Director: Seiji Kishi, Series Composition:Makoto Uezu, Character Designer: Kazuaki Morita
Voice Actors: Chiwa Saito (Aoi), Yoko Hikasa (Kyoko), Megumi Ogata (Makoto), Takahiro Sakurai (Reon), Akira Ishida (Byakuya)
Hope’s Peak Academy brings together the top students in fields like sports, fashion and art, being an overzealous hall monitor and an elite yankee.
The main protagonist is Makoto Naegi, a normal guy who was admitted to the school through a lottery. Standing at the gates he looks on in confidence. “My high school life starts now. The very first step I take is supposed to be full of hope…”
Sounds great but as soon as he steps through the door he is plunged into darkness. When he wakes up he is in a classroom with a camera monitoring him and steel plates on the walls with no exit in sight.
“What’s with this room?” he wonders. Makoto is in the school but less as a student and more as a prisoner and he’s not alone as a group of fifteen other students are with him, each with a peculiar trait and ability that makes them elite.
As the students try and figure out just what is going on and why they are imprisoned in the school a twisted looking black-and-white bear appears. Amidst all of his incessant cackling and laughter he introduces itself, “I’m Monobear, the principal of this school…” He soon explains the rules:
The only way out is to kill another student without getting caught. After a murder, the remaining students must hold a trial and figure out the guilty party. If the students fail they die and the murderer walks to freedom!
This is getting a bit overwhelming for Makoto but he is not alone because he knows one of the girls. She is named Sayaka and she attended the same middle school as him. What’s her special ability? She is an idol singer. She decides to work alongside Makoto. With the fridge refilled daily and the students allowed their own rooms, they could theoretically live in the school forever unless they follow the rules.
As Monobear says, “It is not the strong or the smart who survive, but the ones who can bring about change.”
The only questions left are who will be the one to bring the change and how?
The Japanese film industry is awash with lots of titles where students are pitted against each other in life or death situations so what makes this stand out?
This locked-room murder mystery is a bit like Battle Royale crossed with Saw. It is based on a story-heavy interactive novel PSP game similar to Phoenix Wright. I figure it is possible to do a straight adaptation of this with ease – the plot, narrative, locations and characters are already there and only a need few tweaks to totally work.
The first episode was great. The anime rushes through its set-ups at a breakneck speed and gets straight into the situation Makoto finds himself in. Characters aren’t subtly introduced, more like they are launched at us with no warning. They aren’t complex either, just archetypes who are visually memorable – cut-aways with on-screen text tell us their vital info but what we’re really dealing with is a bunch of stereotypes for whom we can expect little more than comedy. These stereotypes cover all bases in the anime and manga world. On top of the hall monitor, young thug and idol singer are a fat doujinshi artist, an elite hall monitor, a yankee, a goth-loli, a female wrestler, a fashion model, and more.
They are all lost in the situation together and corralled by a cute but twisted psycho animal.
Monobear’s penchant or appearing out of nowhere cackling and his high energy craziness almost sold me straight away! But then it soon dawned on me that with only 13 episodes to fit in a fairly text heavy game, this isn’t going to be the most sophisticated show around. Oh no. This is going to be another Devil Survivor Disaster which totally misses the point of the game. Everything is going to be rushed to advance the plot and things like narrative are going to be skimped on.
In my preview I suggested that the director Seiji Kishi is, “… only as good as the material he’s working with.” With Devil Survivor it seemed like he was overburdened with the task of having to convert a complicated and deep SJRPG into a battle anime and he in that anime he did the same thing, placing plot above characters.
I’m going to be honest here and say I’m not going to continue watching this anime because I was so impressed by the opening two episodes I purchased the game from Japan so I can get the most of my PSP. Judging from Let’s Plays on YouTube, the anime raids the game for everything from characters to music so I don’t want the show to ruin the experience. If you have no intention of playing the games, I suppose you can watch this for a good chuckle.
3/5 (Based on the first two episodes)
I did the exact same thing with a previous Seiji Kishi anime, Persona 4: The Animation. I’ve got the Vita version of the game and the recently released UK DVD’s on standby… I think I’ll watch Eccentric Family instead.