Well, that had some of the best WTF factor of any series I’ve seen for a while. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to get into a game adaptation by this director/writer team – given that I haven’t liked a single one so far, however many is too many. There was really no reason to expect Danganronpa to be different – apart perhaps from a mild intuition that it might be – but I like these guys so much when they’re on that I really wanted to give it a chance.
The funny thing is, as incredibly stupid as I find this premise, I actually did like this first episode quite a bit. It’s not as if we haven’t seen this survival game thing done to death (no pun intended) and rarely with very interesting results. Not only is the notion behind Danganronpa utterly pointless and arbitrary even by the standards of its medium, but there’s a kind of gleeful sadism to these kinds of games/series that grosses me out a little. I think they’re meant on some level to enjoy seeing people suffer for no reason apart from the fact that it’s fun to do so.
Given all that, I think the only chance a show like this has with me is if it doesn’t take itself even remotely seriously, and it seems quite obvious that Danganronpa doesn’t. In the first place, the villan of the piece is a stuffed bear called Monokuma, who’s played by Doraemon (Ooyama Nobuyo). Then we have a schoolgirl played by Miyata Kouki, and something that looks like a JoJo reject wearing a girls school uniform. Scattered among the cast of oddballs are Sakurai Takahiro, Sawashiro Miyuki, Yamaguchi Kappei (as always, a delight) and Ishida Akira, among others. And the main character, Naegi Makoto, is played by none other than Ikari Shinji herself, Oogata Megumi. I confess there’s a fun kind of nostalgia in hearing her play a male lead again – I think this might be the first time since Tantei Gakuen Q – and while she doesn’t stretch much from her stock male voice, she’s very, very good at it.
As much fun as it is to hear that cast wildly overacting their way through this preposterous trifle, another element of Danganronpa I find appealing as compared to other Kishi/Uezu game adaptations is its simplicity. 15 kids, one locked building, one way to live – kill somebody (I know it gets a bit more complicated than that, but the principle holds). Japan has a fascination with watching adolescents kill each other so you’re not going to find much unplanted soil, but this seems like an iteration that’s not going to make the audience think too much. The bewildering complexity and bloated self-importance of some other game adaptations seems absent here – those series are just as dumb as this one, but they think they’re smart and this ones knows it’s dumb. Which one do you think is going to make the better show?
Frankly, I still wish Kishi and Uezu would spend more time adapting seinen manga and LN like Kamisama Dolls or Jinrui and less time adapting video games. But Danganronpa at least seems like a vehicle that’s going to allow their very peculiar sensibility and sense of humor to yield some entertaining results. As a a pure thrill ride/snuff film and comedy I think this has some potential, and I like the little style touches like the clever character introductions – but I’m sure as hell not expecting anything profound or meaningful from the experience. Nothing wrong with that as long as it’s entertaining – but that’s a pretty stiff test in its own right. So far, so good.