“You might think that knowing the ill fortunes of the future is despair, but it is the opposite! Even if you knew you were going to die tomorrow, it is that resolution that makes one happy! One’s resolution eradicates despair! Humanity will change!”
Strange of me to be quoting such an evil (but brilliant) character but that line happens to be one of my favorite quotes ever. Considering on how despair and the like play into the Dangan Ronpa series, I found it a good fit.
So here we go, let’s talk about the 2013 anime adaptation of Dangan Ronpa: Academy of Hope and High School Students of Despair
Spoilers of course.
The synopsis should be clear to anyone. A bunch of highschool kids that extremely embody the archetypes of a “regular japanese highschool” are put within a high school compound. They are given the choice to live here eternally or start killing each other and not get caught if they wish to get out. To further give the sense of despair, the proprietor of this messed up highschool bribes, threatnens to reveal a secret, etc to get the kids to kill eachother.
Just look at all these characters.
- Naegi is the only regular kid with the heart of gold who basically saves a few wrongly convicted people. As the main character and our eyes to view this twisted world, he’s boring but has that sense of justice. Other than that, not much else going for him here, he’s quite honestly the most average kid ever (well other than detective ability but that just means taking everything into account and not rushing things)
- Ishimaru is the straight-laced rule follower who is just asking to himself murdered in these halls of chaos. Sadly enough, he finds a friend in the misfit Oowada and has a bromance that ends quite sadly. I felt really bad for this guy man.
- Fukawa is annoying in a sense that she just…well I plain don’t like weirdos like her. I mean, the quiet book-reader girl trope is a A-Okay in my eyes but when she’s this bad at socializing (and also harbor a bipolar alter ego that’s a serial killer). I’m pretty suprised she lived though, ironic how the actual murderer is spared, wonder if any ethics will kick in afterwards.
- Maizono got the really short end of the death flag stick. We got to learn a lot about her and she seemed extremely friendly toward our lucky protagonist. Too bad that didn’t last too long when she’s the first to off’d. I’m not too sure if the impact of having the pretty girl die first is larger than if they could have her as the primary love interest that gets murdered later in the story.
- Kuwata doesn’t get ANY sort of character depth before he gets his ass executed. Hell I personally didn’t even remember that he was a baseball player.
- Yamada was a bit hated on my part. I’m sort of prejudiced against the typical fat oktau who does nothing but reference the stuff he loves. I mean, I used to dislike the otaku subculture but here I am now, spending tons of money on figures and other stupid shit. Somehow, me and Light avoided getting fat but I’ll stop. Seeing how Yamada is completely defenseless, I expected him to die very quickly.
- Asahina is a swimmer and does nothing but act as the regular girl in the series who’s stuck in all of this. I say this because Maizono would fulfill that role if she was live, Celes is too smart, Kirigiri barely acts girlish, and Fukawa is fucking crazy. She’s pretty damn boring but she gets her time to shine and fall in the last section of the show.
- Fujisaki is the hacker who actually helps our crew out by hacking through some codes with his AI system. His story is kind of nice since I like the trio of Oowada, Fujisaki, and Ishimaru. Once again, he died too quickly for us to have any depth on him (other than post-humous info)
- Kirigiri is THE female lead character who comes off as aloof and completely distant to everyone around her. She prioritizes getting out with everyone as first but rarely interacts with anyone directly. She’s the girl who eventually teams up with Naegi and the ultimate survivores in escaping. Since Kirigiri had a bunch of screentime (AKA quick development) I obviously liked her character.
- Oowada’s appearance definitely reminded me of the greatest highschooler ever but I passed it off as a reference to the old gangsters in the Asian time period. Turns out that his appearance really was a reference to “Above” when his biker gang’s name was Crazy Diamond. Since Oowada definitely had a tragic backstory and had a sad, personal reason for getting too angry and Fujisaki, his character was fleshed out pretty nicely.
- Oogami is basically Genderbent Akuma without the evil. She’s a fighter but we don’t get too see most of her story too much as the anime put the entire emphasis on her “arc” into being the traitor. She’s pretty honorable and a respectable character but that joke of appearance is too big for me.
- Togami is THE pretentious bastard that I wanted to see get horrifically killed off. Sadly, he’s one of the few who gets to live at the end. While he is a big help to everyone, I just never got over his attitude. I just wanted this fool dead.
- Hagakure I suspected to be perpetually high. He’s of no help at all in investigation and is basically the comedic relief guy who survives at the end. There is nothing on Hagakure’s character so I have nothing more to say.
- Ludenberg or just Celes is the mysterious looking goth loli who is apparently a gambler but her actions when she plans on killing a few people are more of manipulation than actual gambling. Well, the straight face when talking and demeanor counts as well but I wasn’t too moved on the whole gambler thing. She’s one of the few “helpful” female characters before her demise. I liked how she went out, with style.
- Enoshima is the loudmouth fashion model that gets off’d in the beginning episodes. Turns out that she’s the mastermind behind the entire thing and gives us this unexpected backstory that every student within the school were friends that attended this highschool. Some calamity struck the earth and in Fallout Style, the people turned this school into shelter and then later to a deathtrap by this mysterious organization which Junko is apparently a part of. Oh yeah, Mukuro is her sister who got off’d, Junko was alive the whole time.
At this point, you’ve already pinpointed my main qualm with this series and that of course, is the pacing and development. With a humongous cast of around 15 characters, I didn’t expect them all to be fleshed out. If they did however, I probably would feel a bit more for the characters here. This scenario here reminds me of Angel Beats and how its ending decided to screw over more than half of the entire cast (The ending basically reminds me of it too, the ending changes per episode with different characters). The thing is, Dangan Ronpa: The Animation had some original source material to base it of off while Angel Beats was an animation original, if anything, I expected Dangan Ronpa to fare better than Angel Beats in the development department. Seriously, would it kill them to make it a 24 episode series?
That being said, since the series focuses on killing characters, I praise it for not wasting a single episode on getting to the murder, investigating, and ultimately condeming a character in question. The idea of death flags play a major role in these sorts of mystery-investigation series. In terms of a game, you have the choice to ultimately and freely investigate the people of your choice (for better or for worse). But in the anime, the story and the time a certain character talks to another takes the most optimal and shortest route to get you to pinpoint to a questionable character. The entire anime feels extremely rushed but given the time allotted, let’s just be happy they didn’t waste our time.
For those of you who went in this anime without knowing the fact that this series started as a game first, might be a commonplace sign as no adaptation of a videogame can be properly portrayed within the limiting span of 13 episodes. For what it was worth though, at least they attempted to show some character development with what little time they had. One little quirk I had with the series is that they keep re-using stuff from the game. The HUD, the effects, and Naegi’s repeated “That’s not right” scenes just had me annoyed, but that’s just me.
I’d recommend Dangan Ronpa to those who wish to get in the minds of these tortured high-schoolers and eventually play the game so they can figure things out and interact with the characters for themselves. Even if the anime basically gives away the plot, the animation is basically the bare basics of the plot and for those of you who really enjoyed the characters and wish to see more the game has been fan-translated and ready to play.