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GENRE: Anime ORIGINAL AIR DATES: July 4 - September 26, 2013
// review by FlagrantWeeaboo

Where there is hope, there is disbear...

Recently I reviewed the video game Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. It was my first true foray into visual novels which is a genre I had up until then dismissed as nothing more than books with some basic gameplay attached. As it turns out, I found Danganronpa to be a pleasing surprise and has opened up my eyes to playing more visual novels in the not so distant future. I was also pleased to discover while I was playing Danganronpa that one of my local media stores was carrying the first season of the Danganronpa anime on DVD, which I snapped up with zero hesitation. Now having finished the game and had enough time to digest the story, I ended up binge-watching the entire series in one day, testament to Danganronpa's excellent story and characters.

This is very much what you might call the "short" version of Trigger Happy Havoc's events. This adaptation is Teflon-coated and slides over the whole story serving up only its most important and pressing elements. A lot of the backstory, the how and why, are excluded for the sake of brevity, to fit the entire game's 40hr run-time into a 13 episode, 6hr run-time. Naturally, a lot had to be cut in order to make the show move briskly. If this was your first introduction to Danganronpa, I would insist you check out the game before watching the series, as I feel this show expects the person watching it to have already beaten the game. All of the subtle hints hidden in the original game's dialogue are placed front and center in the show in a completely unavoidable fashion, cramming secrets down your throat instead of playing them out. (Of course, this is because the show had to cram all that story into a single season).

Much like the games, the entire presentation of this show is stunning. Every attempt has been made to make everything appear completely on-model. The school layout, in-game maps, battle and rhythm sections, gameplay elements and UI all appear in the show when necessary to really satisfy that fanservice itch. Major cutscenes from the game are recreated in the same framing, serving as nods to the game's core moments and as a real treat for fans. This is why I feel the show was intended specifically for those who have already beaten the game, as every little element of this season is intended to reference or acknowledge something from the game. Director Seiji Kishi is no stranger to adapting video games into animated series, having adapted games in the Shin Megami Tensei series for television. Due to its authenticity, it is certainly quite clear that the director has played through Trigger Happy Havoc a good number of times.

The soundtrack is also stunning. It reworks all of the various themes from the video game, including adapting the original Danganronpa theme into a rap song. You might immediately think of the old One Piece dub or Dragon Ball GT when I say rap, but fear not, this opening theme is what the cool kids would call "lit". Bars of fire set to the Danganronpa theme, colour me impressed.

Note to self: Don't trust Naegi.

Other elements of the show aren't quite as amazing as the rest. The punishments from the video game are shown verbatim with very little changes, just in a higher resolution than the original game. This is why I ran into problems streaming Trigger Happy Havoc on my YouTube channel, as it is likely the primitive Content ID system assumed I was showing clips from the anime, despite the anime having just straight-up borrowed the clips from the game wholesale. No doubt the show is a labour of love, but it is increasingly difficult as the show goes on to ignore the absurd amount of re-used animation especially in the classroom trials. In the game, this was perfectly understandable, but here the dialogue seems crammed in and we see the same looping animations repeated ad nauseum. I understand that in anime you should expect plenty of mouth flaps, however seeing the same poses re-used over and over can't be written off as "staying true to the source material". It's just lazy.

The Funimation dub is a crapshoot. About half of the cast sound alright, and the rest are terrible at best. The saving grace for the English dub is Bryce Papenbrook reprising his role as Makoto Naegi from the original game, a feat made possible as he was already recording lines for Attack on Titan while the recording was being done for Danganronpa. The voice director wished for more voice talent to reprise their roles, but due to the short time period they had to push this dub out it wasn't logistically possible. Local voice talent was brought in to take over the remaining roles, with open-casting only done for 2 of the anime's 18 or so roles. The biggest kicker is the voice chosen for Monokuma, which while an excellent bit of casting sounds absolutely nothing like the voice from the original game. I appreciate the creative spin, but after the game, it is simply jarring to hear such a vastly different Monokuma voice. A lot of Funimation mainstays were assigned to the show and it is pretty apparent when watching. Once again the oligarchy of anime voice acting results in talent like Monica Rial and Christopher R. Sabat getting handed roles. Half and half getting the dub done quickly, but also getting your friends in to do the work because the anime voice acting scene is inbred as all hell.

Definitely, the dub is where this show takes the biggest hit, and that's fine. It never hurts to have an alternate take on a classic. There could be no Pride & Prejudice With Zombies if there was no Pride & Prejudice, and by the same token, there could be no Danganronpa: The Animation without Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. And no amount of bad voicing or different translation can mar a solid animated series, nor does it cause the original to no longer exist. But much as the show could not exist without the original game, I think the show should not be watched until you have beaten the original game. A lot of very in-depth character development, and your personal immersion into the role of Makoto, is lost when simply viewing the series. The story was intended to be told in the form of a visual novel, and its immediately apparent that the story should have been adapted more creatively than this. The events are repeated mostly as they happened in-game, with a few tweaks to keep the story moving at a brisk pace. A proper animated adaptation would have adjusted the story significantly to make it fit the function of a television series better, as truthfully we have a show that hits you with constant exposition and could never dream of being as interesting as the original game it is based on.

This is certainly not a bad show, but I would say this is for fans of the game only. I would recommend against watching this show if you haven't played the game first unless you have no intention of playing the games at all.

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