By Spike Chunsoft and Takashi Tsukimi. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Dark Horse.
I have made my opinions on the glut of ‘survival game’ manga well known by now, I hope. In general, if you’re writing a survival game manga, you need a lot to keep me interested, as teens locked in a school and killed off one by one has zoomed WAY past vampires and sadistic shoujo boyfriends in the things I avoid sweepstakes. And yet sometimes I do hear so much about a title that I feel the need to check it out anyway. Such a title is Danganronpa, which was originally a game and then got adapted to an anime. The manga wears on its sleeve that it’s adapting the anime and not the game, which is likely why it’s only 4 volumes instead of the 9-10 I’d expect otherwise. That said, what makes Danganronpa stand out?
Well, for starters it’s far more overdramatic than the usual glumness I’ve seen from survival game manga before. Monokuma, the bear lurking in the background on the cover, seems to be both the manga’s mascot and its villain. He’s a ludicrously cruel and over the top figure, making bear puns as he gleefully executes people. He’s just a lot of fun, and stands out in particular because the rest of the cast of students are stereotypes, many deliberately so. Our hero is the average “player character” type, we get the jock, the idol, the fashion plate, the overweight otaku, etc. With a cast like this, that sort of shorthand is necessary as you’ll know at a glance what they’re like and how they’ll react. Plus, of course, the cast starts getting killed off fairly quickly, so you don’t have to remember all of them.
The other interesting aspect of this title is the trial sequence. Basically the kids are told they can escape the school if they kill someone – but they have to get away with it. There’s a trial, and if the killer isn’t found, the rest of the cast will get punished. Of course, the killer is found, as our hero is very good at deductions, and is helped out by a stoic girl who seems to be a detective, and I suspect may be a love interest except this is one of those series where everyone tends to die, so I won’t commit to that just yet. And the kids aren’t complete sociopaths either, mostly killing out of terror and fear of blackmail. I was also amused at how easy it was to solve the first murder’s ‘written in blood’ clue, and the manga must have agreed with me, as the cast also figures it out immediately.
This is a title that’s pretty much marketed to fans of the gmae or anime, and they should find it quite enjoyable. If you haven’t seen either, it’s still pretty good, keeping in mind the usual irritations of the genre. The comedy and dramatics help make that less of a poison pill this time around, though.