「さよなら絶望学園」 (Sayonara Zetsubou Gakuen)
“Farewell Despair Academy”

Hope versus despair. Quite literally.

In just one episode, and the final one to boot, Junko manages to completely steal the show. It’s almost a shame they saved her until this moment, because her lunacy is such an appealing thing to watch; she’s constantly switching between an assortment of personalities, from overtly cutesy to hilariously depressed, and in the next moment swinging back to her typical balls-out psycho demeanor, which must have done quite the number on her voice actor Toyoguchi Megumi, kudos to her. And in spite of the personality instability, Junko remains sharply manipulative throughout, and was a real treat to watch in action.

The great mystery of the “most despair-inducing event” is also finally revealed, but the answer is almost as confusing as the questions before. Somehow, in the two years gap of our protagonists’ memories, the world has descended into total anarchy, with monobear-mask wearing rioters prowling the streets, giant monobears destroying cities, and monobears monuments all over. The world as we knew it is destroyed, but Junko doesn’t quite answer how this has occurred, instead comparing the event to a natural disaster, except one that is caused by man. I don’t think a concrete answer was ever the point though; just like the unanswered mystery of how the characters lost their memories, these details aren’t really the focus of the narrative.

Instead, our focus shifted to an arbitrary, incredibly cheesy but oh-so-entertaining battle between hope, represented by Naegi, and despair, Junko herself. How cheesy is that? Let’s see: Junko attempts to coerce the students to kill Naegi in order to remain safely in the school, and by doing so would achieve her goal of making the world despair (huh?) by showing through the live broadcast of the killing game that the students of hope couldn’t win against an agent of despair. (Yes, I known how it sounds at this point. Zetsuboushita!) At which point, in classic Danganronpa style, Naegi has to convince everyone otherwise by shooting them with hope bullets (I don’t even fucking care what I’m seeing anymore) as the rechristened super duper high school Hope. (One word. Legendary.)

It might seem that I’m dissing it now, but on the contrary I found the whole thing hugely entertaining at the time, in a highly ridiculous, parodic sort of way. I never had more fun than when Danganronpa was reveling in its own silliness and sadistic tendencies, and this was perhaps the greatest of those moments. The way Junko went down in a montage of executions was similar; her wanting the punishment so badly almost made it seemed as though she didn’t lose at all.

So what’s really on the other side of the door? Was everything that Junko said really true, or a huge lie told to manipulate the students? We might not have a really have gotten the answer, but I think everyone knows the real answer the show so desperately wanted to leave us with. Bright, unsubtle hope.

Epilogue:

Final Impressions

And so, the quest for a truly great video game adaptation continues. Yes, I’m making this a thing.

If we’re to believe the players of the game, this show was a travesty. Another stone in the path of our quest for a truly great video-game adaption. The problems are many and deep; highly marginalized characters, poor pacing of storyline, and most damning of all for adaptations, frequent omission and/or complete rewriting of plot details. And some of those flaws in the screenplay are unmistakable even without playing the game.

But as an anime-only viewer, you probably wouldn’t know all that is to be. You wouldn’t know that, say, there was a very lengthy discourse into electronic ID loopholes in the second trial, which was almost entirely omitted. You wouldn’t know the details of clues that led into this line of questioning, the same details that were oftentimes glossed over in investigation sequences. So although the anime still suffers from the same problems, it’s easier to overlook these because, well, your expectations are different. As vague and un-objective as it sounds, this is one of those shows where your enjoyment seems to hinge upon it. The thing to keep in mind is that Danganronpa still has many great points to it; its macabre streak of sadistic black humor, the silly (oftentimes parodic) tone of the show, the visceral thrill of a survivor game, and the highly compelling overarching plot (probably the best thing of the second half) that resulted in a brilliantly loony and entertaining payoff.

With that said, having tried some of the game before, I can see why the rest of problems are there. There’s been a fundamental flaw in the way the anime chose to adapt the game’s storyline into the pop-pop-pop machinegun-speed trials and highly streamlined investigations, two of the show’s definite weak points. A concession can no doubt be made for fitting the entirety of the storyline into 13 episodes, but we can’t discount the detrimental effect of completely taking out any involvement a viewer might have in the focal mystery of each arc. (Also, some of the cases were bleedingly obvious, and was more a case of “how” rather than “who”) The only trial to subvert this was the final one, and that’s also because it had the overarching plot building into it. In all honesty the trials, the narrative linchpin of the show, were a mixed bag. Danganronpa carried itself on its swagger and the allure of its larger plot, and like the last two episodes, it can get really good when it brings in these two aspects in strength. Sometimes though, like the Celes trial, it was something of a chore to sit through episodic cases.

I guess the speculative question here is if the show would’ve done any better with double the episodes, with better paced and more considerations for the crime cases, but we can go on a long discourse about that. Some of the game-players already noted how the storyline really was crafted to take advantage of the gaming medium; a partially-guided, hands-on experience that involves players as a detective. On the other hand I personally feel that there are more problems involved in the directing and general writing of the screenplay, moreso than a greater number of episodes would’ve fixed. And Danganronpa definitely won’t change anyone’s opinion that Lerch is still a second-rate animation studio.

Whether you felt this anime was good or bad, there’s no denying its success as part of a larger franchise; the property’s really taking off now, with multiple games in the pipelines. And going by that ending, a sequel to the anime seems more an eventuality than a possibility. With a localisation of the first game coming soon, there’s an arguably “better” way to get the Danganronpa experience. But hell, I’d still tell you to check out the anime at some point (especially if you can’t get your hands on the translated games) because so few shows have the kind of swagger Danganronpa showed, nor it’s highly entertaining premise and equally intriguing plot. Just don’t hold any expectations and Danganronpa’s gonna be a flawed but decent watch.

 

ED3 Sequence

ED3: 「再生 -rebuild-」 (Sasai -rebuild-) by 緒方 恵美 (Ogata Megumi)

31 Comments

  1. Is it just me, that Sakura’s body looks like it was from the anime Baki the Grappler XD

    and…. for such an attractive woman Junko’s such a waste to be honest, hope that her memory would be the one to be wiped out so that she can experience what we called “hope”

    BaKaYaRou
  2. I was so looking forward to some gruesome battle. But the ending is too cheesy. Like Ill hit eveyone with home. KAPOW KAPOW KAPOW. And by one by one, I meant a lengthy dialogue full of flowery words you see on Disney Junior. And Junko has such a short lived screen time. Damn, why???

    Bakemono
  3. well, my point of view as someone who played the game, it was poor adaptation. rush, illogiacl-pace, a lot of missing monolouges and dialoges which destoryed part of the investigation and trial’s concept and even the fun of the game. they didn’t let the anime viewers enough to think on their own. obviously I can’t judge as an anime-only viewers because in very early stage I played the game, but from friends tell me as anime-only viewers they also said that the pace wasn’t good and it seemed to them that the twist is really stupid: twin sister and two years “jump”/”loophole”. well, someway it’s true, but in the game they present it differently.

    the last episode of the anime wasn’t too bad after all. the whole “hope” stuff with the bullets really remind me the hardest part of the game.

    still, beside that, I don;t think it was a smart decision to try to adapt the gameplay of MTB ot NSD to the anime. almost all time it seemed pretty lame in contrast to the game.

    can’t be helped, there will be a second season for the second game. I just hope I’ll be able to play it before that’ll happen. and maybe we’ll see better job.
    right now, I am reading DR0, the prequel LN, at the beginning it was a bit boring, but it became interesting after the half of volume 1. plus if I understand right, it’s somewhat necessary before game 2.
    there;s also DRIF, a short added stuff from the creator of Baccano. it’s alternative world for what would happen if things were a bit different in game 1 (don’t wanna spoiler here but it’s connect to something that shows up in the game)…it does official cause it was publish in the pack of game 2. I must say, it was very good short story.

    thedarktower
      1. Actually, DR0 doesn’t spoil any major plot twist from SDR2, so you can read it before SDR2 just fine. I’d even say that you should, because the book contains setup for SDR2 and introduces some key concepts that the game summarizes in just few sentences, making it seem that they kinda came out of nowhere (not to mention that that’s just not enough for the full impact).

        DiabloCthulhu
  4. As an anime viewer only, I can’t say this show was great; I can’t even say it was very good, but you know, looking back on it, I was entertained.

    That’ll do Monobear… That’ll do.

    RaccoonGoon
  5. In my honest feeling.

    I really think this anime adaptation was mediocre.
    It did great in making things possible like the character almost nearly matching the game. It brought out some points of the game in a short 24-25min show(in which in my hours of gaming one hour would take 4-6 hours of my life) but I still think it lacks character development to understand why they have the SUPER DUPER titles and why they REALLY REALLY NEED TO GET OUT SO BADLY(The video film wasn’t enough, honestly).

    Terror, in its truest sense, is not a static state, but a dynamic one
    Bluebeared/Gilles de Rais(Fate/Zero).

    I really wished they didn’t give obvious hints but instead they should have only cited it and made the anime viewers puzzle things out.
    I really wished this was a 2-cour show.

  6. Having played the game, I don’t think the Dangan Anime is bad as much as it could have been more.

    There’s some parts I feel the anime covered well, such as the last two episodes and other particular bits here or there, where the anime feels great. On the other hand, I’d say the biggest flaws were the fact they pretty much cut out the investigation phases into just ‘GOT CLUE GOT CLUE GOT CLUE’ when those flesh out character interactions and give a chance to really linger on what’s going on. The case that suffered the most from this was definitely Celes’ trial, since while the culprit isn’t hard to figure out the HOW is a really big thing, especially since in the game Celes puts up a much longer fight and you need to really nail down on every excuse, which the anime cuts out on, making the trial feel like the weakest in the anime.

    The lack of free time event information was also a shame. I can get why they cut it but that’s where you find out the most about most of the cast. For example, there’s the opportunity to hang with Ikusaba when she’s posing as Junko, which gives off hints that she’s not just a model, which is the only chance you’d have to interact with Ikusaba before she goes.

    Acerbus
  7. I mentioned this by accident last episode that this actually reminds me of Fallout for some reason. You have this place that apparently protects you from the outside world yet the truth is that it was more to keep the most talented people there and to be tested (i.e who could stay the most sane even though they could stay in the school forever it was either kill or be killed in the end).

    Now that it’s over they’re finally going outside to the wasteland that it is now…

    Fallout 4 anyone? Just kidding, seriously though this show was really great, I felt like it was a mix of Phoenix Wright/Battle Royale and I loved it. Can’t believe I didn’t see this show until last week. Pretty much had a marathon through the episodes in 2 days, well worth it even with some flaws.

    Jason Isenberg
    1. Was reading about those 2 the other day.

      999 was somewhat straightforward but Virtue Last Reward blew my mind.
      Thinking back its kind of like Steins Gate.

      Wonder what the 3rd part will reveal on that Phi girl.

      iron2000
  8. Well , the easiest way to sum up how I feel about this anime is this-it wasn’t perfect , but it was perfect enough for me.
    I really enjoyed the whole experience and look forward to a possible second season

    Aki-Chan
  9. Haven’t played the game, but I enjoyed the show. Definitely gonna try and pick it up when I have time. The show wasn’t perfect by far; the trials went too fast and the characters were insufficiently developed. However, they style and humor were quite entertaining, and the fast pace kept everything interesting and prevented it from dragging along. All in all, Danganronpa was a good show which I don’t regret watching. Thanks covering it Asobi!

    Hochmeister
  10. i marathoned the entire series today and although i have not played the game, i can tell the anime already strayed far from the original by the pacing.

    that said, it was the thrill of the ride, enjoying the craziness.

    as a fan of phoenix wright and 999, i am sure the original of Danganronpa is equally fun.

    RuriNeko (TheNewHorde)

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