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That Danganronpa Thing Was Kinda Awesome

October 2, 2013
by

dancingmonobearI didn’t think much of this series when it first started. Yet another Battle Royale wannabe. Character designs straight out of Yu-Gi-Oh. Cutscenes and other assets apparently lifted wholly from the original video game. So I waved this thing off as a cheap video game cash-in, just like almost every other video game to anime adaptation.

But then I fell in love with Monobear.

Monobear is awesome. He has that sort of simplistic mascot design that makes for some real iconic shit. Half white and cutesy, half black and evil (and cutesy). I especially love his mouth, where half of it is a sly little smile and the other half is a toothy, malevolent grin. This is Pikachu-level iconography here, and his antics were enough to keep my attention for a couple of episodes as the series set up its shtick. That and the fact that whenever he’d pop up he’d be accompanied by Hanna-Barbara-styled sound effects. That asshole Kyubey never went “sproing.”

dancingmonobearThe thing that kept me watching this show after my initiation with Monobear was the mechanics of it all. You’d get one episode devoted to minor character development threads– just enough to make each character kinda interesting– and said episode would end with at least one character’s death. The next episode was spent investigating the death and the ensuing trial to discover the culprit. Slap these two halves together and you basically have the same sort of procedural structure from Law & Order– bad shit goes down in the first half, bad shit gets solved in the second half.

The show’s working with that dreaded storytelling device: the formula. People hate the Monsters of the Week and other patterned forms of storytelling, mainly because they’re used to shows that do that sort of thing really badly. You see some shitty 80s sitcom or 70s Saturday morning cartoon or sentai show or whatever, and you associate “formula” with “crap.” It’s rarely the actual formula that’s at fault. Instead, it’s the inability of the writers to play with that formula.

dancingmonobearDanganronpa isn’t revolutionary with its use of that Law & Order formula, but it varies things enough to make the structure interesting rather than annoying. The first murder is done in self-defense, and the culprit is executed regardless. Another murder is effectively an act of passion and jealousy, while another is a suicide another character manipulates in order to frame someone else. There’s only one straight-forward “I murdered this person in order to win the game” scenario in the entire series, so the series avoids any real sense of repetitiveness despite its limited scenario. And to boot, all of these murders are used to get into the heads of the perpetrators and getting to that character development stuff peeps love. So yeah, Danganronpa makes good use of its formula.

This thing’s also pretty damn bleak in the end.

The survivors out the supposed mastermind and “win.” They gain their freedom. They can leave the school and resume what’s left of their personal lives. The thing is, said mastermind claims that the outside world has fallen into ruin. We see scenes of riots and devastation, making the outside world look like some Mad Max/Akira wet dream. The mastermind could be lying– she wanted everyone to experience the ultimate depths of despair, so telling the remaining kids that there’s no outside world to return to would fit right into her scheme.

dancingmonobearThe main dude convinces everyone that the condition of the outside world doesn’t matter. So long as they have hope, it doesn’t matter if their loved ones are dead and civilization has collapsed. It’s that classic anime “believe in our hearts and everything will be OK” sort of stance, and the main dude is hailed as the Super Duper Ultrawhatever High School Beacon of Hope Shit.

Seriously. If the mastermind wasn’t lying about the outside world, that’s pretty fucked up. The kids could have chosen to live inside the relatively safe school– there was water and air purification systems and the like– but they chose an abstract concept over guaranteed, concrete survival. These kids are gonna die horrific deaths if the world is really devastated. They’ll die from radiation or lack of food and water or brutalized by roaming gangs of survivors. No amount of belief changes the fact that these kids don’t have the survival skills to survive in such a world, especially when the competition has two years on them in the survival game.

That’s real fucking despair right there. They’ve built themselves up to such lofty heights, only to have the world crush them in ways that would make Monobear jealous.

dancingmonobearMonobear won.

Y’know, assuming the whole apocalypse thing is true. It could all be a lie and the kids go out for ice cream as soon as the doors open or something. Maybe one of them is lactose intolerant, their amnesia made them forget, and they get a really bad tummy ache afterwards.

Yeah. Either way, Monobear is laughing.

Also: The first person to say “the game is better” earns my everlasting hate.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2013 1:48 AM

    The apocalypse is true, vide Danganronpa Zero and Super Danganronpa 2

  2. October 2, 2013 6:55 AM

    I dunno if the game is better since I am going to play it when it comes out on Vita in 2014. But for now, I at least know that they won’t die in the outside world because they appear in sequel.

  3. Grim Teaper permalink
    October 3, 2013 9:04 PM

    The game is better leave it at that people.

    • Landon permalink*
      October 4, 2013 12:21 AM

      You win one eternal hate! Hurray! We ran out of everlasting hate and had to substitute eternal.

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