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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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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?

Based on the visual novel by game developer Spike, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is an intense series that works primarily due to the strength of its source material – which is also the derivation of many of its issues as an overall series. As with many of other anime adaptations, Danganronpa is seemingly caught between offering up a compelling premise that should solidify it as a noteworthy series and unfortunately suffering from literally squeezing so much of the material from the visual novel into the time span of its 13-episodes. By leaning more towards the latter approach, the anime adaptation of Danganronpa transforms itself into a rushed experience when it comes to its narrative, in turn removing much of the emotional depth of the situation – and many of the actual characters themselves – and creating a series that remains high on tension but without much care for its outcome.

What the series does well though is engage us into a world that strangely affixed between Battle Royale (2000) and the Ace Attorney handheld game series, especially advocating towards the violence of the aforementioned film. With its intricate plots twists the lead us as viewers second guessing the whodunit approach, the series establishes itself with a certain poise that makes viewers attempt to figure out the mystery themselves similarly to the way the characters do so throughout the episodes. Like the visual novel, Danganronpa is essentially broken up into two phases: one showcasing the eventual murder of a student and the second detailing with the trial in order to prosecute the one who committed the murder. With the series adhering to such a narrative structure, it both accomplishes what the visual novel conveys as well as develops a nice pace that does not seem all too predictable.

Where the series runs into trouble is just how this narrative approach is executed. For one, the rather hasty nature of the series compared to the unhurried nature of the visual novel produces a series that does not really have enough time to explore its characters and their reasons for murdering one another. We learn little to nothing about the background of these characters, and save for a few, we never truly care if they live or die because of this lack of exploration. Secondly, the trial scenes, although nicely handled for the most part, eventually boil down to characters seemingly pointing out clever facts truly no real person could ever realize on the spot. Some crack under pressure and some do not, but to have characters shrewdly bring about unbelievable evidence and foresee entire situations at a moments notice just seems a little too far fetched given their age, but this can mostly be attributed to the considerable length of the visual novel over the limited span of the anime adaptation.

While the hurried pacing of Danganronpa is mainly detrimental towards fully elaborating upon the intricacies of its source material, the series is mostly realized as an introduction to viewers who are unfamiliar to the visual novel more so than a standalone experience. For those who have played the visual novel, the series does a commendable job in complementing what the visual novel offers in terms of being a suspenseful and thrilling tale of sharp-witted individuals attempting to kill and survive in a tortuous game. The urgency of finding out who actually killed an individual is what makes the series watchable, but as an overall anime adaptation, Danganronpa never truly reaches the height that is should have given its rather uniquely creative premise.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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