OP: 「DANGANRONPA」 by 高田雅史 (Masafumi Takeda)
「ようこそ絶望学園」 (Yokoso Zetsubou Gakuen)
“Welcome to Despair Academy”
And yet, the start is surprisingly conventional. Hope’s Peak Academy is where the elites of the nation study. No one can enter Hope’s Peak unless they are personally scouted, and graduation from the school ensures lifelong success. Within this setting enters Naegi Makato, (Ogata Megumi) our completely average, utterly normal, and slightly effemine protagonist. For him, admission to Hope’s Peak Acadamy was a dream that could never come true, until he gets scouted for –of all things– his super duper high school luck. But when he enter the school, his dreams are a far cry from the reality he finds. Thus, the curtains open on a game of betrayal and survival.
Let it not be said that Danganronpa is a story that strays from convention. It treads on very familiar grounds for the genre of its calling; the survival thriller staple of an average joe, trapped in a situation beyond his understanding and forced to play along to the rules of an arbitrary gamemaster. And true to form, this episode was very much about laying the groundwork for the killing game that follows. The 15 students who make up our cast are affirmatively trapped with Hope’s Peak academy; indestructible steel plates are bolted to windows, while their movements are restricted by vault doors, shutters and…cordons? Monobear offers them a choice: live out the rest of their lives in the academy, or seek escape by killing another student and getting away with the crime. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of an engineered killing game if there’s no killing; there’s no doubt characters are going to die, even without the show affirming it by ending with a survivor countdown.
But for a setup that seems dime a dozen these days, what Danganronpa offers up feels refreshing because it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. There’s neither is an attempt to be profound, nor does it shy away from the staples it so liberally draws from. Rather, it takes them and cranks it up to twelve, like the hilariously elaborate death sequence that opens the show. Danganronpa is gleefully over-the-top in its demented setting, and this tone is consistent with the cast as well; from a gothic gambler to straight-laced prefect, a haughty heir to the token mystery girl, each character is made an incredibly overblown stereotype with their very own super duper high school label. Danganronpa doesn’t put any restrains on the characterizations or designs, and maybe because it is this overblown that every character seems to be made more memorable for it.
Perhaps nowhere is this tone exemplified more than in Monobear himself, a product of Japan’s obsession with adorably demented mascots. It is crazy to think that Ooyama Nobuyo –Yes, it’s Doraemon– is the voice behind this creepy bear that sassies around hilariously, all while pushing the students into killing each other. There’s an element of ridiculousness inherent to Monobear’s character that contrasts the severity of the context, and it’s a compelling thing to watch, upupupu.
But the most intriguing part of Danganronpa is what we have yet to see, since this first episode introduced the setting of this killing game without actually proceeding into it. The gears have been set in motion by Monobear’s pressuring, through his constant surveillance and through the personal videos of each student. The notion of escape is now reinforced in every student’s mind, and it wouldn’t be long before we see our first attempt at it. Once that happens, we’ll finally get to see the main “twist” Danganronpa promises to bring to its brand of survival thriller: that of a murder mystery narrative. Placing the focus on whodunnit is an interesting change of pace from the predominant action or battle of wits that we usually see in a survival thriller. In bridging these two genres, I’m curious to see if it can retain the excitement of its survival thriller peers whilst keeping that challenge of wit one gets from an involving mystery.
Then there’s that little niggling bit that this is another one Kishi and Ueza’s game adaptations. The director/writer team has become particularly infamous for their subpar game adaptations, but (at least in my eyes) they’re still far from turning into the Uwe Boll of anime. Keep in mind they still have an established pedigree to their names, and what’s uplifting to know is the amount of passion the pair has reportedly shown for this adaptation; Both were fans of the source material even before being hired for the job, and Kishi is personally handling the storyboards for key events himself. The pair seems much more in control of Danganronpa’s direction than any of their previous works, and if anything, news like that makes me slightly hopeful that this will result in one of their better efforts. As far as I can tell, they’re performing an extremely faithful job with episode one, and nothing of significance seems amiss.
Characters and their Specialties
Yes, I feel it’s a bit of waste that I couldn’t get every single character intro shot into my screencaps, so I’ll be adding a handy characters list to this post once I wake up tomorrow. *Updated, see above.
Tentatively, there are no plans at RC to blog this show, but I might just carry this on till we reach the first kill to see how the murder mystery side of things play out.
ED: 「絶望性:ヒーロー治療薬」 (Zetsubosei: Hero Chiryoyaku) by スズムfeat.そらる (Suzumu feat. Soraru)