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.