Danganronpa is the anime adaptation of a game about high school students who have been selected to attend a most prestigious school, Hope’s Peak Academy. However, we’re quick to learn that something’s not right in these hallowed halls of learning. The main character, Naegi, finds himself waking up in the school and that himself and 14 other students have been locked inside. There’s no escape! Until a creepy little (maybe) animatronic bear, Monokuma, shows up to inform them that they have two options: 1.) live here forever or 2.) kill one of their classmates and get away with it, then they can graduate and leave.
So, they must commit the perfect crime to escape or rot away in the boarded up school. The plot progresses pretty interestingly at first, and after a murder happens the students must go through a class courtroom session where they vote on who they think did it. If they guess right, the murderer is subjected to punishment from Monokuma. If they guess wrong, then everyone but the murderer is punished. What is the punishment you ask? A gruesome and painful death at the whim of the sadistic little bear.
Initially the plot points and characters seem kind of unique, but the show kind of lost me about half way through and the ending left me feeling kind of like I wasted my time. As the show ramps up for it’s climax, it starts to throw the rules of the game out the window. I felt like this made the story weaker overall, as it just makes the villain feel less intimidating and less interesting since they can’t make their own game work. Ultimately the ending doesn’t show much as to why the person behind it did these things, other than they’re crazy and wanted to spread despair. It also shows something about events going on outside, but doesn’t tell you why or what exactly happened…which feels like they’re just trying to be mysterious for the sake of being mysterious.
I also wanted to note that at one point, one of the characters has a split personality. That personality is a serial killer. One of these kids is a serial killer, and one of the other kids knows about the murders in detail…it’s all kind of strange, and the personality and appearance of the serial killer are way over the top (the character’s tongue becomes pointed and hangs far out of their mouth). It all seemed like a bit much just so they could use the split personality as a plot point later on. For me, it took me out of the intrigue and drama in a way that I didn’t think meshed well or was interesting.
In the end I found the revelations rather unsatisfying. I’ve been told that the game handles it’s reveals significantly different (and significantly better), so if you think you’re interested in the franchise, do yourself a favor and play the game first. As for the anime though, it doesn’t quite make sense who did it all or why, but maybe the sequel series can clear some of that up. Showing character’s motivations for the actions, however, won’t change the fact that I felt the mastermind’s personality was very strange and over the top just for the sake of being the ‘crazy mastermind’. I wasn’t impressed and felt it all was trying too hard and just fell flat, but maybe the game does it better.
Danganronpa 3: The End of Kibōgamine Gakuen, the sequel anime series, premieres July 2016.