Dangan Ronpa (2013) Three Episode Review (Redux)

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.

Serial (2014)- A Review of Sorts


Who the hell reviews a podcast? Who reviews a nonfiction series of episodes that have no formal narrative, no set structure like even a documentary has? It’s true that in theory the idea of a critic analyzing a group of people around a microphone seems… rather excessive, but Serial is not the production of a couple of geeks with microphones. Serial, co-produced by NPR and specifically This American Life, is far more than that. It’s the product of the sweat, blood, and tears of Sarah Koenig’s tumultuous journey through the case of Adnon Syed. The culmination of 15 months of fascination and hard work on the part of Sarah and her producers. With the NPR association there is a certain level of budget and technical professionalism, but within the 12 episodes of Serial there is not just fancy audio mixing and elaborate reporting, but heart. Real heart. The kind that we easily forget exists, until a particular piece of art reminds us of it. That word, “art,” is one I’m quite willing to apply to Serial, one of the few podcasts out there deserving of that classification (another would be Welcome to Night Vale for clarification).

Be warned, if my prose feels flowery it’s because I just finished listening to the final episode and the style of writing used in not just Serial, but This American Life as well tend to leave a lasting impression in my mind. It’s a way for the author to report the facts while also turning a phrase, to weave a narrative around the developments as they come. Perhaps it’s this writing style that allows Serial to achieve what many believe to be the ultimate goal of art: to teach us or get us thinking about life, humanity, or the world we live in. Most media doesn’t do this and I used to be skeptical of this standard as far too high of an expectation to have. However in the afterglow of such a shining example of it, one that wasn’t a 500 million dollar movie or a 24 episode TV series or an avant garde painting, but rather a simple 10ish hours of audio, I find myself willing to maintain that standard. I don’t mean to demean podcasting as a medium, but to this day the majority of its content is informal at best. I should know, I’m the proud host of one.

It is my hope that Serial represents the future of podcasting. The beginning of its transcendence as a medium into art and mass consumption. A new spectrum of low to high budget, artistic to blockbuster, star-powered to geeks in their basement. Podcasts that capture the imagination of the country like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and to an extent Serial. While I know it won’t, I hope that the heart and integrity of Serial is maintained in this future of podcasting. So that the realm of storytelling can advance, giving us an emotionally rich catalog to choose and learn from.

Not much detail is needed, nor should be given to someone before they listen to Serial. It’s a podcast about the murder of a high school girl and the man who was accused of killing her. 15 years removed, every aspect of his guilt/innocence is examined, with the hopes of proving whether or not he actually killed her. You don’t need much more than that. Go listen to the first episode. It’s 45 minutes of audio, so it’s easily consumed. One episode is all you’ll need to either get hooked or not.

Like I said though, Serial goes above and beyond. It has left an impression on me, taught me lessons about life. I’ll never take for granted the daily occurrences of my existence, for I never know when they’ll be thrown into the warped light of a courtroom. I’ve always seen the world in shades of grey, but now I’ve never been more certain in this belief. Most importantly, and I think most relevantly, I’ve learned to never reduce a crime or event to a set series of facts, for there are always details I’ll never know and sides to the story I’ll never hear. Serial is ultimately a tale of ambiguity. Take what you want from it, feel how you want about it. Yours is merely another voice in the cacophonous symphony, another piece of the big picture.

Blue Velvet (1986) Review

Out of all the directors I’ve come across in my cinematic travels, David Lynch is probably one of the most memorable of the lot. I’ve only seen two of his films, but I will never ever forget them. His magnum opus of oddity Eraserhead remains continually stuck in my brain as a movie I need to see several more times. If you haven’t seen that, check it out. You will literally never forget it, barring mental disease. His transition to Hollywood after Eraserhead is just as interesting and coming of the reasonably unsuccessful Dune, he released 1986’s Blue Velvet. It’s Lynchian nature is definitely present, but almost weaved in and out of a movie that most will enjoy. Blue Velvet is a conundrum in my head, and coming off of just watching it, I may be in the worst position to review it. It puts you under a spell, entrancing you with its story and then yanking you back and forth with its symbolism that you should obviously be seeing, but not quite understanding. So let me try and put my inquiring mind aside and actually look at the film that captivated me so.

The film centers around Jeffrey, whose investigation into an ear he found leads him to Dorothy Vallens. Along with Detective’s daughter Sandy he unravels the mysterious goings on in Dorothy’s life, ultimately becoming involved in them himself. The acting is hard to judge. It’s convincing, but convincingly weird. We somehow get the impression that the odd line reads and inconsistent interactions are part of the world and eventually they make sense in their own way. Stand out performances go to Isabella Rossellini as the tormented Dorothy and Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth. Frank is a fascinating character. His entrance into the film marks a turning point where the movie changes from a mid-50s Hitchcock movie to an 80s drama and boy oh boy could you dissect his character for hours. The odd combination of inadequacy, possibly homosexual tendencies and over-compensation are absolutely fascinating to watch.

As I said before this film starts out very 50s in its style and setting. It’s colors, suggestive imagery and characters all suggest 50s suburbs. It’s not until we get to Dorothy’s apartment that the darker world starts to infest the movie. Then when Frank shows up the movie completely flips, immersing Jeffrey and the world into the darkness and it’s only with the help of Sandy and her love for Jeffrey that the world is once again brought into the light. It’s tough to believe that “Love Conquers All” is the message in a Lynch film, but the cyclical nature of the symbols and motifs seem to suggest it. Again, another watch is needed.

The colors and light are played on constantly in this movie, making it feel like a colored film noir. Lynch seems to love working with shadows, in a way very reminiscent of German expressionism. It pervades through the movie and even if you can’t garner it’s meaning, it’s certainly something to look at. The color as well is unique to look at, as for a movie called Blue Velvet it certainly has a lot of red. Almost all the shots have some primary pop to them, but reds seem the most dominant. Perhaps to give more contrast to the blues.

Blue Velvet is a suspense movie that remains suspenseful for the entirety of the movie. The sense that there is more going on then meets the eye adds to the experience and most certainly gives it rewatchability. You absolutely should see this film. If you are even slightly into stranger movies, of any kind, then this will give you plenty to feast on and if you’re as into film as I am, then this movie will be great discussion fodder for a long time to come, especially if it’s accompanied by Eraserhead. So while I haven’t talked much about the quality of this film, I’m sure you can tell from my gushing that Blue Velvet is worth your time.