in these moments to a bad 90s MTV music video. This falsely “exciting” filmmaking is applied to a basic Battle Royale premise, with one-note characters and dialogue that shifts from dull and pointless to nonsensically revelatory at a moment’s notice.

Watching Dangan Ronpa is very much like watching someone play the visual novel. From an adaptation standpoint they succeeded, but that doesn’t mean that said adaptation is interesting or worth watching. When playing a visual novel you are engaging in the story, but watching anime leaves you a passive observer. Dangan Ronpa doesn’t do anything to overcome this, leaving the core of each episode essentially characters standing around talking and not bothering to actual develop their protagonist, leaving him a bland audience stand-in. It’s only a small comfort to know that at some point a random event will interrupt the repetitive dialogue to move the plot along in a way that might make sense, if you weren’t so bored that you aren’t paying attention. If the premise of Dangan Ronpa seems interesting then just watch a let’s play, don’t bother with this one.

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Dangan Ronpa: The Animation (2013) 3 Episode Review

Dangan Ronpa: The Animation is a 2013 animated visual novel that is one of the few Lets Plays to ever be broadcast on TV before. Ok if you haven’t guessed… I don’t like this one. Just for clarification this is a 3 episode analysis. It’s my belief that after 3 episodes the makers should have clearly established story, characters, and style and thus it can be judged on its initial quality. All my opinions following are based on these episodes alone and if the show becomes fucking amazing in the 4th episode then oops my bad. As stated before Dangan Ronpa is based off a visual novel and its bland characters, constant dialogue and predictability all reflect that in the worst possible way.

Dangan Ronpa is the story of new high school student Mr. Bland who somehow managed to get into Hope Academy, one of the most respected schools in the country. However when he arrives he finds himself (and the other students) trapped in the mechanizations of a psychotic, reality defying teddy bear. The only way to graduate is to kill someone else… and get away with it. Things escalate quickly as bodies pile up and mysteries demand to be solved for the sake of survival. Trust me, it sounds cooler then it is.

I’ve never played the visual novel but from what I can tell Dangan Ronpa is extremely accurate in its portrayal. The character models and environment look spot on, in all of its blandness and stereotyping. The only time the animation gets interesting is in the punishment scenes where it completely changes to a hyperactive 2D-image-in-a-3D-space visual style. I thought this was going to be used to make the violence on screen seem more tame, but barely anything was actually shown instead focusing on everything but the actual act being committed.

There’s the indescribable sense that show is fucking high on speed and is trying to be weird for the sake of being weird. The world typically feels fairly normal, but then something fucking strange will show up, like an evil stuffed bear OR PINK BLOOD. The graphics, shots and editing are all fast and hyperactive. This all reminds me of some souped up commercial for the latest product that all you kids should buy, buy, buy, RIGHT NOW! Now this wouldn’t be a bad thing if what was weird was enjoyably so and if the actual pace of the story matched the pace of the presentation. For example, The Bastard Swordsman is a Shaw Brothers movie that’s incredibly fast paced and involves a samurai emerging from a giant egg. The premise is weird, the characters are weird, and the movie’s plot moves as fast as it’s editing and shots suggest. This anime has a basic Battle Royale premise, with boring characters that are all stereotypes and boring ass dialogue that barely moves the plot forward until some character pulls some revelation out of their ass that you saw coming from a mile away or couldn’t possibly have seen coming because the show purposefully withheld information from you.

Watching Dangan Ronpa is like watching someone play the visual novel. It’s characters standing around talking and you have no reason to be invested because our protagonist is blannndddd and you know that at some point a random event will interrupt the constant repeating of the same stupid lines to finally move the plot along whether you bothered to pay attention or not. Dangan Ronpa had the potential to be good, if they had taking the story and characters and added some depth and psychology to their actions, making it more realistic or if they had said “Fuck it” and turned it into some bat-shit insane weird-fest with characters dying left and right. Instead, they decided to present the source material as is and because of that I’m recommending you pass on this one, unless the concept really seems grabbing to you.