Sigh, if you want the short version of how I feel about this series then imagine a really drawn out loud, wet fart noise.
The concept of this anime is pretty simple, it's like Clue played in a locked down high school that the students can't escape. The students are told they have murder one of their own without getting caught to be able to leave the school. And just like Clue, after each murder the students have to get together to figure out who the murderer is. Somehow though, the anime managed to fuck it up royally.
Danganronpa didn't have to suck. It could have been a great series if the direction had been at all competent and if it had had more episodes. Even with the it needed more episodes excuse the show didn't have to suck this hard. Every bad decision that could be made with this show seems to have been made. From convoluted explanations for everything to zero characterization for any of the characters and finally the boneheaded trials that spoon fed everything to the viewer rather than letting them figure anything out on their own. One of the keys to any good mystery series is giving the viewer enough info that they can figure it out for themselves if they want to. Danga fails on even this most basic level. Instead the investigation portion is always kept so short and the trials happen so quickly that there's no time to process the information, much less understand it's context until it is explained to the viewer.
It hard to talk about the plot of a mystery series without getting into spoilers, but I will do my best to avoid them. The basic plot of the students forced to murder each other in a high stakes game for their freedom could have been a compelling one. The first episode actually sets a nice tone and grabs the viewers attention with it's flashy introduction. However, the warning signs for later problems do start in that first episode with half baked characters taking implausible actions or acting in irrational ways right off the bat. It's not something that can excused by the extreme circumstances either. The character are bombarded with so much exposition that they should be in shellshocked. The true horror of situation should slowly dawn on them, especially if the goal of the series is to make them feel despair. Despair is a slow creeping this that consumes you slowly, not a sudden nervous breakdown. It never feels like the series understands the difference between despair and fear.
The plot follows a pretty basic formula a murder happens. The students investigate and then there's a trial to identify the culprit. It's a simple formula but one the show manages to fuck up. The relationships between the characters are never sufficiently explored, and yet these relationships are often quite important to understanding what is going on during the trials. Characters scream about friendship, but especially in a show like this that's not good enough. These relationships need to be shown and given depth. Otherwise, those screams of friendship can easily be mistaken as lies meant to divert attention away from the true murderer. The lack of development in the characters and their relationships makes it really hard to care when anyone is murdered or to understand some of the motives the characters have.
The plot goes through it's formula a few times before the final arc which is a bit different, and also by far the worst arc of the series. The problem is everything is rushed, but worse than that the show always decides to explain things in the most obtuse manner possible. It never says anything straight. Instead it wraps everything in long blocks of exposition with no substance. The series could cut out half the exposition and it would actually make it easier to understand, because there's nothing complex going on here. It's actually a very simple story that didn't need all the fluff to be interesting. Some of these padded out explanations could have been replaced with interactions between the characters which would have been a big improvement.
The characters in this series are all cliches. However, with a cast this large they kind of have to be, because it's the best way to make them easy to tell apart. This makes the characters kind of boring from the very start, but it's no excuse for not trying to develop them a little and give them some personality beyond their basic cliche. Instead the series avoids character development even for those characters that stick around as the cast is whittled down. Character interactions outside of murders or trials is limited. It gives some small hints of them forming bonds or relationships, but there's never enough of it to make the relationships believable. Instead the characters remain just what they are cliches waiting their turn to be murdered or to commit murder.
The art style of the series is interesting. It's a very colorful series with very exaggerated character models. Everything looks very cartoonish, which actually could have made for a good juxtaposition with the dark tone of the series if it had been able to establish any kind of atmosphere. Instead the art style and animation are wasted on this series and are probably the most interesting thing about it. My favorite parts of the series were the punishments when the culprits were found guilty which were very stylized and energetic. The OST was mostly forgettable, expect for the terrible rap opening and the surprisingly good ending theme which had a real 8-bit feel to it, one of the tributes to this being an anime based on a game. The voice acting was way over the top and often quite cheesy which helped to ruin some of the more serious moments.
Overall I hated this series. It had the elements to at least be interesting if not outright great, instead it became a complete mess from the second episode onwards. Rushed, poorly thought out and a plot that got cheesy whenever it could, ruining any sense of despair that kept getting mentioned. I would definitely recommend avoiding this one. It's not even good service for fans of the game.