Alright, it begins. Both me and Ariana are huge fans of the Dangan Ronpa games so we’ve both been pretty excited for the anime, and decided that, as we did for the first season of The World God Only Knows, we’ll be co-blogging it. I’ll be covering the odd-numbered episodes and Ariana will cover the even-numbered episodes.
Hope’s Peak Academy is a famous and elite school that only the best of the best students are admitted into. In order to be eligible for its exclusive student body, students need to excel in a particular field more than anybody else to a very high level…that is, a Super High School Level. Among this years new admissions, for example, is a Super High School Level Idol, a Super High School Level Programmer, a Super High School Level Swimmer, and even a Super High School Level Gang Leader. Our protagonist, on the other hand, Naegi Makoto, has no real stand-out qualities of his own. The only reason he was able to get into Hope’s Peak was due to being the winner of a national lottery, which allowed him access on the basis of having Super High School Level Luck.
However, things at Hope’s Peak this year are a little different. For one, the headmaster has been replaced with a sadistic talking robot bear. The students have been locked inside the school and are told that they are unable to leave. And the only way they can leave is if they murder one of their fellow students without the others finding out. While these elite students are horrified at the prospect of doing such a thing, how long will it take until one of them cracks?
Although I’m sure there will be quite a few people watching this with no knowledge of the original mystery/adventure game, many people were able to experience the game through a Let’s Play on the Something Awful forums, and, later, an english fanpatch for the game itself. Just so you know, though, these episode reviews aren’t going to spoil anything for people who havent played the game. It’s just that it’s really hard not to compare the two because in the first episode alone it really goes out of its way to emulate the game as much as possible.
On one hand, this is good. One of the strongest aspects of the game is its dynamic artwork, particularly in the cut-scenes. The anime seems to be trying to preserve that unique cut-scene look as best it can (the intro to this episode is literally exactly the same as the game’s to the slightest detail), and the look of the characters has translated perfectly. Dangan Ronpa’s main draw is its quirky cast, after all, and just seeing them move around, not to mention speak (the game boasts some amazing vocal talent which have returned for the anime) should be exciting to existing fans. There truly are some wonderful character designs, in fact some of the most original I’ve seen – just look at Sakura, the huge and muscular sailor-suited school-girl and one of my personal favourites. How new-comers will find these characters should be interesting to find out, though – I’m personally worried we wont have enough time as was in the game to really get to know them, and the emotional connection in this story is pretty important.
Like all game adaptations, this has plenty of downsides. When making an anime adaptation of a popular game, there’s a pretty difficult balancing act between being faithful to the source material and being too different. In Dangan Ronpa’s case, it’s perhaps a little too faithful in its presentation. The music is directly ripped from the game (which isn’t really a bad thing because the music in the game is amazing, but…seriously? Not even remixes or anything?), the characters are frequently in the same sprite poses they have in the game (there were also instances with Touko, the Super High School Level Literary Girl, being basically frozen in one of her game poses), hell there’s even title pages and splash pages taken from the game. One of the most jarring examples of this kind of thing is when Naegi meets all the other students, and they all say a line or two of dialogue before suddenly striking their game pose as the camera zooms to them, while the intro screen comes up to let us know their name and what Super High School Level Talent they have. It looks really odd, as though they are deliberately breaking the 4th wall by posing for the audience. Here’s an example with Chihiro. They could have had the name and talent come up, sure, but all the weird camera zooming in and out and the speed in which it goes through everyone is a little too much and even made me feel a little motion-sick.
Despite these misgivings, this is a game full of characters I really love voiced by actors I really love so its going to be a fun watch regardless. Of course, things are only getting started, and you can look forward to Ariana’s review of episode 2, where things will surely take off, next week.