Welcome to Hope’s Peak Academy
Your life of mutual killing starts now!
In 2014, Nippon Ichi Software America impressed gamers with their release of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and its sequel Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair () mere months afterwards. Danganronpa the Animation is a 13-episode anime adaptation of the first game, and I would like to start this review by recommending that you DON’T watch this series until you have played its source material on either the PlayStation Vita or PC. While there is some charm to this anime and I quite enjoyed it, the sheer mass of content presented in the original game/visual novel when compared against this series in my opinion has shown that 13-episodes wasn’t near enough to fit in everything that made Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc memorable. Instead, I would call Danganronpa the Animation a complementary series, which presents many of the core events with animation (rather than visual novel style dialogue), and a few alterations to make things distinct.
Storyline / Character Development
Hope’s Peak Academy is a prestigious, invite only high school which only accepts students that are deemed to be the best in their particular niche. Their skills can vary considerably, with students enrolled because of their prowess in swimming, fortune telling or even gambling. Despite not having any particular skill, Makoto Naegi is enrolled at the academy as the year’s “Super High School Level Luck”. But luck is clearly not on his side, as upon entering the school grounds for the first time, he blanks out. Upon waking, he finds himself trapped on school grounds alongside fourteen other students. Under the watchful eye of the teddy bear principal Monokuma, the only way for a student to leave alive is to pull off the successful murder of a classmate without anyone identifying them. This is a battle between hope and despair, as murders start to occur and suspicions begin to flair.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc’s storyline could be split up into four key elements: “School Life” (Which are core events outside of murder mysteries), “Investigation” (Where Naegi and the others searched for clues pertaining to a murder), “Class Trial” (Where the students figure out whodunnit) and “Social Link (Character development outside of everything else). When it comes to the anime adaptation, a lot of attention is put onto the School Life and Class Trial sections.
Each of the game’s chapters could be broken down into two episodes each, with an extra episode added for the prologue. One of these episodes usually dealt with everything up to the class trial, while the other focused on the trial. It was a good way of breaking the limited number of episodes up, and each episode provided just enough information so you wouldn’t go onto the next confused. However, while some of the great content from the game had a presence, ultimately there was a lot cut or otherwise altered. For example, outside of a few core characters, there is minimal character development. Also, investigation segments were often limited to a couple of rushed scenes, with clues flashing across the screen. But at the same time, I am uncertain if they would have had enough to warrant an additional seasons worth of episodes. It is a tricky one, so that’s why I recommend going through the game first before watching what still proved to be a decent and enjoyable anime.
Design / Music / Voice Acting
Animation was handled by Lerche, who have worked on other shows such as Unbreakable Machine Doll and Assassination Classroom. While I did like the use of character portraits in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, transitioning to animation did make the Danganronpa experience quite different in my opinion. Although there was nothing spectacular about it, the design quality and animation were more than enough for a show of this type. I also liked that, especially with regard to the “punishment” scenes and a few other homages, they opted to stick with the visual novel’s style of animation rather than doing something completely different.
Danganronpa the Animation made use of many songs from the original game, but also included a number of new songs which suited the style of Danganronpa. A new opening theme titled “Never Say Never” performed by TKDz2b was also introduced, and was immediately attention grabbing in terms of tune and animation. Episode 4 also had a unique opening titled “Monokuma Ondo” by Monokuma’s long running voice actress Nobuyo Oyama. In terms of ending sequences, there is just the one titled Zetsubōsei: Hero Chiryōyaku by Suzumu feat. Soraru. Although featuring a single image which expanded as more characters were killed off, both the tune and lyrics featured in this sequence were great.
One of the things you will notice as you begin watching episode one is that the FUNimation Entertainment dub of Danganronpa the Animation does not feature original English voice cast which was enlisted by Nippon Ichi Software America. This is unlike Hyperdimension Neptunia the Animation, where the company managed to involve most (albeit not all) of the original voice cast members. Outside of Bryce Papenbrook as Makoto Naegi, the entire voice cast is different. The new English cast which includes Greg Ayres as Monokuma, Caitlin Glass as Kyoko Kirigiri and Josh Grelle as Byakuya Togami to name a few was still pretty good overall. Outside of having to get used to new voices, I had no major issue with the dub. Some might also like that a couple of the localisation changes were reverted in this anime, such as them using the term Genocider Sho rather than Genocider Jack.
The English release of Danganronpa the Animation comes with a small number of on-disc extras. Most notable is the commentary track for Episode 1 featuring Christopher Bevins (ADR Director / VA for Hagakure), Bryce Papenbrook (VA for Naegi), Felecia Angelle (VA for Asahina) and Tyson Rinehart (VA for Yamada). As usual it was an enjoyable commentary, but it is a shame they chose to only include one rather than two or three. There are also a number of smaller items such as textless opening and ending sequences, the US trailer for Danganronpa the Animation and general trailers for various shows. Not the best of offerings from Funimation Entertainment, but still above average for western English releases in my opinion.
Final Thoughts on Danganronpa the Animation
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Danganronpa the Animation is something I would recommend watching after you have played the game rather than as an introduction to the Danganronpa franchise. While the core elements are present and presented well enough given the constraint of 13-episodes, the experience nevertheless felt rushed, and lacked development for many of the series’ characters and mysteries. That being said, the visuals were adequate, the music choices were good and even without the original English voice cast, the VA’s did well with their roles.
Acknowledgement: A Blu-ray review copy of Danganronpa the Animation was provided by Australian anime publisher Madman Entertainment for the purpose of this review.
Storyline / Character Development: C
Music / Voice Acting: A-
Personal Opinion: B
Final Score: A-
This review is currently being transitioned over to the new review system.