Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

The concept of high schoolers trapped in a murderous locked-room mystery isn’t anything new; from Battle Royale through Drifting Classroom, the plot is so old that it’s even starting to attract parodies, such as Persona 4 Arena’s story mode. So, you can imagine that at first blush, Danganronpa (or Trigger Happy Havoc, as NIS has localized the title) doesn’t sound like it’s a terribly original game. Then again, tremendous fan outcry leading to a fan-translation which practically forced an “official” localization isn’t new, either (see: Cave Story for starters). In pretty much all of those cases, though, it’s been warranted.

Makoto Naegi is a student selected at random to attend the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, as the so-called “Ultimate Lucky Student”. Hope’s Peak is attended exclusively by students who have reached the pinnacle of their respective talents, from Mondo Owada (Ultimate Delinquent) to Sayaka Maizono (Ultimate Pop Idol). Unfortunately for all fifteen of these exceptional kids, as soon as they set foot in the school they’re knocked unconscious and transported to a twisted, sealed-off version of the academy. There, they’re greeted by the adorably psychotic Monokuma, who tells them that they can never leave the school again. The only way out is to commit the perfect murder: if a student can kill another and leave no traces behind as to who did it for the remainder to figure out, that student will go free— and the rest will die. But, if the murderer is discovered, they will die for having committed murder, and the rest live on to fight another day.

Serving as a delightfully unhinged cross between Ace Attorney, Tokimeki Memorial, Final Fantasy Theatrhythm, and a David Lynch movie, Danganronpa puts players in Makoto’s hoodie as they try to get through the bloodbath unharmed. Most of the game is spent in the investigation mode, where you travel throughout Hope’s Peak Academy looking for clues to the murder du jour. This plays out like your standard point-and-click adventure game, with a few conveniences to prevent pixel-hunting from creating unnecessary frustration. Once you’ve collected all of the clues, you’re whisked away to the trial phase of the game, where you engage in a series of mini-games that literally blast holes in your classmates’ arguments. Like Ace Attorney, you’re permitted a handful of mistakes, dressed up as your “integrity” meter: go too far off the rails and the class quits listening to you, and it’s game over. In between the cases, you have periods of free time where you can hang out with the surviving students, give them gifts, and learn more about them that can make each of the murders to follow hurt that much more.

As stated above, the game came to the attention of most North Americans through a Let’s Play series, wherein viewers became enamored with the characters and story. And for good reason: the plots are very well-written, and the characters instantly likable (when they’re supposed to be). When I said the murders would hurt, I meant it. The first couple of them are absolutely brutal and out of the blue, and happen to characters you’ve probably got a little bit of an attachment to even that early in the game. The murders are suitably complex, too; while you’ll probably figure out the killer in the first case way too quickly, there is a layer of intrigue to the proceedings that makes it far more than it appears.

The excellent voice acting helps, but the fact that only the trial phases are fully voiced hurts the immersion overall: outside of trials, most everyone only has a handful of randomized voice snippets to utilize, and they get annoying fast, aside from the rare lines where the voice is reading the text verbatim. Still, even in the limited lines, everyone puts real emotion into their acting, and the whole thing just kinda works. The music is catchy, but ultimately nothing to really get overly excited over.

Danganronpa started life as a PSP game, but North America got the Vita re-release. The graphics are stellar, with virtually no chunkiness in the hand-drawn portraits and gorgeous 3D sets. Probably as an artifact of the PSP, however, characters appear as 2D “cardboard cutouts” in the investigation scenes, which is very jarring as the camera can be manipulated to get at hidden clues. Still, that’s a very minor flaw in the big picture; the whole visual package just works, and there’s a very self-aware 8-bit aesthetic in use for signs and certain cutscenes.

Overall, I can’t recommend this game highly enough, especially if you liked Spike Chunsoft’s other works, such as Virtue’s Last Reward (the achievements even have some subtle nods to that game). Equally hilarious and horrifying, Danganronpa is not to be missed. I place it at Fifth Gear (on our scale out of six).

Real

If you’re looking for a Takeru Sato movie to tide you over until the next installment of “Rurouni Kenshin” is released, take a look at “Real”.

 

In this movie, Sato plays a man named Koichi Fujita, whose significant other (I don’t recall whether they said she was his fiancee or girlfriend), played by Haruka Ayase, has fallen into a coma after a suicide attempt. The hospital that’s been caring for her in the interim has developed technology to allow people to connect and communicate at the subconscious level, as if in a dream state, so he agrees to use it to try to bring her back to the real world. Over the course of the exposition, the audience finds out that she’s a manga artist. She feels like she’s lost her way, and the only way to get her motivation back is for him to find a picture of a plesiosaur she drew in a sketchbook as a child.

 

The psychology of the situation only intensifies as Koichi goes looking for the drawing. He starts to hallucinate in the real world, things that he saw Atsumi drawing in the dream world. And just when he thinks he found it, things get even more complicated.

 

I admit that I was too busy trying to piece together what I was watching, to see the twist coming. In fact, it took me so by surprise, that I stopped knowing what to believe… which I imagine was the point. The cast and staff had me completely consumed by what I was watching, though, which is always a good thing, and the costuming and set design choices were excellent.

 

I really enjoy watching Sato-san work, and while I like psychological thrillers well enough, the ones that introduce undead and things that require liberal amounts of creepy makeup aren’t quite my cup of tea.

 

Rating: 3rd Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Piece ~Kioku no Kakera~ (TN: Fragments of Memories)

Last year, there was some uproar in the tokusatsu (special effects filming) fan community. The producing company, Toei, had announced that they were starting a new project called “Hero Next” to highlight actors who had been a part of their Kamen Rider and Super Sentai programming. As of right now, there have been three movies released:

 

“Piece ~Kioku no Kakera~” (henceforward referred to as “Piece”), featuring Shu Watanabe and Ryosuke Miura from “Kamen Rider OOO” (Eiji and Ankh, respectively)

 

“In the Future, Where I am Executed”, featuring Sota Fukushi and Ryo Yoshizawa from “Kamen Rider Fourze” (Gentarou and Ryusei, respectively)

 

“Love Gear”, featuring Ryota Ozawa, Kazuki Shimizu, and Junya Ikeda from “Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger” (Captain Marvelous, Don “Hakase” Dogoier, and Gai Ikari, respectively)

 

 

From what I understand, the purpose of the project was to keep the actors on the roster, rather than just saying “thank you for your service, good luck on future endeavors”. It’s a nice sentiment, and seems like it would work well… and if you’re wondering why only certain people have come back so far, some of them have made more advancement in their careers beyond toku (for instance, Yuki Yamada [Gokaiger’s Joe Gibken]), while others may have backed away altogether. I won’t go into the actors’ other projects, that’s a different discussion. And that’s enough preface.

 

“Piece” opens with a dream-like scene in a forest, where a girl asks the man she’s with (Watanabe) what he’ll do if she dies. After he explains to her what he imagines to be living as if he was dead, she abruptly collapses and turns to stone, the scenery changing to a dark room with two other girls looking on. He suddenly wakes up on a bench by a riverbank, and it’s revealed that he’s a freelance reporter named Tomoki Chino. The recurring dream is apparently the fuzzy remnants of an actual occurrence from three years ago, and he’s been trying to figure out what really happened and what his girlfriend’s last words were. When more people start turning to stone, he jumps head-first into the investigation, and consequently comes across a photographer named Rei (Miura) who’s housing multiple symbiotic personalities within himself. As luck would have it, Rei’s van contains the equipment necessary to solve the mystery, and his various personalities are also able to help Tomoki reach back into his own memories.

 

The special effects were handled well, and not overdone like how traditional toku tends to be. It was also nice to see the fight scene, allowing Watanabe and Miura to show off a little. I would offer a trigger warning to anyone who’s squeamish about separated body parts, with respect to those who were turned to stone.

 

The ending leaves the story wide open, although I doubt there will be a continuation… and I strongly encourage viewers to sit through the entirety of the ending credits, as there’s a few seconds of extra video at the end. Not only that, but Miura sang the ending theme (it’s the B side of his “Kimi e no X-mas Song” single).

 

All in all, “Piece” is a dark and heavy movie. It’s on the creepy side, and kinda tragic. That being said, if you like these two actors and the dynamic they portrayed in “Kamen Rider OOO”, I definitely recommend giving this a glance.

 

Rating: 4th gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

The Escape Plan

When watching “The Escape Plan” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, the first thing you are expected to do is relax and suspend your disbelief.  Going into this film I expected an action movie.  The reality is that I got more of a science fiction film.   If you go in looking at this as a science fiction film, it becomes significantly more enjoyable.

Let’s start by spoiling the film: One or more than one of the characters escape.

Now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room, we can continue by looking at the movie’s merits.  First, the story has a little meat to it.  The scenarios portrayed in this movie, while unbelievable, are made to be believable in the universe being created.  In many ways, this universe is similar to the universe created by MacGyver in the 1980s.  Simply put, there is always a way out.  How you get out may be implausible but to a relaxed mind could be considered possible.  Many people are going to go into this film expecting hard core action adventure with a ton of explosions, death, and destruction.  What they are going to get is not that.  The movie is about Stallone’s character escaping from prisons as a career.  He is hired to go to an off the grid private prison and escape.  That is the over arcing plot.  From there things fall apart as any good sci-fi action heist film should.  Stallone’s character realizes he has been screwed over and has to adapt to the reality of the prison he is in, and figure out how to get out.  Schwarzenegger’s character is the buddy-buddy prisoner who goes out of his way to work with Stallone for some reason not immediately made clear.  From there the real story evolves through their unusual relationship which seems artificially rushed in the movie, but this itself is a plot point.

Let’s look at the positives:

  1. If you look at this as a science fiction and heist movie the mechanics of the universe can be accepted as plausible.
  2. The acting is not bad coming from the main cast.  Fans of CBS’ “Person of Interest” will find Jim Caviezel’s role as Hobbes to be disturbing as he shows emotions, as well as the character being evil.
  3. The movie creates a science fiction world that can be accepted by the viewer as a form of reality.
  4. The ending action payoff is 1980’s level action adventure fun.
  5. The story is actually intelligent and the characters are more than one dimensional.
  6. The rush to create the “buddy-buddy” between Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s character is actually explained in the movie.  It was nice to see the rush job of having to get characters to like and work with each other actually built in as a plot point of the film, albeit explained at the end.
  7. The torture scenes were effective in disturbing the viewer and giving them a sense of how “evil” the head of the prison is.  Trust me; you know the bad guy is bad.
  8. There are actually a few surprises in the film that hit you at the end that you did not see coming.

Now, the negatives:

  1. The escape at the beginning of the movie is more MacGyver than it needed to be.
  2. The scenes with the characters on the outside world seemed to be forced into the movie, albeit that they are necessary for the viewer to receive the necessary “justice” at the end of the film.
  3. The torture scenes, while necessary, are a little graphic for people with weaker constitutions.
  4. The movie is a tad long because it has to create the backstory for Stallone’s character.  If they didn’t have to give an over the top MacGyver intro to the movie, it would be a perfect length.
  5. The main plot is very predictable, and actually told to you by the title.

Overall, this movie is a fun film to watch.  It suffers from a unique problem in that it is marketed as action adventure but should be science fiction action adventure.  This lack of science fiction push hurts the movie as people will walk away disappointed because they expected a traditional brainless action adventure film.  As someone who enjoys cinema I will add that the movie has a very traditional Hollywood tone to it.  You will come out happy for the main character.  You will get the payoff you expect for the bad guy.  You will also get the necessary closure for all the additional side story points.  You also get a few action adventure one-liners.  This movie is a good matinee film for sci-fi action adventure fans to sit back and enjoy.  Just remember to check reality at the door.  I wish more people would do that when they go into a movie.

 

Rating:  4th Gear

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