I am currently expanding my horizons into other mediums of Japanese entertainment, mostly consisting of visual novels and light novels, since a lot of anime is adapted from these mediums. You’ve most likely heard of the phrase, “the book was better”. It is a phrase that implies that one shouldn’t experience a rehash of something that was already great. The Danganronpa series is ripe for this kind of discussion. It is a series where I played the games first, then watched the anime adaptations. I am someone that tries to experience everything in the way it should be. I don’t want to read about anything beforehand, I don’t want to wander into comments sections that might contain spoilers, and I certainly don’t want to watch rushed and lazy anime adaptations. Because of that, I now tell anyone that wants to get into the Danganronpa franchise to start with the games and avoid the anime at all costs.
The first entry in the Danganronpa series is Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (ダンガンロンパ 希望の学園と絶望の高校生). In my opinion, it is a fantastic game with a unique and immersive atmosphere, interesting characters, a bumping kickass soundtrack, and ludicrous mysteries that defy common sense, and you’re tasked with solving them. After playing the game, I promptly watched the anime adaptation, Danganronpa: The Animation (ダンガンロンパ 希望の学園と絶望の高校生 THE ANIMATION). Anyone that has a lick of common sense will tell you to never watch the anime adaptation, as it is a textbook definition of a bastardization. The interesting and lovable characters are now two-dimensional (ha, get it?) cutouts that vaguely resemble what they’re supposed to be. The impact of the confounding mysteries and their resolutions are diluted with rushed pacing, logic-defying plot holes, and sub-par animation quality. However, the anime is what introduced a lot of people into the Danganronpa series. It makes me happy that Danganronpa is getting more attention, I just wish it was through the better put-together medium.
The fact that the anime is more popular than the game makes me so happy that the 2nd game didn’t get an anime adaptation. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (スーパーダンガンロンパ2 さよなら絶望学園) takes the insanity of the first game and brings it to another level. The trials are even more confounding, the character designs are even more of a sight to behold, and the music is still pretty kickass. I wish Danganronpa: The Animation was the last in the line of Danganronpa anime adaptations, but, recently, another one finished airing. Danganronpa 3: Future Side, Danganronpa 3: Despair Side, and Danganronpa 3: Hope Side (all of these will be referred to as Danganronpa 3 [DR3]) only add to the confusion surrounding the story of Danganronpa. Future Side takes place after the games, Despair Side takes place before the games, and Hope Side is the conclusion to it all. I’ll admit, it was awesome to watch everything unfold. I had a lot of fun watching these series, and I got a bit teary-eyed at the end of everything. I gave them high scores on MAL, and moved along.
As more time passed, I began to realize that DR3 was completely worthless. The animation quality was a little better than Danganronpa: The Animation, but nothing impressive. There were even more logical holes in the writing, the new characters were boring, and the old characters felt like they were just along for the ride. The whole thing felt like it was piggybacking off of the success of the original games and just served its purpose as a spin-off, non-canon anime. The fact that the newest game (not released at the time of writing) is called Danganronpa V3 (DRV3) proves that DR3 should not be considered to be a canonical entry in the Danganronpa series. It’s a spin-off that’s not supposed to be taken very seriously. There’s no way the newest game would have V3 after it if it acknowledged DR3‘s existence.
UPDATE (Jan 23, 2018): Danganronpa V3 was released a while ago, and it does in fact acknowledge Danganronpa 3‘s existence, contradicting what I predicted a year ago. An explanation as to why would contain major spoilers for V3.
Why am I even talking about this? Well, DR3 was very successful, and it was many peoples’ entry point into the Danganronpa series. Now the franchise is stuck with a confusing naming scheme that will lead people into watching another bastardization of a loved series, and now many people can no longer get the full gripping experience that is the Danganronpa games, as DR3 and Danganronpa: The Animation have served their purpose of being the leeches of a wonderful game series. This is now leading me away from anime adaptations of visual novels in general, as, like I said in my reasoning for dropping the Rewrite anime, they practically never live up to the expectations of fans and me. I’m only expecting another bastardization of something truly magical and special to lots of people.
There is one good thing about these anime adaptations: they introduce more people to the world of visual novels. Anime is more popular than pretty much all other forms of Japanese entertainment. Therefore, it has a bigger audience. Most people watch seasonal stuff that they wouldn’t watch otherwise. If something like the Danganronpa anime has that slight advantage of having an audience before it even exists, it’ll only grow into a bigger audience once given the status of a seasonal anime. Now you have people that want to watch the Danganronpa anime not because they played the games, but because the premise sounds like a wild ride. It’s an indirect method of introducing more people to the games and to the world of visual novels if they weren’t already in it. I just wish you could wipe your memories of the plot before enjoying the true experience.
The Danganronpa games have received loads of praise from myself and many people of the otaku world, while the Danganronpa anime have received hate from those that have played the original games and truly love the series. Not all anime adaptations of games are the worst things in the world. Some very famous and highly appraised anime, like Clannad, Steins;Gate, and Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works are all adaptations of highly appraised and famous visual novels (Clannad, Steins;Gate, Fate/stay night). Danganronpa is a truly unique experience that’s being tainted with these rushed and weak adaptations. If you know what happens before going into something, it feels boring. The surprises are now diluted to over-exaggerated events. I’m the kind of person that tries to avoid all spoilers for anything. I can’t even watch a movie trailer because they’re now known to spoil most of the basic story. The anime do serve a purpose other than making money of a successful franchise, and that is to introduce more people to the world of Danganronpa, people that normally wouldn’t play visual novels.
Danganronpa is just an example. As stated on several other occasions, practically all other visual novels, light novels, manga, source material in general that gets an adaptation of any kind will experience some form of degradation. They won’t have something that the source material had. Whether that something actually hindered the popularity of the source material is a different matter entirely, and probably something for a future article.
TL;DR: Play the Danganronpa games, stay away from the anime.