*MY SCORE IS BASED ON THE VISUAL NOVEL + ANIME*
First of all, do NOT be an 'animeonlyfag' if you want to know this show better, aight? Saying the anime is a complete shit without acknowledging the visual novel contents is a big mistake. However, it's not your fault rushing to this conclusion.
I'll explain why you should give this a chance.
Why you should play the visual novel and why I think this should've been a 26 episodes adaptation:
Like I said, the catch is the visual novel - it requires a PSP or a neat PC to run the game or the PSP emulator. If you don't have any of those or if you're just lazy - watch on YouTube instead, but beware of the spoilers. 2016 edit: It's available on Steam! Check it out if you haven't yet. So, if you play this game, you're going understand the development of the show and the characters very easily, and you're probably going to like the show a lot more. Listen, if you only deal with the anime, I'm pretty sure you won't like from the beginning because it is confusing and stupid. For instance, the story is deep as fuck (mindf*cks everywhere) but they only made 13 episodes to make it understandable for everyone, and that's why the long time fans or even the newcomers, like myself back then were pissed off about it.
Lets backtrack a bit to when I decided to give Danganronpa a second chance. I was determined to understand this show, so I did some searching first (lies, I did a lot of searching) and I found out there was a visual novel! With some more lurking in the dark places of the internet (*cough* /a/), I read some people saying to play the whole visual novel first and watch the ongoing animation after finishing it.
So, with that in mind, I did the following: I played the visual novel, understood the story and finished the game with my point of view, like which characters I spent my freetime with and which ones I actually bonded with just for my first impressions. Hell, later I even watched other "routes" on YouTube just for character development and hidden plot knowledge purposes! Then, I finally got into the anime, and I must say all this work just to understand the series was damn worth my time, because the impression I got was - the anime is a crappy summary of the visual novel.
The big question wandering in my mind at that time was - Was this thing supposed to be this rushed? If I'm right, it was a huge mistake agreeing to make this adaptation.
Further explanation and what's behind the negative hype:
The first question I got when I found the root of the fanbase was: Why there's so much anger, frustration and disappointment about this show? And most importantly, why are a lot of people are saying Dangit Ron Paul is a bad show? The answer came to me pretty clearly. Well, for starters, Dalai Lama: The Animation isn't bad, it's just another case of - the animation wasn't good enough to compete with the original, in this case, the visual novel.
If you want to make a good adaptation of a successful series you MUST gather all the great points of the show, like the investigation scenes, the amazing soundtrack and most importantly, character development. You need to put together even the obviously charming downsides, like the pink freaking blood, the funny looking villain and/or some goofy executions - everything that make this show unique. All it needs to make a grateful and enjoyable adaptation.
In the visual novel the entire development is pretty solid. You quickly start to understand most of the characters and their personalities pretty well with the main story and more and more with the free-time events. Take your time and enjoy the ride. Also, you can always load the chapters if someone you couldn't bond with dies suddenly if you continue the story (heart attack someone? It would be hella funny). Sadly in the anime everything happens SO DAMN FAST, it's so dynamic that we can't even understand what the hell just happened sometimes! Just like that in the middle of the series almost the entire cast is dead with nothing really explained to the viewers. My mind at that time was kinda like this: WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? THAT PERSON ALREADY DIED? IT'S ONLY EPISODE 3, GOD DAMN IT! WHY THEY'VE SKIPPED SO MUCH LORE?! Not gonna lie, it's a clusterfuck, seriously.
The animation doesn't have too much on-screen character bonding too, like Mondo and Ishimaru becoming bros (Fujisaki included, but that's not really canon to be honest, it's more a fanfic thing), which the outcome leads people to think about a weird boylove thing (no offense to yaoi fans, butt fuck it). Listen, just because it is very brief in the animation, you should understand why they got so close and only the VN can explain it. Now, in the visual novel they appear together a bunch of times and with all the talking is self explanatory that a man bond is thicker than blood, and you're part of their partnership aswell AND became respected by those two because you helped them create this bond! Now, where is this in the animation? There's only like 5 minutes of broskis being broskis! That's unacceptable, just a forgetful frickin' beam and that was it? ONE THING I CAN'T STAND IS A RUSHED MOTHERFUCKING ADAPTATION! It was supposed to be there because it IS a important thing to make the story more understandable and enjoyable. Character development, hello?! Seriously... Oh yeah, another thing - Fukawa stalking Togami appears on-screen but it is soooooo poooooorly developed. There's also Oogami and Asahina bonding and it can be a little misleading as well (to me it is misleading in a good way. God bless yuri). For instance - in the game you can see them practicing sports together, in the same room and eating donuts... well, you're alone in this one, Aoi-chan. Anyhow, bottomline is - there's a lot more that the animation do not show. It's a shame that all those good natured fillers got swerved big time. How can you be emotionally invested in a character if they don't have enough screen time or lore behind it? C'mon now.
The story is indeed deep and interesting, and may or not have some five or six twists. The hope of humanity are those 15 (*cough* 16 *cough*) kids, and they're trapped in the Hope Academy to grow a new population. Why? Well, that's because they're the best in the world in what they do - seems strange? (even I could be there if they needed some masturba- nevermind) Yeah, it's just because of that. Seriously, at first glance it seems shitty, but later on things get spicy... if you want to know more just GO WATCH/PLAY IT RIGHT NOW.
And why they're trapped? Sorry, you're asking too much now (don't mind my delirium disorder, please), like I just aggressively ordered you, go watch/play the series to know better. Anyways, what I can tell you is something very interesting - this was supposed to be a pacific and a calm place for the new Adam and Eve's live their lives forever... but because some shit that happened in the past things got messed up. Now we have this fucking bear saying they must KILL each other in order to 'graduate', and on top of that - it must be a silent dispatch, nobody can find out who is the murderer! Like, what the fuck? But if they manage to catch the assassin (so many synonyms for killer), and obviously have the proof needed to lockdown the perpetrator, and without further doubts - the culprit is executed and everybody moves to the next place in the academy. Yep, that's it! Thank you New York and good night!!! But seriously, Monokuma is very strict and he plays around making moves to always have something entertaining to watch, like giving the kids 'reasons to kill' or if they accuse and vote to kill an innocent person, everybody is gonna die and the malefactor is going to graduate. Well, you're obviously thinking that is fucking insane, huh? The flow of the show with all the murder mystery plot is actually pretty thrilling when they start investigating, talking with each other and understanding who they really are, their reasons to survive and even their background life. So, as threatening every single kid is to each other, they team up, get their facts straight so in the end they're able to make the right decision for the sake of their own lives. Some are selfish and they pay for it, but that's the vital point of the entire series - it's all about survival. However, this is part of a (ANOTHER?) huge flaw in the both the animation and the VN.
In the visual novel, Naegi, who is YOU (yay you're a scared dingus protagonist), need to search for clues and assimilate the whole damn thing. This is what develops the mystery and get you in the mood of the show. There's even cases that you don't need to use your brain too much, but the satisfaction to finally close a case is great! I didn't really enjoyed the majority of the murder reasons to be honest. Some were just too stupid, but that is just me. Sadly, the anime didn't make a good job of the Naegi's point of view. What I'm saying is: He knows jackshit, and from the vastly dungeon of nothingness. he suffers from a sudden lapse of knowledge and mysteriously knows what happened and who is the culprit! By the way, if he's somewhat wrong, Kirigiri is right. It seems like House M.D all over again. Like, what the hell? Even some clues he and other cast members found in the investigation do NOT get mentioned in the class trial for better understanding just because apparently there's no time for that.
Why this is a huge flaw in the VN? Lemme tell you what the stupidest thing is - IF YOU FAIL THE TEST, SUDDENLY YOU'RE THE CULPRIT! IT WAS ME ALL ALONG, AUSTIN! And yes, even with all the exploration this was disappointing. That was their way to insert a Game Over in this VN? Fuck's sake. Honestly, it's half-assed. How are you supposed to be the culprit if you weren't even there in the first place? You have people that were with you and can vouch for your innocence but that four-eyed blond cunt seems to always doubt your ass.
Anyway, the whole point of the show's plot is trying to make is - this is not a senseless battle royale, but inauspiciously it is what the most people who didn't even knew the series before and went straight to the anime thought it was, just because the lack of information on the animation rushed storyline. I know, this is getting repetitive... just like the story! *ba dum tss*.
Well, I must say the animation did not impress me thaaat much. I like the unique style of the characters, like their eyes for example, and I sure loved seing my favorite ones (Mondo Badass Oowada) in action instead of a weird paperboard figure trying to emulate life. Each and every character is powered up with a lot of funny, scary, cute and badasses reactions too. It is impressive. My favorite is when Celes gets angry.
Again, another thing I dislike that is still there from the visual novel is the MOTHERF***ING SHAKING CAMERA! What I mean is: WHEN A BODY IS FOUND THE GAME DECIDES TO SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF YOU! It seems like even the cameraman got scared and you're going to get scared too just because of this. Or it was just me... probably just me. Seriously, this is extremely annoying. What bugs me it's the whole OMG I FOUND A CORPSE! LET'S PLAY A TERRIFYING SCREAM, HEHOOO. I don't like to be scared outta nowhere, and this show isn't horrifying, that was just completely out of place in my opinion. This isn't Corpse Party, there's no need for jump scares. Shame on you, Donut Tampa.
Now I will beg your pardon, but my fanboyism is gonna take control for a sec.
OH MY GOD! WHAT KIND OF MASTERMIND IS MASAFUMI TAKADA? All the OST is MARVELOUS. I'll just mention that he worked on Killer 7 and on the No More Heroes franchise too. I can't get enough of the songs. I listened to this OST a LOT! The entire thing for weeks and weeks, over 4000 executions on my last.fm account, it's just brilliant!
To me the entire show is great because of background instrumental orchestra, it fits perfectly when a song starts with a new scene or change of mood during an investigation - it can bring you hope or despair (puns, lovely) accordingly with the present scenario. If you couldn't figure out why the soundtrack is the best thing on this series, I highly suggest you to listen closely when it happens and you're going to understand what I'm talking about, it can be on the animation or just by playing the visual novel, it doesn't matter. At least the anime couldn't get any wrong with this OST. You really know when the shit is about to hit the fan just because of the music direction. The change of pace is very forgiving if you're kinda lost in the plot.
Aside from the extraordinary soundtrack (and my fanboyism), let's talk about the voice acting. First of all there is something that everybody should've already recognized: Naegi's voice actor is the same guy who voiced Shinji in the Evangelion series (yay he's a scared dingus protagonist too). Pretty good work if you ask me, but not as good compared to the visual novel since apparently, he wasn't giving his all. What I mean is - he seems bored all the time when he yells the classic DING DONG YOU'RE ALL WRONG. Unfortunately, the same happens with Monokuma as well - in the visual novel he is a lot funnier, even his iconic laugh is dissatisfactory in the anime. A downside of playing the VN is - you're going to grow tired of this if you played the entire game, but the good thing is that finally we can hear the characters actually talking to each other instead of just being souless paperboard figures just standing there motionless and also yelling and shouting a lot more instead of just grunting or repeating the same words all the time. That is the beauty of the animation, because in the visual novel you don't get that many different sounds. I did love Hagakure saying more words than dabe all the time. And yes, during the class trials and the outcome of the murders, we can still have the conversation with the characters fearing the worst, accusing each other, losing their sanity and crying rivers (I feel you, Ishimaru). That is indeed a spectacular voice acting! I must say I personally love Fujisaki's and Mondo's voice acting. (no shit sherlock)
On a side note - the OP and the EP of the animation are pretty well done too. OP with a few rap spots that seemed original and lore-friendly for me, and the EP is a good techno jpop with catching lyrics. Japan at its finest! Well done there.
We cannot understand the characters that well like we do in the visual novel just because we don't have the world in our hands here, but fortunately the animation got more than enough essence of each character to make a neat adaptation, like Kirigiri's mysterious aura, Togami's jerkface attitude or Fujisaki's scared cat personality.
In the beginning we can't see what the first victims are up to, what they do and who they are. Sadly this happens in the visual novel aswell, even though we can chitchat with everyone. That's a big downside for players who were trying to bond with some of the soon-to-be-dead characters better, well you can kinda try to, but you cannot save whoever you want and that got me mad. It's a shame the VN was this linear, because I tried my very best to save that person... Don't look at me like that, you know you've tried too!
Let's just wait for the PSVITA version with the School Mode, shall we? It seems like you can really control the story with the choices you make, and the game doesn't bamboozle you just faking the feeling that you're in control, and I'll finally gonna be bro with Mondo and Ishimaru and get my scheme going with the millitary girl, OOPS.
2016 edit: SCHOOL MODE ROCKS!
* You can enjoy the anime like any other psychological/mystery show. Let it be know this show could've had a much better reception if it was a 24~26 episodes adaptation with a few OVAS on the way, but it's alright the way it is. It could be a masterpiece (fanboyism), but it's just fine... it could be, but isn't... IT'S STILL HURTS, OKAY?
* It's a nice murder mystery, the plot is not that forgivable in the anime because there's not enough time to show everything off. The show is so linear and the lack of information is HUGE. Listen, if you try to search for more information you might read spoilers! Be careful!
* Monokuma is incredibly funny. One of the "love to hate" character, at least most of the times, but eventually you're going to understand his true reasons. I can say his theme music helps with the shits n gigs atmosphere, but his acting gets kinda boring and predictable. Later on you will start slooooowly disliking him, and by disliking I mean getting pretty annoyed at his appearances just because he doesn't seem all that 'super genius mastermind' anymore. He loses his magic after a couple episodes. The first theatre is actually decent to make you think about the characters safety, but after two or three murders later he's just like "oh well we got a scene here... again, zzzz". The good part is that the kids start to get somewhat "comfortable" with the environment, with his threats and they start trusting their colleagues more, so they turn out to be more confident towards Monokuma. He loses his magic pretty quickly because the kids stop getting scared or frustrated about their situation and they actually engage in a quest to get the fuck out of that academy. To me, he's just an angry teddy bear who fell sideways on black grease and is pissing mad about that.
* There's not so much gore (if any) or bloodshed, and in my humble opinion - they missed an opportunity here. This is a case of a show that could've been much more gruesome but not guro. Let me explain my disappointment with this little semi-spoiler - In a specific execution there's nothing remaining of the body, like, it SHOULD be something there, I mean, c'mon. That wasn't a disappearance... well, this is something that they never explained to us viewers, and it sounded more like a joke than an execution. You'd think this academy is entirely dark and grim but, after that one I was starting to doubt the whole 'despair murdering madness I'll drink your tears in the breakfast yar fucker' show.
* There's not much horror, which may be for the good or for the bad. The Hope Academy 'dark aura' it's there because the horror is tagged with his buddy mystery, but hey, the blood is fucking pink so who cares about horror? (Andy Warhol and your PopArt influences) Anyway, the thing that would scare you the most is the camera. Trust me, is the motherfreakin' camera.
Err... enjoy yourself.
Aaaaaaanyways, moving on. The thing is that you MUST understand you won't get all the prestigious information that could possibly make you a big fan of the show if you don't play/watch the visual novel. Again I'll reinforce this with an example: Myself! I got very interested in all the characters (mainly Mondo. Yes it's true, it's true) and the mysterious plot. I invested a considerable amount of time to research the show's world and I did enjoy a LOT when I got things straight. I must say I'm not much a horror/gore lover, I like more when they're together solving mysteries. I love the mystery more than anything else... Actually, I'm lying, I love boobs much more but there isn't much fanservice on this show, which is kinda good because with a plot like this the fanservice is kinda out of place, otherwise it would be a crappy edgy show that ends on a boat [SHOTS FIRED]. Well, actually there is a little from Asahina in the episode 6... God I love her round donuts! And if you want to get nasty... search for fanfics! Rule 34 never fails.
Lastly, this show is very easy going on the mystery solving, and offers a BIG AMOUNT OF PERSPECTIVES. In my opinion, the whole plot could be a big reality show and when a person 'die' - him/her starts to help the next murder scheme, and yes, only Naegi is the one who doesn't know shit about it. Well, that is my perspective. You're going to probably have your own too. Like I said, this aspect of the show is very forgiving, but I can't spoil more for you. If you got really interested, I highly suggest you do the same as I did - spare a couple hours to acknowledge the awesomeness that is this show because it is worth it your time.
Now I only need to learn freaking japanese to play Dammit Panga 2 (yes there's a 2, where the story get more and more interesting, or more and more fucked up, your choice).
2015 edit: I wrote this review in 2013, but now the second Danganronpa is already available and in English, iirc.
Forever editing: Grammar mistakes. Like I said, I wrote this in 2013 and my English is a lot better now, so I'm always returning to this review to check if I wrote something wrong... and guess what? I'm always finding mistakes! Learning process, everybody.
2016 edit: Stop deleting the pictures you tumblr cunts. Every time I come here to edit this review I have to find another image because someone deleted their tumblr, ffs. And there's even more Danganronpa games out there! JESUS CHRIST!
~FORGET IT BEAM~
I hope my review was helpful and I hope (it's not a pun, I swear) I didn't spoil some crucial point to you, and I hope (SERIOUSLY IT'S NOT) you're going to love it as much as I did! I'm deeply sorry about any grammar errors. I work hard on correcting them.
I did this review because I treasure Dragon Mamba a lot and I thought people will get more interested if I shared my *ahem* vast knowledge about it, and of course I tried to not be such an annoying fanboy. Hey, I didn't even talk much about Mondo anyways, HUH? HUH??? AM I RIGHT GUYS?
Swig of water for the reviewing man, I'll catch your ass down the road.
Jesus Christ, Ishimaru. Are you for real?
~Hey, what about a drinking game? Read my review again and, everytime I said 'rushed show' you take a shot, be careful to not throw up!
I'm kidding, don't do that.
I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS WITH YOU, YOU FREAK.