Japanese Horror: What to Watch Next?

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Let’s say you saw The Ring and The Grudge and you thought they were alright, but upon checking out Ring and Ju-On you found them way more interesting. Well, now that you’ve seen the two J-horror films everyone knows, where do you go from here? Well young J-Horror neophyte, let me draw you a road map of twelve films to continue your journey.

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Audition, 1999, Dir. Takashi Miike
A widower and father, Aoyama, is lonely, and in an attempt to solve this problem, his director friend and him hold an audition. For a film, yes, but mostly so that he can scout out a girlfriend. He succeeds, becoming fascinated by one quiet young woman clad in white. The two quickly fall in love, but her dark secrets threaten to ruin this fairy tale romance. A slow build, but with an unforgettable climax.

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Battle Royale, 2000, Dir. Kinji Fukasaku
A delinquent class is chosen by their abused teacher to participate in the yearly Battle Royale, a government program in which they’re stranded on an island and have three days to kill each other until there’s one student left. Alliances are formed and friendships are broken, but the return of previous winners leads to even more chaos. Fascinating premise with a solid execution.

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Dark Water, 2002, Dir. Hideo Nakata
By the director of Ring, a single mother in the midst of a nasty divorce moves into a run-down apartment building with her daughter. They’re plagued by constant dripping water and the recurring presence of a mysterious handbag. Is there more to this than meets the eye or is the mother herself coming undone? Quiet and atmospheric, Dark Water may not deliver scares, but it lurk in your darkest thoughts for days.

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Hausu, 1977, Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi
A favorite of mine. Six girls travel to one of their aunt’s house for vacation. But after decades of living alone, is the aunt still the same woman she was? Psychedelic, hilarious, and fascinating all at the same time, Hausu is well worth your time.

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Ichi the Killer, 2001, Dir. Takashi Miike
Depraved hitman Kakihara is out for revenge when his mob’s boss is taken out by a mysterious assassin. Slipping between darkly humorous and deeply depraved, Ichi is a hard film to watch, at the very least for how extreme it is. If you can get through it though, it’s quite the memorable experience.

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Onibaba, 1964, Dir. Kaneto Shindo
Japanese horror for the longest time were more supernatural dramas than horror films. Onibaba is one of the best of these entries. Two women are forced to survive in the wake of a terrible war, but they come at odds when the younger one starts sleeping with a returned warrior. The older takes revenge by donning the horrific mask of a fallen samurai and terrorizing the couple. Atmospheric and stylized like a Noir film, it leaves you with the same satisfaction a good campfire ghost story does.

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Pulse, 2001, Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
A poltergeist sent through the internet? That’s what seems to be happening to the friends of two college students, but as the disappearances escalate, it becomes clear that a far more sinister force is pushing itself into our world. It spirals out of control at the end, but it is an unique and interesting spiral nonetheless.

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Seance, 2000, Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
A psychic trying to get recognition gets pulled into a kidnapping investigation, only to discover her husband may have accidentally become involved himself. More Hitchcock-ian than anything, Seance delivers little scares and all suspense.

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Suicide Club, 2001, Dir. Sion Sono
After 54 school girls kill themselves by jumping in front of a subway train, an investigation is launched into the website that seems to be predicting these suicides and the large rolls of skin found at the scene of the crime. Chaotic and messy, but weirdly engaging, Suicide Club doesn’t quite get its message across, but the subtext is does have will keep you thinking.

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Tetsuo: The Iron Man, 1989, Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto
Perhaps the only film that Tetsuo can be compared to is David Lynch’s Eraserhead, which is either an extremely good thing or incredibly bad thing, depending on who you are. The plot is nonsensical, but seems to be about some weird machine alien virus thing taking over a businessman. As the narrative becomes more clear, it also becomes equally more horrifying. Surreal to a fault, this film is not for the weak of temperament, or heart.

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Tomie, 1999, Dir. Ataru Oikawa
Tsukiko’s old classmates keep dying. Ever since the death of Tomie, nine of them have died or gone insane. Tsukiko herself is recovering from amnesia, but that isn’t helped by the interrogating or her increasingly distant boyfriend. For a dead girl, Tomie sure is causing a lot of trouble. More art film than horror film, Tomie still nails a fantastic atmosphere, even if it favors imagery over logic.

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Uzumaki, 2000, Dir. Higuchinsky
Based on Tomie author Junji Ito’s manga, Uzumaki is a condensed telling of the downfall of a small town. A small town that is taken over not by killers, zombies, or even ghosts, but by spirals. A Lovecraft-ian concept, but executed in a multitude of ways that are sure to raise both eyebrows and heart rates.

Any titles you think should be on this list? Seen these films and want to exclaim how amazing and/or terrible they are? Sound off in the comments below!

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“Japanese Horror: Film vs Anime” Notes

My computer has crashed so apologies if I forget any titles. The ones with asterisks actually had a clip shown:
Gojira*
Onibaba
House*
Entrails of a Virgin
Evil Dead Trap*
Guinea Pig 4: Mermaid in a Manhole*
Tetsuo the Iron Man*
Ring*
Ju-On: The Grudge*
The Grudge*
Dark Water
Pulse
One Missed Call
Audition
Ichi the Killer
Suicide Club*
Tokyo Gore Police*
Devilman*
Legend of the Overfiend*
Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freakshow*
Perfect Blue
Wicked City
Demon City Shinjuku
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Pet Shop of Horrors
Higurasji: When They Cry
Hellsing: Ultimate
Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack!
Ghost Hunt
Highschool of the Dead

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Welcome to the Space Show (2010) Review

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An old review of mine, approximately four months old, so I figured I’d finally publish it.

My Neighbor Totoro meets A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” is how a friend of mine described Welcome to The Space Show and that’s really quite the perfect encapsulation. Welcome to The Space Show is a whimsical adventure through the wonders of space, the final frontier viewed through a child’s eyes. It’s an adorable little film that has more genuine innocence to it then most of the pandering cartoons seen on TV. I would recommend it to every parent for their kids, but with some hesitation due to certain flaws. Welcome to The Space Show is a film I really wish was better than it is, and not just because I would like all films to be good. It has effort, heart, and competence behind it far beyond most other films.

Welcome to The Space Show details the journey of five kids as they make their way through space, thanks to an alien dog named Pochi, whose life they save after finding him injured in a grain field. Traveling from planet to planet, the kids hear about the mysterious and spectacular Space Show, a traveling circus that broadcasts across the galaxies. Due to unforeseen circumstances they have to take a detour to get back to Earth, but this proves to be difficult with greedy poachers after a rare Earth plant that they carry with them.

In 20-30 minute chunks, Welcome to The Space Show works extremely well. It’s technically beautiful and well made, with actual subtlety and thought put into every shot. The characters are likeable, diverse, well-developed, and learn important lessons that you want your kids to learn. You may not remember their names by the end of the film, but you will have a definite feel for who they are, if only by default of having spent so much time with them. The setting of Welcome to The Space Show represents the most innocent view one could have of a sci-fi universe, with bright colors and harmless creatures all willing to help you. It’s a film that asks you to “leave your logic at the door, and just have a little fun” and for the most part, you will have fun.

Looking at the film as a whole, however, reveals a tragically different image, as Welcome to The Space Show clumsily moves from set piece to set piece, taking far too much time to reach its end goal. The plot’s pacing only starts to pick up an hour in, and an unfortunate amount of last minute plot devices and character motivations are used to wrap up the story. Even ignoring that, the film is just too long, clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes. Despite how much fun the movie is, once you hit the hour and a half mark the movie’s length starts to take its toll. The film is a touch slower than most children’s films, so this combined with the average child’s attention span is going to detract from a kid’s enjoyment of the film.

Welcome to the Space Show disappoints, but nowhere near as much as it leaves you feeling warm inside. Perhaps breaking the film into two parts would serve as a better way to view it, but as it stands Welcome to The Space Show is tragically too long and too clunky in order to be the perfect kids film it ought to be. That’s not to say there’s no enjoyment to be had. It consistently manages to immerse you in the universe it has created, and even the most skeptical cynic will find themselves smirking and feeling like a kid again.

Legend of the Overfiend (1989) Review

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This is a fairly old review that I never got around to publishing. I’ve left it unedited for the sake of… something I’m sure. I’ve also left images out because I honestly don’t feel like censoring a bunch of screencaps.

When anime was introduced into the west in the late 80s/early 90s, it became notorious for being dramatic, dark, and extremely violent and/or sexual. There were a handful of films that created this image in both the geek and mainstream culture: Akira, Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D, and Legend of the Overfiend amongst others. Legend of the Overfiend is certainly the most sexually explicit of these, leaving images of tentacle rape in the minds of westerners to this day. It’s fascinating that anime has strayed so far from this “extreme” image, but the rampant sexual perversion still remains, whether perceived or actual.

Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend is a compilation film of three OVAs (Original Video Animation) that were released between 1987 and 1989. Now it’s important when going into this film to keep in mind that the “R-rated” DVD release cuts out about 40 minutes of footage and yet in the first 30 seconds there is a demon orgy. Now imagine what they cut out. Legend of the Overfiend is unforgiving in its content, assaulting the viewer with frequent tits, ass, demon dicks, and exploding bodies. While the variety of demon debauchery and violence is well animated, it’s far from comfortable to watch. However, if you can get past the –to put it lightly– explicit content (and that is very hard to do at times) Overfiend is an incredibly silly and enjoyable film.

The story of Overfiend (yes there actually is a story) centers around Neguma, a bland high school student who also just so happens to be the reincarnation of the Overfiend, aka Chojin. Chojin is a being that, according to a 3000 year old legend, will unite the three worlds: those of the humans, beastmen, and demons. Naturally both the beastmen and the demons are after the most powerful being in the universe, which means plenty of problems for Neguma and his love life! Wackiness ensues!

It’s no surprise that the writing in Overfiend is awful, but that in no way means that it’s not entertaining. Like the best of cheesy 80s/90s action OVAs, Overfiend is ridiculous enough that it easily breaches into “good-bad” territory. It’s hard not to laugh at the two demons dueling with their dicks, or just simply enjoy the fight scenes between the uniquely designed monsters. Where Overfiend ultimately fails is in its ending, which manages to be so boring that it almost loops back around into engaging because you can’t believe the disaster unfolding on screen. The deflation one feels at the end, due to plot device after plot device being thrown in, is enough to piss off even the most forgiving moviegoer, especially after the incredibly long build-up the ending had. In almost every scene a character hypes up the rise of the Overfiend, but once he does they introduce several new elements and unexplained character bits in order to make the film have a somewhat happy ending. It’s lazy and makes the rest of the film feel like a waste of our time.

The ending is almost enough to soil my recommendation, but not quite. The film clocks in at about 100 minutes, meaning you still get 1 hour and 20 minutes before the final act that is solid entertainment. Feel free to shut off the film at that point, because the ending is truly not worth your time. Legend of the Overfiend may be infamously graphic, exploitative, and offensive, but it’s because of these crimes against decency that it manages to be an entertaining and fun watch for you and a few willing friends if you have them.

Perfect Blue (1997) Review

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There are many stereotypical views of anime: that it’s strangely pedophilic, that it’s for kids, and/or that it’s all tentacle porn. While, yes, for the most part this is true, there are are still plenty of examples where anime transcends these trivial stereotypes and becomes something truly worth placing next to the greats of pop culture. One can of course point to Cowboy Bebop or the insanely popular Ghibli films, like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, but there are far more underrated works that deserve attention, particularly those of director Satoshi Kon. To be clear, it’s not that his works are without critical acclaim, rather it’s that his movies are criminally under-watched by the anime community and the movie audience at large. Perfect Blue, his first film, is a masterfully crafted psychological thriller that has been commonly compared to a Hitchcock film. While I disagree that the two are linked in any way thematically or stylistically, it’s hard to not compare how well the two directors handle the genres and mediums they operate within.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.03.56 AMPerfect Blue centers around Mima Kirigoe, the former lead singer of the pop group “CHAM!,” who decides to go into acting despite the pop idol stigma around her. Her first project, the gritty crime drama series “Double Bind,” leaves a few fans upset, particularly the mysterious stalker “Me-Mania.” Mima receives a fax reading “Traitor” and an explosive letter in the mail, but is continually assured by her manager Ruma Hidaka that she should just ignore it. Ruma urges Mima not to going along with the writer of “Double Bind,” who wants her to participate in a rape scene that will lead to her part becoming bigger. In order to help her career and not let down everyone who helped her get to where she is, Mima goes through with it, but not without hesitation as it means the sure death of that innocent pop star image she had. A website she finds that chronicles her life in an eerily accurate way doesn’t help either, as it idolizes that pop star persona of hers and soon she starts hallucinating that this very persona is criticizing her. As her career starts to spiral out of her control, her state of mind fragments and her sense of reality slips away dramatically.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.05.47 AMPerfect Blue is an interesting look at the entertainment industry and how daunting it can be to its young entrants. The dynamic and clear-cut characters that populate the sets and meetings give the film a sense of reality, but leave it a little cold (as it should). While it’s not clear what age Mima is supposed to be, the film is most certainly a tale of reaching maturity and shedding your childhood, and this is unfortunately best shown in the rape scene shoot. The similarity between the costume she’s wearing on set and the costume she wore on stage as part of CHAM! make it abundantly clear that she is “letting” her childhood be violently destroyed. What’s left of her afterwords is unclear.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.07.22 AMSatoshi Kon does a brilliant job of messing with the audience’s sense of reality through the characters’ delusions. The dual appearances of “Idol Mima” to Mima, as a way of taunting her and degrading her actions, and Me-Mania, as a way of egging him on ever closer to violence, confuses the audience into wondering if the delusions could possibly be connected by some supernatural force. As Mima’s sense of reality completely breaks into a series of loosely connected and repeating scenes, we as the audience have no sense of what’s real and what’s not.

Satoshi Kon picDespite its discontinuous nature, Perfect Blue has a fairly simple narrative and the confused reality that the audience experiences throughout the film ultimately adds to the enjoyment of the journey to the end. Satoshi Kon could have left such confusion out, but he didn’t because, unlike most directors in anime, Kon has a sense of artistic style as well as narrative structure. Kon approaches an anime film like a film and not an anime, keeping himself separated from the Otaku culture that most anime producers are inevitably pulled into. Surpassing even great directors like Hayao Miyazaki, Kon has a fantastic sense of editing and cinematography. There are shots in Perfect Blue that will leave any cinephile stunned at their beauty, accentuated by clever editing techniques.

Perfect Blue has a slow first two acts, but its tension keeps you believing that it’s building towards something. If you wait patiently the third act will blow you away by proving that Perfect Blue is not just a fantastic anime or an exciting thriller, but an impressive film. Period. The animation isn’t the highest quality, but it gets the job done (and better than live action could). Many people brag about anime’s “mature storytelling” all the while showing those they brag to a series that arguably is no more mature than an episode of CSI, however Perfect Blue actually lives up to this claim. I highly recommend it to not only anime fans, but to anyone seeking a good mystery/thriller film and to those who scoff at anime as just pantsu-filled cartoons.

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Ring (1998) Review

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Ring, or Ringu as it’s called in the US, is a 1998 japanese film that helped kick off the J-horror craze of the early 2000s. Directed by Hideo Nakata, Ring is not only the highest grossing horror film in Japan, but it’s also one of the creepiest and most atmospheric films ever made.

Ring is the chilling tale of Asakawa, a reporter, who’s investigating the mysterious urban legend of a videotape that curses you to die in seven days if you watch it. Asakawa locates the tape, but upon watching it must team up with her ex-husband Ryuji in order to save her life. As they investigate the history of the tape they discover the tragic history of a psychic named Shizuko and her even more powerful daughter Sadako.

Japanese horror differs greatly from Western horror in that it relies less on action and gore, and more on mood and tension. Thats not to say the two are mutually exclusive, but the Japanese films that have been popular in the West all share this quality. Ring is most certainly no exception. It takes its time, letting the tension and distress settle in. Even individual shots will pause to convey a lack of comfort. For example, when Ryuji visits Asakawa’s apartment to see the tape he pauses when he enters, giving us the impression that something is off without using dialogue or a dutch tilt.

Ring is also a very smart film, making sure not to over-explain to it’s audience what’s going on. Important details like Ryuji being Asakawa’s ex are not mentioned until half an hour past him being introduced and even then in a random line of dialogue. It could be said that it under-explains some things, like how Asakawa’s son Yoichi saw the tape, but the story of the film is still coherent and the ending makes sense. The core mystery of the film is an intriguing one, but accentuated by the progressive discoveries we make about the characters investigating, it becomes incredibly engaging.

Don’t expect jump scares or an action-packed climax, since Ring has neither of those things. If you do prefer those in your horror movie then check out the American remake The Ring (2002). It’ll serve you nicely. Ring on the other hand is a quiet, dwelling, and uncomfortable film that explores themes of urban legend and paranormal phenomena in modern society in a foreign, but relatable way. Like the best of J-horror, you won’t be hiding behind the couch as you watch, but you will have chills on the back of your neck for the rest of the night, especially after the film’s shocking ending.

Ghost Hunt (2006) Review

Amongst all the paranormal “reality” tv shows out these days, it’s refreshing to find a show honest about its fictionality. The anime Ghost Hunt certainly does cover a topic not often shown in anime, and the eastern perspective is rather refreshing for a paranormal aficionado such as myself. However, Ghost Hunt is little more then a mediocre anime, good for a casual watch, but forgettable at best.

Mai is a high school student (of course) who accidentally interferes in a paranormal investigation and the surprisingly young and narcissistic man in charge named Naru employs her as an assistant. From there they and a team of spiritualists help victims of haunting and possessions, growing closer together in the process. The show follows a case-by-case format, with cases taking between 1-5 episodes to solve. There’s no overarching plot, just small subplots carrying between the cases, and none of those are ever resolved (spoilers!). The cases themselves are predictable as hell and you’re often two steps ahead of the characters. On a few occasions there are twists and turns that are unexpected, but these aren’t nearly as plentiful as I would like. The show is generally engaging, but there are far too many times that I got easily distracted while they were just talking back and forth explaining everything.

Mai serves as our entry level character, allowing all the spiritualists to explain to her and the audience everything thats going on. Besides her ignorance, she also has an obnoxious can-do attitude that leads to her constantly complaining when things don’t go her way. Her high-school drama outlook constantly deflates any tension the episodes start to build and her crush on Naru was annoying to me, but I could see how it would be endearing to younger fans. The rest of the spiritualists are all fairly unique and engaging characters, and a few of them do develop by the end of the show. Naru is the quiet badass, who never does much except solve everything and explain it in a Holmesesque monologue. His backstory is very slowly revealed and most of it in the final episode, leaving you wanting more Naru and pissed that he could have been cool anytime before this. If you let yourself get invested in these characters, the show will pay off in a few touching moments.

The animation isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t the show’s strong point. What does stand out about it is the way they chose to visualize the various spirits and demons. It was a treat to look at and made me appreciate the capabilities of an anime vs a live action show. The music is fine, it serves well to create the atmosphere, but there are far too few tracks and you end up hearing the same songs over and over. The intro is probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s nothing more then a mediocre song played over various “spooky” images. There’s nothing interesting there to see and it lasts for far too long.

Now as much as I’ve ragged on this show, there is a certain charm about it that I like. It’s something I haven’t really seen before. It’s a ghost hunting procedural show and surprisingly there aren’t really any shows like that, at least not ones as realistic as Ghost Hunt. Sure you have The real Ghostbusters and Supernatural or even Ghost Hunters, but none of those really show the more realistic type of spirits while investigating like a cop show. I also like how religion is portrayed in this show. Catholicism, Japanese occultism, Chinese practices, and science all work together to achieve various things and common goals. Every religion is on equal footing and that’s something I’ve always subscribed to, but never experienced in the christian heavy western world.

Ghost Hunt is an ok show, with some eye-rollingly stupid moments in it, but if you’re looking for something light to enjoy on and off as you wish, then maybe this is what you’re looking for. It’s very open, go read the manga ending will be infuriating to most, but with all the shitty endings American TV shows are getting these days you should be used to it by now. If you’re into the paranormal then you should definitely check this show out, and even if you just like watching SyFy shows, there will be something here for you to enjoy. You’re not going to want to go out and buy the blu-ray of this show, but some good times will be had. If you really like it, I recommend you check out the manga. It’s not necessarily better, but it does continue the story further and develop the characters a lot more. Ghost Hunt is available for streaming on Netflix, Funimation.com and Hulu.

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.