A while back, I began watching Danganronpa: The Animation in preparation for my guide on the list of five anime you should be watching this year. While it didn't make the cut, it did inspire me to buy the game — but that's about the best that can be said for it. Because when it comes down to it, Danganronpa is a mess of an anime.
Good — The Setting
Danganronpa has an intriguing premise. Upon getting into the best high school in Japan, 15 gifted students awaken to find themselves locked in the school with only one way out: to kill one of their classmates and get away with it. On one hand, it's a psychological story, showing the different motives that can force normal, easy-going teenagers to murder each other.
Then on the other hand, it's an exciting series of murder mysteries as the characters work hard to not only gather clues but also detect the logical flaws in each other's testimonies — and that's not even touching upon the mystery of why they are imprisoned in this murder game in the first place.
All in all, it's a captivating setup — but it's how the plot is portrayed in this anime that is where the major problems arise.
Good — The characters and voices
Danganronpa has an awesome cast of distinct characters. Each of the students is the best in the country at something (for their age). These range from normal — like the "Super High School Swimmer" or "Super High School Class President" — to the ridiculously imaginative, like the "Super High School Fortune Teller" or the "Super High School Biker Gang Leader." Of course, all these characters are overshadowed by their school principal, the demonic talking robotic teddy bear Monokuma.
This diverse cast is brought to life by what can only be called "voice actor porn." The rude, trash-talking Monokuma is voiced by Nobuyo Oyama, the former voice of Japanese children's hero Doraemon, while the man character, Naiegi, is voiced by Megumi Ogata — aka Shinji from Evangelion. Simply put, if you are a voice actor nerd, you are bound to be impressed by this cast.
And since only the courtroom scenes were fully voiced in the game, fans of the game will no doubt be pleased to see many of the game's most powerful moments recreated with full voice acting.
Bad — A Breakneck Pace
The game of Danganronpa is split into six chapters, each revolving around a different murder case. Each of these chapters is then divided into three parts: the peaceful time before the murder, gathering evidence after the murder, and the class trial. There are, however, only thirteen episodes in the series. Thus, a full chapter of the story must be completed every two episodes.
What this means is that the plot goes fast — far too fast for a story of this type. No sooner are you shown the evidence of the murder than it is being solved on the screen. Half the fun of mystery programs is looking at the same evidence as the characters and solving it before they do. There is simply no time to do this in the 22-minute run time of Danganronpa.
Bad — Does Little More Than Spoil the Game
Also due to the show's breakneck pace, little time is spent actually getting to know the characters. A full third of the game is devoted to this; but the anime cuts it out almost entirely. Thus, you have no time nor reason to form any kind of attachment to the characters — and when they die (or murder another character) it's hard to feel strongly one way or the other.
So with the loss of emotional attachment — and not having the time to solve the mystery yourself — the whole series comes off like little more than reading the wikipedia article of the game's plot. In other words, watching this anime feels like little more than being bombarded by a series of plot spoilers.
Danganronpa: The Animation is pretty poor as far as game-to-anime adaptations go — though I admit I don't see how it could have been done much better with only thirteen episodes of run time. If you have played the game, by all means, give this a watch — you'll probably enjoy getting to see all your favourite scenes fully animated and voiced. But if you haven't played the game, then just give this one a pass until after the game hits the Vita in English early next year.
Danganronpa: The Animation aired on TBS in Japan. It can be watched for free and in English on Funimation.