Thoughts on Danganronpa pt. 4: The End of Hope’s Peak High School

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The following is the fourth part of a blog series going over the entirety of Danganronpa and how I came to experience it this fall.

Pt. 1: Trigger Happy Havoc

Pt. 2: Goodbye Despair

Pt. 3: Ultra Despair Girls

Just as with the first three parts, this post is really meant to be a reaction for those who’ve already watched Danganronpa 3. There will be a fair amount of spoilers.

As I wrote in part one, I haven’t read any manga or novelizations, so any crossover DR3 has with Danganronpa/Zero is unbeknownst to me.

Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School

The decision to conclude the stories of the original two Danganronpa titles with an anime rather than a game was an interesting one with its own strength and weaknesses. On the positive, it has allowed Kazutaka Kodaka and Spike Chunsoft to go in an entirely new direction with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony while still making a sequel for fans of the first two games. There’s also something to be said of Spike Chunsoft delivering new Danganronpa content to fans in back-to-back years, which must have been welcome to Japanese fans who had been waiting since 2012 for a continuation of the story.

On the other hand, having to devote to two (arguably three) different projects at once may have caused the anime to not be as good as it could have been. It remains to be seen how V3 will fair, but DR3 has been met with staunch criticism and with good reason.

Side: Despair

After watching Danganronpa 3, my most prevailing feeling was that the entirety of the project would have been better devoted to making the Despair arc a full-length anime. Danganronpa desperately needed some sort of official, accessible prequel story in game or anime form, and Despair arc was just good enough to pass for it.

However, the weakness here comes at the hands of how DR3 is meant to be viewed. Because the two arcs lean on one another and aired alongside each other every week, the viewer is meant to alternate between episodes of the two arcs. Simply put, Despair arc gets bogged down having to set up things and backstories for characters in Future.

Still, that doesn’t prevent Despair from focusing on the cast from DR2. After playing that game and not liking the characters as much as the DR1 cast, Despair arc did improve my overall feelings towards Class 77-B. Seeing them become one big happy, trope-filled family (before falling to despair) made them more enjoyable than the aggravating mess half of them are in Goodbye Despair.

The Despair arc also did an excellent job highlighting DR2‘s most important characters: the protagonist Hajime Hinata and Chiaki Nanami. Hajime in particular desperately needed a fleshed out backstory after the revelation that he had become Izuru Kamakura and played a role in The Tragedy.

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I found that DR3 did a satisfactory job of showing the struggle Hajime went through and why he agreed to become Hope’s Peak’s guinea pig. Using the Twilight Syndrome murder case alluded to in DR2 as a way to illustrate Hope’s Peak’s willingness to put skeletons in its closet and drive home Hajime’s inferiority complex was an excellent writing decision.

Despair arc did a great job of explaining the toxic culture Hope’s Peak had in its final years. Since the first game, it’s always been baffling how one high school could be at the epicenter of the most tragic even in human history. While its still fanatical and absurd, DR3 at least did a good job of showing how all the dominoes were set up and what caused them to fall.

Seeing Chiaki – the real Chiaki – shown as such an integral part of the story really legitimized her importance in DR2 for me. Portraying her as the heart of Class 77-B made sense of why she’s in the Neo World Program and why she’s written to be so likable and influential in the trials.

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Of course, there’s also the fact that Chiaki’s death had to be written into the story as well because, quite honestly, having Chiaki still alive in the present day would have trivialized having an AI designed off of her. DR3 gets deserved flack for being heavy-handed when it comes to death scenes, but I don’t think that applies to Chiaki.

Of all the deaths that happen over the two arcs, Chiaki’s is the only one that mattered and was justified. I believe I asked in part 2 how it was Junko Enoshima turned Class 77-B towards despair. Now we know that Chiaki’s death was the driving force coupled with some clever presentation.

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There are flaws which, again, come from the existence of Future arc. The fact that Junko’s entire plan hinged on getting away with the first killing game tragedy at Hope’s Peak by knowing Juzo Sakakura’s dark secret was too ridiculous. Stop and think that sixteen kids died in vain and then the most tragic even in human history followed all because one guy was hellbent on staying in the closet and not admitting that he had the hots for his best bro. Really?

I’ve also seen fans debate whether Ryota Mitarai was a necessary character, as he’s pivotal in each arc. Personally, I was fine with Mitarai’s inclusion into the canon. In fact, given that nearly every character in the series is given some sort of ‘ultimate’ talent, it was logical that a newly written talent had played an importance not known about before DR3. It’s just efficient writing for the established rules and patterns for the story world.

Again, if there’s a significant weakness, it’s that Despair had to share the spotlight with Future and make compromises to accommodate it. If I had my way, rather than make Danganronpa 3, I’d have funded a 25-episode prequel anime that not only focused on the cast from Danganronpa 2 and Hope’s Peak’s dark past, but also would have given insight into the school lives of the Trigger Happy Havoc class before their memories were wiped. I would have also liked to have seen attention given to what Class 77-B did after graduating and the roughly year long time window between the The Tragedy first starting and when Junko and Mukuro put the ‘School Life of Mutual Killing’ plan into action.

Side: Future

The Future arc is what really kicked off the series and it certainly hits the ground running.

Set after the events of DR2, Future arc introduces a new killing game involving members of Future Foundation, including characters from DR1. What’s supposed to be the final battle between hope and despair quickly spirals into a writing train wreck and a pile of dead bodies of characters the audience had little reason to care about. But hey, at least Makoto and Kyoko were in it.

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With the exceptions of Makoto, Kyoko, and Aoi Asahina, every other character in the killing game is new and most get some sort of brief backstory in Despair arc. Yet between the two arcs, the only character who gets enough screen time to really make an impact and be fleshed out like you would expect a Danganronpa character to be is Kyosuke Munakata.

Despite all the heat I’m giving Future arc, I will say that Munakata is an appropriately written character. In DR2, there are hints at the end of the game that Future Foundation can be a merciless organization and that by trying to rehabilitate the Remnants of Despair, Makoto was actually taking a big risk. Munakata is the embodiment of that mercilessness and the representation of what ‘hope’ has to become in order to win a war against despair.

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To quote actor Tom Hiddleston,“Every villain is a hero in his own mind.” What makes Munakata work as an antagonist are his convictions and belief that his way of doing things is superior to Makoto’s. It’s a simple character arc, but effective.

Every other character new to DR3, with the exception of the oddly central Mitarai, is basically DOA. The viewer has no reason to be invested in the new characters to DR3, especially when they’re cast alongside stalwart characters from DR1 and DR2. Because the anime medium doesn’t allow for it, the viewer doesn’t get the same character development and intimacy with the new characters that they’re accustomed to from the games. So by comparison, all the new characters feel more shallow.

But bad character writing is just the beginning of Future arc’s problems. One episode goes so far as to completely de-legitimize Ultra Despair Girls in every possible way. I said every other character in the killing game was new, but I suppose a half-exception can be made for Monaca Towa who disguises herself as Miaya Gekkogahara.

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The lone episode that highlights UDG reveals that every member of the Warriors of Hope survived the events of the game. That alone is insulting to any viewer who played that game, as we are led to believe three of them died – especially Nagisa Shingetsu who was practically crushed to death in front of the player’s eyes. The episode literally ends with Monaca going to space and essentially being erased from the Danganronpa story universe, a la Poochie from The Simpsons.

Amazingly, it gets even worse. Future arc’s greatest sin is writing for the sake of shock value. One phrase I’ve seen used to describe the deaths in Future arc is ‘torture porn.’ Certainly, the ways and reasons these empty husk characters bite the big one feel more graphic yet somehow, less meaningful than the deaths we experienced in each of the games.

The goal of writing for shock is blatant and quite frankly, offensive. The DR3 team (and how much of it is written by Kodaka is argued) seemed to want to toy and manipulate the audience in a way characters have commonly been manipulated by Monokuma in the series. At the end of an early Future episode, we’re led to believe Asahina has been killed only for the next episode to begin revealing that it had been a prank using a fake knife and ketchup.

Then of course, there is the complete reversal of Kyoko’s death. Obviously, I may have a bias as I am on record of stating Kyoko is my favorite character, but because I watched these episodes months after they had already aired, I had already been spoiled (thanks, Twitter) on Kyoko’s death not being final.

Killing off popular characters for affect is an overused trope in modern media. However, if you’re going to do it, you need to commit to it. With multiple episodes still left, DR3 killed Kyoko only to bring her back to life in literally the final minute of the series in the laziest way possible. Putting aside my feelings for Kyoko as a character or even the faith in the series that the first two games built in me, this direction was still horribly offensive. It offended me as someone with an educational and professional background in media. Future arc could be used in textbooks on how not to properly write a story.

Episode: Hope

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My criticism of Danganronpa 3‘s finale is how nonsensical the plot turned out to be because it contradicts what we’re led to believe about the story world. At the end of DR2, a picture is painted of the world being in repair and the fallout of The Tragedy coming to an end. Coming into DR3, Junko Enoshima is dead, her AI has been deleted, and the Remnants of Despair captured and in remission.

The audience is led to believe that hope has nearly won – that is until the new killing game starts. The idea of someone aligned with despair making a last gasp and setting up the plot of Future arc is fine, until that person is revealed to be Kazuo Tengan. Granted, it’s suggested that somewhere along the line that Tengan had been exposed to the same despair inducing video that Chisa Yukizome had seen, but if that’s the case, his motivations make even less sense.

If he had been turned to despair as Yukizome had, he’d have been operating for the sake of despair. Rather, it seems upon learning of Mitarai’s talents, he decided to set up a scenario where the same technique could be used for hope. So the final killing game was put in place with the express purposes of Makoto dying, Mitarai surviving, and Mitarai being manipulated to act upon his talent to air a hope inducing video.

Which, again, makes no sense when you consider the state of the story world at the end of DR2. There should have been no need for Tengan to devise such a plan, as despair was practically defeated. The entire scheme reeks of desperation, which is the opposite of the state that Future Foundation and the side of hope should have been in.

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Conclusion

Fan fiction: It’s a phrase I’ve seen used multiple times to describe the writing of Danganronpa 3. That is a damning assessment to be given to a canonical piece of media by its own fans. However, it’s an assessment that DR3 has painfully earned.

Again, after watching this anime, my strongest takeaway was that Future never should have happened and a full fledged prequel akin to Despair should have been made instead. Future arc added literally nothing of value to Danganronpa. Stop and consider just how much has changed or what has been gained between the end of DR2 and the end of DR3. I will tell you.

With the inclusion of DR3, poorly established characters that the audience had little connection to are dead. The former Remnants of Despair are now confirmed to be alive and well. I’ve seen criticism that this direction had de-legitimized DR2‘s killing game, however, at the end of DR2 when it was revealed the survivors were staying on Jabberwock to help their fellow classmates who had died in the simulation, I had always assumed that they would find a way to pull through.

Finally, Makoto is revealed to be the principal of the newly rebuilt Hope’s Peak. This is a nice little conclusion to his story, but it isn’t far off from where things were left at the end of DR2 with Makoto, Kyoko, and Byakuya facing the future under a sunny, blue sky. Besides that, no major characters died and any significant world building that did occur was done in the Despair arc as backstory information; such as with Chiaki.

In my opinion, it’s justified to refer to DR3 as fan fiction. What does well-written fan fiction do? It adds some sort of basic entertainment to someone else’s intellectual property without overstepping its bounds by greatly altering the canon story. That’s essentially what DR3 did in Future arc and Hope arc.

The prospect of continuing the stories of DR1 and DR2 was exciting, but poorly executed. I don’t think those stories necessarily needed to end before the next full game, either. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony could have been made with new characters and plot, but with the workings of the established story world still taking place in the background.

If there’s a silver lining to DR3‘s failings, it’s that it was done as an anime and not a game. The story is still canon and still a bitter end to saga built over two full-length games, but at least the fans didn’t have to pay $40 to $60 and waste twenty-five hours to experience it. More importantly, there is still V3 to look forward to.

I have referred to Danganronpa as having a crumbling foundation. I called it a house of cards on the verge of falling over. By the end of DR3, those cards were scattered across the floor. The question now is, with V3 seemingly acting as a soft reset of the series, can Kodaka restart the process and begin building the house again?