Plot: Fifteen teenagers are accepted into the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, but they soon find themselves drugged and sealed within the walls of the empty school….well, empty except for a robotic teddy bear named Monobear who tells them that they’re completely trapped in the school and the only way out is to ‘graduate.’
How do you graduate?
Quite simple, really.
You just have to get away with murder.
Breakdown: This is one of those anime that, when I saw the first episode, I really wanted to finish it as soon as possible….In a good way. This may seem weird, but I actually like stories that involve people being trapped somewhere with a bunch of mysteries to solve and knowing that you can trust no one because they may want you dead. Most importantly, I love murder mysteries, and that’s really what this series is.
Danganronpa The Animation is an anime version of a PSP game of the same name. I’ve never played said game, but I really want to, especially give the fact that the trial format seems a lot like Phoenix Wright to a degree.
Only one person out of all of the students is allowed to ‘graduate,’ and the ‘get away with murder’ aspect is really only keeping the murder a secret from your fellow classmates. Monobear is allowed to know everything and pretty much does know everything due to the cameras that he has placed in nearly every room of the school. I should also mention that he has the students pinned pretty firmly under his…paw.
In addition to the cameras and everything being controlled and monitored through their school-issued PDAs (And the entire school being sealed like a fallout shelter), he also has several methods of instantly punishing students when they break rules. By ‘punish’ I mean ‘brutally murder’.
Also, for a reason not stated until the ending, the police will not come rescue them nor will anyone else come looking for them. They are completely on their own with their only given option to kill someone and get away with it in order to leave.
Once a murder has been committed, the students will have a set amount of time to investigate the murder and examine evidence. Once Monobear feels enough time has gone by, or if he gets bored or impatient, the trial starts.
During the trial phase, Monobear’s role is to sometimes give other information or confirm some suspicions, but, for the most part, he just sits there watching the trial unfold until someone has been pegged as the murderer.
The trials are interesting in that the students vote on who they believe is the culprit after deliberating amongst themselves. Naegi, our main character, is given three ‘verbal bullets’ (Objections to conflicting evidence or testimonies) to use during the trial, except on special occasions when he’s given six. He solves basically all of the cases because…well, main character. However, it’s up to everyone else to vote on who is actually the culprit.
The other interesting part of the trials is in the voting process. The students converse about who they think the killer is. After Naegi’s points, the students usually agree with his decisions, except on a couple occasions, and select the actual culprit. However, there is a very risky part to this trial for everyone involved that adds a lot of stress to the situation.
If the vote is unanimous for a person who did not do it, the people who voted for the innocent person get sentenced to death. So not only does the killer have to worry about getting caught, but everyone else has to worry about not catching the killer.
As a slight spoiler, I will say that this never happens. However, I don’t quite understand how this would pan out. Obviously, the killer would not be sentenced to death no matter who they voted for because that’s the whole point – to frame someone else for the murder or, at the very least, not deny it when someone else is suspected.
If everyone else voted for that innocent person, that means you got away with the murder and would graduate. My question is what happens to the innocent person who was accused? They don’t get sentenced to death, do they? Do they get trapped in the school forever or do they really get killed for no reason?
If most of your classmates vote for the right suspect and a few people vote for the wrong one, the culprit is considered caught and the people who voted for the wrong person are saved by the others voting for the right person.
If the actual culprit is caught, the remaining students get to live, but the killer has to die for getting caught. The punishment phase has an art style all its own with a mixture of CGI and cardboard cutout-like animation. It’s pretty cool, and some of the imagery gets very imaginative. Monobear has set up ironic and incredibly gruesome manners of death for the killers. I can’t really explain what they are because that would spoil the killers’ identities, but they range from really gruesome crazy to really weird crazy.
When the trial is over and the punishment has been done, the surviving students go back to their lives in the school waiting for another murder to occur. If they go too long without murdering one another, Monobear will give extra incentives to ‘graduate.’
That is one of the iffier aspects of this series – visual aspects of the trials. It just seems weird to me that they included the Visual Novel-esque format for their trials. Everywhere else, the intros, clues, evidence etc. are fine but it seems weird to include it in the trials mostly because there’s no really point in showing us the ‘verbal bullets’ or the points where you may find contradictions in someone’s testimony. We aren’t usually given enough time to think about these and it’s not like we’re answering anyway – Naegi is.
I don’t want to spoil this series because I really enjoyed it, so I’ll just be diving into short character descriptions before continuing with a few other points. All of the characters in this series are labeled as being a ‘Super Duper High School (title)’, their main point in excellence that allowed them to enroll in Hope’s Peak, even if some of the titles are kinda silly.
Makoto Naegi – Super Duper High School Luckster: Naegi got into Hope’s Peak through a raffle, earning him the title ‘Super Duper High School Luckster’ as that was really his only notable trait beyond the fact that he’s really optimistic. To be honest, considering the nature of the school, he’s really anything but lucky.
Naegi as our main character is a really good choice. He’s pretty bland, mostly to allow the viewer or player to project their own personality onto him, but also very likable. He seems to find good in everyone no matter the situation. Plus, I love the hell out of that jacket. God, I want that jacket.
Sayaka Maizono – Super Duper High School Idol: The only person that Naegi seems to know out of this whole group, Maizono used to go to Junior high with Naegi, but he never believed she ever noticed him because he was so plain and she was, well, a super duper high school idol. However, she shows that she does indeed remember him and they become friends. They soon rely on each other even more in regards to their situation.
Junko Enoshima – Super Duper High School Model: Not much to say about Junko. She has huge pink pigtails and an attitude. You pretty much want her to die or know she’d have no qualms against killing someone.
Sakura Ogami – Super Duper High School Fighter: Sakura is one of my favorite characters. She looks, sounds and acts like a very muscular guy. In fact, the only reason I questioned her sex at first was because she wore a sailor uniform like female high schoolers typically wear. Despite her intense appearance and her title, Sakura is a very kindhearted girl with a lot of honor. She quickly becomes friends with another female student, Asahina, and their friendship becomes a major point in the series.
Leon Kuwata – Super Duper High School Baseball Star: Leon has a pretty cool character design but a fairly forgettable personality….and might I ask whose big idea was it for him to be wearing a blood stain t-shirt in a murder mystery show?
Celestia Ludenberg – Super Duper High School Gambler: A goth character with one of those weird finger bands that are also blades. Celes remains fairly calm throughout the proceedings as she believes that they need to adapt to their situation to survive instead of playing into Monobear’s hands by actually killing people.
Aoi Asahina – Super Duper High School Swimmer: Aoi is a very strong yet sensitive girl. She tries to remain optimistic despite the horrible situation she’s in and finds great strength in her friendship with Sakura. Despite this, the numerous murders and deaths take a toll on her resolve.
Kyoko Kirigiri – Super Duper High School Detective: Kirigiri’s title is actually not given in the beginning like the others. She’s merely labeled ‘Super Duper High School ???’ until later on. This may be a spoiler, but not really. Kirigiri herself is a rather mysterious girl throughout most of the series. She’s constantly running off from the group to find evidence and explore the school for clues, causing many of her classmates to be suspicious of her during many of the murder trials. She’s quite obsessed with finding out who the mastermind is behind the school.
Kiyotaka Ishimaru – Super Duper High School Prefect: Ishimaru is one of the more entertaining of the bunch. He really, truly, seriously lives up to his title because he is obsessed with being a model student, rule follower, everything. No matter the situation they’re in, he wants to follow the straight and narrow. Ishimaru also has a really freaky character design. By all accounts, it’s insanely tame compared to the others, but dammit his eyes and eyebrows. Geez.
Yasuhiro Hagakure – Super Duper High School Shaman: Despite his title, he never does much in terms of fortune telling in the series. Hagakure is a very friendly individual, but also somewhat panicky and nervous and dear lord look at his hair. That is some hair right there. Damn.
Hifumi Yamada – Super Duper High School Fanfic Maker: Yamada is….something else. He’s fat and creepy. That’s about it. He falls over himself to cater to the whims of people like Celes and comes off as a bit of a perv. He’s also an anime nut who has a thing for fanart of pretty girls.
Touko Fukawa – Super Duper High School Bookworm: Fukawa is incredibly annoying as she’s panicky, extremely paranoid and is constantly shaking and accusing people of things. She also never seems to have her own opinions as she’ll blindly follow quite literally any line of reasoning in the trials, causing her vote to switch back and forth whenever there’s a new point brought up. Doesn’t help at all that she essentially stalks and lusts over another character named Togami. She also harbors a secret that makes her much more entertaining and tolerable.
Byakuya Togami – Super Duper High School Scion: Kaiba—Excuse me, Togami is an heir to an extremely powerful corporation run by his proud Togami family. Togami is a very stone-faced individual who is constantly butting heads with nearly everyone. The only one he seems to get along with in the least is Naegi and that’s only because he seems to subtly respect Naegi’s deduction skills.
Despite this, they’re no where near ‘friends.’ That also doesn’t change the fact that he’s an asshole. You know how I just explained how I find Fukawa really annoying? Well, he basically does nothing but throw really cruel insults her way and even I was feeling bad for her. Don’t feel too bad though as she turns everything Togami says into a compliment since she has a huge crush on him. Togami also never really gets better in his attitude as episodes go on, but he is just as determined as Kirigiri to find out who is behind this.
Mondo Owada – Super Duper High School Outlaw Biker: Owada’s also kinda hard to like and look at his ultra-Kuwabara hairdoo. Dang.
Anyway, as you’d expect from a gang member, he’s extremely abrasive and picks a lot of fights, even knocking out Naegi at one point. His anger is what first showcases Monobear’s true hold on everyone as Owada tries to attack Monobear, but his defense mechanisms caused him to explode. Owada was unharmed because he threw Monobear before he exploded, but it displayed one of the primary rules of the school – do not attack the principal (Monobear). He gets better later on, however, as he finds a weird friendship or brotherhood in Ishimaru.
Chihiro Fujisaki – Super Duper High School Programmer: Fujisaki is a very timid and seemingly weak individual. She harbors more than one secret that will be both very useful and very devastating to the entire class.
Monobear: Monobear is a very entertaining antagonist. His design is also pretty cool. Half is a white teddy bear, the other is a black psychotic looking bear with sharp teeth. Monobear seems really entertained when a murder occurs, but gets bored easily when nothing is happening or when the trials are going on for too long.
His mastermind controls nearly everything in the school. He has cameras practically everywhere and everything is monitored through electronic access. He also has guns and other booby traps placed in some areas of the school to prevent rule breaking. Despite being entertaining, he’s not a very impressive antagonist as it’s shown that it’s not necessarily difficult to make him lose his cool.
This series has many twist and turns and interesting cases as well as a very intriguing storyline. I greatly enjoyed the murder mysteries, the atmosphere and the mystery behind the school as a whole. Most of the characters are very likable and entertaining. Even the ones who got on my nerves didn’t manage to press their luck too much. Togami was really the only one who stayed on my dislike fully list because of his damn pride and arrogance.
If there is one glaring flaw with this show, it’s the fact that, unlike other mystery shows like Detective Conan, you’re not given much of an opportunity to solve the mysteries with Naegi. Yes, almost every piece of evidence that Naegi uses to solve the crime is given before the trial, but there are some moments of unfair revelations in terms of using information that is somehow available to Naegi but not to the viewer.
In addition, you’re just given the pieces of evidence and not given any hints as to why these items may be significant. I’m not saying hold our hands and walk us through everything, that takes away the fun of the mystery, but at least give us enough information to allow us to figure out why certain pieces of evidence are important.
While you may believe that being trapped in a school isn’t really grounds for murder, especially multiple and gruesome murders, Monobear gives the students several incentives to prompt them to commit these murders such as the promise of large amounts of money, showing them threatening and real situations involving their loved ones, threatening to expose deep secrets and even placing a mole within the group who has been tasked to kill someone if no murders occur for long periods of time.
I honestly didn’t see the ending twist coming, and it was really clever. While I didn’t see it coming, it did answer a question that I had nagging in my head about a very early death in the series. However, I will give points off for the ending a bit. I mentioned before that objections in this series are called ‘verbal bullets’ or just ‘ammunition.’ Well, let’s just say the finale involves Naegi shooting bullets of literal hope at people. Cheesy as hell, but I’ll allow it.
Art and Animation: The art is wonderful and very stylized. Some character designs are a little too crazy for my taste, and sometimes it really seems like they’re using character design to make up for lack of real personality, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the designs are really memorable and appealing.
The animation is good. It feels visual-novel-y sometimes, but nothing terribly noticeable. The punishment sequences in particular are really done well.
CGI is integrated very well in various other aspects of the series as well.
As a final note, and I’m not entirely certain if this is the same in every version, but the blood in this series is ‘censored’ to be bright pink and it kinda distracts from the show a bit. Looks like everyone’s bleeding gel pen ink.
Music: The music is great. I love the OP and ED, and both are incredibly addictive. They also do this cool bit at the end that shows Naegi in a classroom and each episode that has a death introduces one more person to the picture. They also add an 8-bit intro to the ending that is pretty neat.
Bottomline: If you like murder mystery shows or video games, or if this sort of set up appeals to you at all, check it out. The ending cheese is really the only slightly major issue I have with it. I loved it, and I look forward to checking out the continuations.
Additional Information and Notes: Danganronpa the Animation was produced by Lerche, producers of Persona 4: The Animation and Kino’s Journey. It was directed by Seiji Kishi, director of My Bride is a Mermaid, Angel Beats and Persona 4: The Animation.
Recommended Audience: Boy this plot sounds like Sesame Street doesn’t it? You have psycho killers, large amounts of hot pink paint—I mean ‘blood’, depictions, explanations and scenes of murder plus several shots of corpses that have usually been killed in pretty awful manners. No nudity, no sex, no swearing I don’t believe. 14+