Danganronpa – Episode 1

Dear god you guys it’s Dangan Ronpa. You don’t even know. We are in for some crazy, hilarious shit.

I’ve discussed adaptations before, but I think this game might just overcome the usual hurdles – mainly by virtue of basically already being an anime that you had to keep clicking on to continue. The game (well, at least what I read of it) had a very distinctive visual aesthetic, a fantastic soundtrack, a stellar and intensely wacky cast of characters, great wit, campy self-awareness, and a propulsive storyline. This director doesn’t have a particularly impressive resume (his main credits being some comedies, a couple poorly-received videogame adaptations, and Angel Beats), but honestly, this game kind of adapts itself. A little directorial flare would certainly help, but the material should carry us.

Let’s get to work.

Episode 1

1:10 – And there are those aesthetic strengths immediately showing themselves – the unique, demented soundtrack, the distinctive, stylized hyper-2d visual design. This should be a fun ride

1:50 – “I only got in by sheer dumb luck.” I never trust a statement like that! Not that I actually know whether or not he’s significant, but if a main character downplays their connection to the central narrative, it’s a pretty decent bet the show just wants to make a reveal of it

4:29 – Well, I guess maybe they don’t have time to actually gracefully articulate everyone’s title, but these freeze-frames really aren’t doing it for me. I guess you’re not really supposed to be totally invested in the characters, but highlighting the videogame roots just increases the disconnect for me. I don’t want to watch a videogame, I want to watch a show. It’s a style choice, but not one I agree with

5:10 – Also weird is the fact that all of them are standing in the same direction facing the MC while they discuss matters between themselves, like… well, like a videogame. I said this work wouldn’t require that much adaptation, but the director could at least try

6:26 – “Do you plan on flirting all day?” Togami immediately takes charge. #1 Glasses Pusher 2013

9:34 – “Only students who have killed someone can live.” I love how quickly and offhandedly the show sets up its demented conceit. Battle Royale did the same thing (in the film at least, which I thought was fairly superior to both book and manga) – don’t linger on this stuff, we’ve already suspended our disbelief that much, and it’s not what we’re here for

13:18 – Dat soundtrack. Dose classy stills. This director seems about as hackish as expected, but the game’s got so much style it’s covering the lack of flare pretty well. Still makes me annoyed we don’t get to see what a Shinbo or whoever could do with material this style-driven

19:22 – They’re burning through material very efficiently here. I’ve been railing on the director, but the series composition seems quite strong – this episode is essentially one long infodump, but they’re pacing it well and bouncing the characters off each other to both add a little conflict and establish their personalities in the most efficient strokes possible, which is pretty damn important with a cast this large

20:24 – “I have to say that for an entitled generation…” They’re really hammering in the Battle Royale parallels, aren’t they?

And Done

Well, that was… fine. Honestly, it’s kinda disappointing to see this being so carried by the energy of the original – choices that worked well in the videogame format come off as kinda hollow here, and the direction is at best serviceable and at worst distractingly inept. I know the game itself rides on style too, and doesn’t expect you to take its characters all that seriously, but making this adaptation so overtly arcade-y definitely hurts any potential investment. The soundtrack is still obviously great, and it’s definitely going to pick up speed in the episodes ahead… but I would really, really have preferred it if this adaptation took a couple more risks. Maybe tightening the focus and not being stuck up on giving every single character their requisite number of lines would have done it, or something… the fact that full conversations have been condensed to only the necessary text means the characters come across as even more tropey than in the game, so if this show wants me to care about it, it’s gonna have to do something to make up for that lack.

Anyway. Hopefully the episodes ahead get a little more room to breathe, and the direction opens up to allow for a little mood development instead of just beat->beat->beat. We’ll see.

2 thoughts on “Danganronpa – Episode 1

  1. I would dispute the way you summarized the director’s resume, on two points:
    1) Not counting Dangan Ronpa, he’s made 2 video game adaptations since 2007, Persona 4 and Devil Survivor 2. DS2 was kind of a dull wreck, but calling Persona 4 poorly received would be a stretch by any metric. It sold over 10,000 copies per volume in Japan and is ranked at ~600 on myanimelist in a season where the average show ranked at 1400 (putting it in the top 10 of that season, top 5 among non-sequels). At best, you could call it mixed reception, but certainly not poor.
    2) The screen composer, Makoto Uezu, also worked on Devil Survivor 2, but not on Persona 4. Given that you give more credit to his work, I find it surprising that he (and his resume) are not mentioned.

    • Fair points!

      I only really mentioned the director specifically since I was already familiar with his work – I hadn’t checked the screen composer. That’s interesting, then – I actually dropped Devil Survivor extremely quickly, and felt that basically nothing worked in that show, so it might just be my fondness for this source material making me more forgiving of his choices as well.

      As far as Persona goes, sales numbers (or general popularity) don’t really color my impression of a director, and I was mainly basing my statements on specific reviews and what I’ve heard from people I know (and thus can kinda gauge the tastes of) regarding the show. Poorly-received was the wrong word for what I was trying to imply, since as you say it did do quite well commercially.

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