Seiji Walks Warily Down the Street: How One Man Ruined Danganronpa

I’m not sure what I expected from Danganronpa‘s animated adaptation, but it surely wasn’t what we have. Danganronpa started out life as a PSP game, and is best known in Western fandom from a Let’s Play on the Something Awful forum. The combination of a fairly bonkers-sounding plot (described as “Phoenix Wright meets Battle Royale” by pretty much everyone) and a game that was unavailable in the West (a release is planned for early next year) meant that the LP constantly grew in popularity; the number of posts in the thread is well into five figures.

With an anime version in the works, I suppose it was only natural that production studio Lerche turned to one Seiji Kishi to direct. After all, Kishi had directed three straight adaptations of video games prior to this: Ragnarok (2004), Persona 4 (2011) and Devil Survivor 2 (2013). However, if you’re noticing a trend then congratulate yourself, because you are officially more perceptive than the executives at Lerche! They’re all far worse than their original versions. I can’t claim to have seen Ragnarok but its reception on MAL seems pretty conclusive when considered alongside just how popular the MMORPG was back in 2002. Persona 4 gets by on the strength of its original material but it hardly set the world alight, while Devil Survivor 2‘s anime seems to have been forgettable at best and reviled at worst. Is Kishi necessarily to blame? Perhaps not, but there’s no smoke without fire.

Kishi’s other shows do shed some light upon his directorial talents, however. The bottom line is this: Seiji Kishi is a good director of comedies. Carnival Phantasm, Seto no Hanayome, the very funny first half of Angel Beats!. Humanity Has Declined wasn’t strictly a comedy but it leant heavily on the comic elements of its plot to get its satirical message across. Even select episodes of Persona 4, especially the school festival episode with the group date and the beauty pageants (you may remember that episode as being the one that was patently unfinished). When it comes to the serious, however, Kishi is uninspiring. The entirely forgotten Yugo the Negotiator, the awful Kamisama Dolls, the second half of Angel Beats!… The bad rap Kishi gets isn’t entirely undeserved.

And so, to Danganronpa we go, and oh dear. More of the same from Kishi. I’m constantly and painfully aware that I’m watching a video game. It’s no secret that Kishi is fond of reminding us of these origins in his shows, but it’s usually nicely understated like the status screen eyecatch from Persona 4. Watching the Danganronpa anime however is more akin to watching someone play the video game. It smacks of laziness to copy visual cues such as this directly from the game; why not just go the whole hog and overlay the HUD on the show? It truly is such a shame, because there are elements of Danganronpa that I really like. The execution scenes, albeit borrowed wholesale from the game, utilise unconventional animation to create a nightmarish tone. And to be honest, I’m a sucker for the whole another one bites the dust Battle Royale-style survival game. I could do without the wacky-for-the-sake-of-being-wacky character designs though – I was certain that Japan had grown out of this by now, but apparently not.

Given that the creator of the Let’s Play included all the interesting audio and video segments (including the aforementioned execution scenes) for the reader’s enjoyment, does the anime have any advantage over the LP? The LP is available in its entirety right now, admittedly behind the Something Awful paywall (though it’s been archived elsewhere, so this is basically a moot point), so there’s no waiting a week between instalments. Plus a Let’s Play will never land you in hot water with your Internet service provider. Danganronpa is an anime bereft of usefulness, there is no reason for it to exist. From top to bottom it is supremely lazy. This might be the easiest paycheck Seiji Kishi will ever make.

2 thoughts on “Seiji Walks Warily Down the Street: How One Man Ruined Danganronpa

  1. An interesting post! I’ve only seen two episodes of Dangan Ronpa, but I think I might be dropping it sooner or later for the LP – the plot is interesting, like you said, but it doesn’t really hold up my interest, because the execution feels so forced.

    I think a fascinating subject is how video game adaptations are so poorly done when converted to an anime format. As you’ve pointed out, Dangan Ronpa isn’t the first video game to end up in a messy state – Devil Survivor 2 and Persona 4 the Animation both had their share of feeling forced. Obviously time is a factor, as these kind of games take around 30-45 hours to complete so cramming this story into a 12-24 episode format isn’t necessarily the best option, but even disregarding that aspect, video game anime adaptions still fail on other levels. There’s no nuance to be found in these shows, the pacing is off, there’s no flow; it literally feels like I’m watching a sequence of cutscenes taken from the game rather than a story itself. There’s also the issue in Dangan Ronpa that these characters get killed off very quickly (as with Devil Survivor 2) so you don’t really end up caring for them, but at least in the games there are some personal conversations that are often cut out in the animes. These are all symptoms, but I think the cause is that video games require you to have an active participation in the story; in anime, you’re just a passive audience. On a visual level, it works; I guess a proper excuse would be that these shows are made for fans who have already played the game, but they serve as terrible advertisements for newcomers who wish to get into the franchise. I’ve heard plenty of good things about Dangan Ronpa and Devil Survivor 2, but both anime adaptations failed to really get me hyped.

    Like you say, reading LPs might be a better idea because not only do they showcase every scene written in the game so nothing is really cut out, but they offer the point of view of someone who’s going through the game for the first time. In terms of LP videos, I’ve watched plenty – they offer a far more entertaining look at games than simple and quiet walkthroughs. For written LPs, I’ve only read Nier so far but it was still entertaining and bereft with witty comments, great screencaps, comments on the music and character designs. It was merging a guide of the game with a review while holding entertainment value. In comparison to a stale adaptation of the show where the more interesting bits are chopped off due to time limits, I’d rather read or watch an LP any time to get a better handle of the game, since it feels like you are playing it. Not that there’s anything anime can really do for video games – I think Dangan Ronpa and Devil Surivor 2 should prove as clear examples that video gaming isn’t a subject anime can adapt so easily. Manga? Sure. Movies? Why not. But video games, which are more than just storytelling and character development on a visual level, can’t be adapted into an anime screen because they lack the one thing that’s necessary: the feel of playing it.

  2. Next season Kishi’s also adapting the Arpeggio of Blue Steel manga, a pretty good post apocalyptic naval series, with barely a hint of humour (in the four volumes I’ve read), yet a heavy reliance on technical detail, subtlety and nuance.

    In short, think I’m going to cry!

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