Danganronpa is a series of popular visual novel video games where the best students from elite high school Hope’s Peak Academy are forced into high stakes murder mysteries. The franchise has gone on to have various iterations, including an anime series and several manga and prose adaptations and spin offs. The iteration being discussed today is Danganronpa: The Animation from Dark Horse which is an adaptation of the anime series, which is in turn an adaptation of the first game.
Each year, the elite Hope’s Peak Academy selects only the most gifted and talented students to enroll, plus one ordinary student, chosen by lottery. Makoto Naegi was that lucky person – or so he thought! When he shows up for class, he finds the elite students are a bizarre cast of oddballs under the ruthless authority of a robot teddy bear principal, Monokuma. The bear lays down the school rules: the only way out of Hope’s Peak is to not only murder another student, but to get away with it too, as every murder is followed by a tribunal where the surviving students cross-examine each other!
Whilst the genre of youths pitted against each other to fight to the death until there is one left – pioneered by Battle Royale and recently brought to a wider audience in The Hunger Games – can be argued to be oversubscribed these days, Danganronpa manages to bring something fresh to the table. For one, the merging of the detective genre with the aforementioned genre makes for a unique story prospect. With all the main characters as murder suspects, no one is safe and characters are slowly dispatched as the series progresses and potential friendships are quickly put aside as a dog-eat-dog mentality develops.
This is all aided by a great cast of characters who – while all fitting the bill for Hope’s Peak Academy’s “Ultimate Student” – are all vastly different. Ranging from series protagonist and optimistic everyman Makoto to a distrustful and amnesic budding detective in Kyoko, most of the characters embody various stereotypes of Japanese manga and pop culture including a techie, an otaku, a smug class president, an elite swimmer and even a pop idol. Thrown together, these characters not only help to bring some levity to the rather grim situation they are in but also make for a compelling culture clash when it comes to trying to solve the murder mystery put in front of them. The true highlight though has to be Monokuma, the twisted teddy bear principal/mascot of the series who is not only a great character design but is wildly entertaining to read as he flips from wise-cracking and smarmy to cold, sadistic manipulator when pitting the students against each other.
Takashi Tsukimi provides some great art for the series as he manages to keep his style faithful to both the anime and the original video game and helps keep the characters distinct and unique. It is clear though he is having the most fun with Monokuma, seen through some creative uses of light and darkness and great panelling techniques when he makes his random appearances.
Any fans of the video games or anime will find plenty to enjoy, whilst those looking for a fun take on both the battling students and murder/mystery genre will be pleasantly surprised.
Danganronpa: The Animation Volume 1 is published 7 April by Dark Horse
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