Earlier this year, Rebecca and I ended up watching Danganronpa with the anime club here. It was quite the experience. So, to share in the love for what might have been one of the most ridiculous shows this year, we decided to dedicate our seventh 12 Days of Anime post to talking about Danganronpa. We split our review up into two parts, similar to our discussion of RWBY. Rebecca goes first, and talks about the show in general and her general thoughts on how things played out. I then follow up with some musings on Danganronpa‘s misleading genre implications.
Usually, Josh and I will invent our own titles for our posts, but I thought that the show’s original title, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, did more justice to this post than anything I could invent myself. We have decided to tackle one of the most ridiculous shows we’ve ever seen. I’m going to include a synopsis, but don’t expect it to help much if you haven’t seen the show yourself. (It’s that convoluted and insane.)
Here’s a brief and completely (un)comprehensive synopsis courtesy of MAL:
A group of 15 elite high school students are gathered at a very special, high class high school. To graduate from this high school essentially means you’ll succeed in life, but graduating is very difficult. The school is presided over by a bear called Monokuma, and he explains to them that their graduation hinges around committing a murder. The only way to graduate is to kill one of your classmates and get away with it. If the other classmates discover the identity of the killer, the killer is the only one executed. However, if they fail to catch the killer, only the killer graduates and the others are annihilated. Which of the 15 will survive the bloodbath to come?
I warn you now that there will definitely be some spoilers in this post so if you’d like to watch the show and see the mystery unfold for yourself, I suggest reading this at a later date.
Let me give you a brief overview of my thoughts before I launch into my full-blown commentary, which can be summed up as follows: THIS SHOW WAS ABSOLUTELY BATSHIT INSANE!
Moving right along. Let’s talk about the fact that Danganronpa was in a hurry to kill off the characters like I’ve never seen before. ‘Trigger Happy Havoc’ sums up the show pretty damn well in three words. Although, I’m pretty sure no one actually got shot? I can’t even remember–everyone seemed to die in a really gory way–wait no someone definitely got shot. Hell, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, the characters dropped like flies, pardon my cliche, with at least one dead every episode. AT LEAST. As soon as you started to like a character even remotely, their corpse turned up dripping with pink blood (don’t ask me why the blood was pink). I do realize that it was only 13 episodes, but I wondered why there had to be so many characters to begin with. Fewer characters means fewer necessary deaths right? The show was based off a video game so that probably did have something to do with it, but anime adaptations tend to take plenty of liberties regardless. My biggest issue was the ridiculous nature of some of the deaths and the pains that the show went to make the motive/method of death a mystery. For example, in one of the early deaths, it turns out that the dead character was actually a cross-dressing guy, which led to this whole ridiculous plot twist surrounding why she/he was able to get into the girls’ locker room, which is where his/her dead body was found. And of course we only know this because Naegi, the main character, has an uncanny and unrealistic ability to solve all of the murders by screaming “Objection!” and shooting the incorrect evidence with metaphorical bullets.
Now maybe this makes me sound like a terrible person, but I found the show to be surprisingly amusing–at least, until it got to the last 2-3 episodes where I just started going like ‘what the actual fuck is going on here?!’ And it wasn’t just me who thought it went crazy, since we were watching this show in anime club and everyone there had a very similar reaction. The show’s synopsis made it out to be very The Hunger Games-esque and there were definitely aspects stolen from it. Can we talk about the fact that the big twist was that they were actually on television program being broadcasted to further the suffering and misery in the weird dystopian world? On the other hand, it was also nothing like The Hunger Games because at least the book was pretty good (I’m not going to get into the movie, although I did like Catching Fire).
I’d really love to know how many drugs the people who made this show were on. Yes, I understand that it was based off a video game, but the same question applies there too. My biggest issue with the show was the fact that it kept pulling things out of its ass in order to make the premise work. The twists were exquisitely forced and it kept pulling over-abused tropes like amnesia and someone switching places with someone else. The whole ending of the show was based on identical twins switching places and the evil twin deciding to kill her sister “just for the hell of it”. Essentially things that no self-respecting show should pull more than once.
Not to mention, the show seemed to have no point. People died or were sentenced to execution and were then pulled into this weird virtual reality to be killed. I mean I’ll give it to the show that the deaths were creative. One of the first deaths involved the Super Duper Baseball Star (his name was something like that) being bludgeoned to death with baseballs. Something like that was twisted, but the one death that really got me was when Monobear put this one guy on a motorcycle and had him ride around this course until he liquified. Monobear then turned his remains into butter and ate him. Even for a show like this that’s a bit egregious!
This show was majorly trolling. There is no way that it could possibly take itself seriously. I mean if you even look at the character design some of the students look ridiculous. Focus on the hair, first and foremost, and it should be pretty obvious. But then adding in having everyone called “Super Duper High School [insert something ridiculous]” made it even more apparent. Plus the fact that no one seemed to care that one of the main characters was Super Duper High School Murderer Genocider Syo. She was running around unhindered for the entirety of the show and ironically never murdered anyone, but the fact that no one was bothered by this or really seemed to care was a bit ridiculous. All of the other characters had some pretty bizarre personalities as well, so I guess Genocider wasn’t too out of place alongside an Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque girl named Ohga, but still.
Can we also talk about how the show would throw in these random potential leads and then use them for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING?! The guy/girl who gets killed early on was apparently a computer genius and left behind a monitor with an AI on it to help out the other students (which actually becomes a whole arc). A few episodes later, Monobear decides he doesn’t like it and the AI is taken completely out of play before it has a chance to do anything remotely useful other than get people to kill each other. And then it miraculously comes in at the very end to save Naegi’s life OUT OF NOWHERE.
So should you watch this show? Maybe. Depends on what you’re looking for in an anime. If you don’t mind things that are clearly ridiculous then go for it. If you have a few hours to kill it’s amusing enough until you get to the last 2-3 episodes. If you’re looking for my overall opinion of it–it was terrible, but I was moderately amused by it while watching it. I’d suggest you don’t waste your time, but if you must then I can think of a few shows that are worse although most of them are the weird ecchi shows that Josh watches…
So I think Rebecca’s pretty well summed up most of my feelings on the show, although I need to add a little addendum:
Monobear is the shit. Like actually.
But Monokuma wasn’t the most interesting part of the show for me. I actually found it most interesting how Danganronpa marketed itself as (or at least, I was under the impression it was) a mystery show, when actually it turned out to really be a weird sort of thriller thing, much like the new Sherlock movies with Robert Downey, Jr.
- The mystery needs to have a solution that isn’t bullshit.
- The keys to solving the mystery must be in the narrative and accessible to the reader.
Many of the commandments are arbitrary and really just conventions used in establishing a certain type of detective writing (centered around stories like those of Sherlock or Arsene Lupin), and a cool discussion on the genre actually can be found in Hyouka during the “Closing Credits of the Fool” (i.e. movie) arc. The most important thing to me though is this. Minus all the tricks that authors can pull, from unreliable narrators to storytelling tricks to obfuscating evidence, in a mystery series, the reader technically has the ability to try and solve the mystery alongside the detective. It doesn’t really matter if you actually try to do this, or if you just wait for the finisher and see how everything fits together, or whether there even is a detective in the first place, or whether the mystery is ever solved! It’s the idea that if you tried, technically you could also have solved/solve the mystery–you had access to all the same information the detective did, even if the author was trying to be clever and mess around with it.
In the end, what makes a mystery novel great is the detective pulling a fast one, seamlessly taking all the information you knew and bringing it together in a completely surprising way. (It’s also the joy, afterwards, of admiring all the hard work the creator has gone through to make such a good mystery). I’ve heard it likened to watching a magician at work, except that he amazes you with no fast ones and you can see everything he’s doing. It’s also a good deal of what goes into big scientific discoveries–new data is great, and often does lead to cool discoveries, but more often than not, I find that it’s the clever scientist able to see things in a new way that makes the most insightful breakthroughs!
Now that I’m done being all science5eva <3<3<3 though, let’s come back to Danganronpa. Although I went into it expecting it to me a mystery (and I’m pretty sure in the game is a bona fide mystery), the anime actually isn’t at all. First, the investigations and evidence gathering scenes are rushed, so that while the viewer technically gets the same clues as Naegi does, we get absolutely no narrative framework to relate them to each other. On top of this, it turns out to be impossible to use these clues to solve the mysteries. Why? Because during the trials, new evidence the viewer didn’t have access to is brought up. And this new evidence is frequently really, really important evidence that completely alters the picture of what really happened.
This, unfortunately, isn’t a one-time thing. It happens routinely, so the viewer actually has no chance to really solve many of these mysteries except in retrospect with the additional knowledge that they’ve gained. While this is fine from an entertainment perspective, and happens all the time in thrillers and action movies, for a show that seemed to market itself on being a detective story (albeit a wacky one), this was a bit frustrating. It’s cool and all seeing characters debate things on stage, but realizing this makes it much harder to pay attention and really just care about all the investigation stuff that happens in-between. Especially when characters are just going to slowly monologue it at the trial anyway.
None of these remarks are meant to ding the show at a fundamental level. There’s absolutely no problem if you sit back and watch Danganronpa as a entertaining melodrama, or ridiculous thriller, or just overall “so bad it’s good” anime. It just means that the initial impression you get–that you’re in for an entertaining mystery thriller something-or-other–is wrong, which for me led to some uncomfortable cognitive dissonance in the first half or so. Once I settled down to watch it without the expectation that the clues they were giving us could theoretically constitute the whole framework of the murders that were taking place, I enjoyed the show much better (I even enjoyed the complete bullshit nonsensical ending!). These are also pretty much the exact same reactions I had to the newer Sherlock Holmes movies (not the BBC series), which are really action flicks. In contrast, something like Hyouka actually does work as a mystery show (in addition to everything else it does) for the very same reason–Oreki gets the same info we do (they go to great lengths to realize that, in fantastic ways), but he just puts it together much better than most of us seem to be able.
So, in sum:
- Monobear is the shit.
- Hyouka is the mothereffing shiznit.
- Thorinduil = OTP.