In fact, I’d go so far as to say it has the best usage of being “anime” I’ve seen in years.
So Danganronpa 3 has been surprisingly good this summer. MAL rates both series a lot higher than the first rushed adaptation, very little of Seiji Kishi’s jarring tonal shifts are present (even though both shows aren’t exactly getting points for their visuals), and the storytelling has been remarkably consistent for a video game/visual novel anime. Probably going to end up on my best of 2016 list, although the fact that you need to play the first two games and be familiar with that spinoff thing centered on a bunch of Monobear robots to understand what the fuck is going on sort of guarantees that it’ll be on the low end of that ranking. It kind of sucks that that barrier to entry is causing people – particularly the aniblogging community – to not check this out, but what can you do? It’d be like watching Return of the Jedi without seeing A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back.
Anyways, while the gameplay is definitely the main reason why I like this franchise, it’s good to know that the creators realize what else keeps me into Danganronpa when you can’t rely on viewer interaction to carry your story. And what I like the most about Danganronpa as a whole is how ironically “anime” it is. Don’t get me wrong; it’s very anime in terms of storytelling and characters and it indulges in that accursed meta-humor thing quite a bit. However, it’s not being straightforward with its “anime” nature or using it as a shitty aesthetic like most light/visual novel stuff (especially these days). More often than not, it’s uses being “anime” as a threat. A means to indicate just how fucking dangerous its cast of characters are. A cliche to soften the blow so that when they pull the wool over your eyes, you’ll be crying at how your waifu betrayed you.
If you’re not familiar with Danganronpa as a whole, let me clue you in on the first game. It was about a group of fifteen or so students who attend a prestigious academy where graduation generally means you’ll be set for life, only to find themselves trapped in the school with the only way out being that they kill each other (within some frankly ludicrous conditions). Each student was some sort of anime stereotype (the idol, the perverted dude, the normal male lead, etc.) and were accepted into the school because they have some sort of special talent that the academy wants to develop in order for them to be successful contributors to society (cooking, nursing, being lucky in general, etc.), so think of the cast of Sakurasou if they were all committing premeditated homicide and took a load of acid. The show deals with themes regarding “hope versus despair” along with how people deal with individual talents and lack thereof, and whilst they’re never developed into anything I’d call great, it makes for decent bloody camp that screws with fan expectations in a way that makes Gen Urobuchi go “wait, what?”.
Since then, the series has branched out in directions I can’t actually spoil if you’re the slightest bit interested, but one thing I can say is that its “anime” nature has gotten even crazier. I think Danganronpa 2’s cast is generally more well-liked than the first game’s for this reason (and the fact that it had a hot, pure, incorruptible gamer girl for all you nerds to masturbate to), and the logic’s desperate attempts to come off as grounded when no reality out there would possibly accept it has gotten even funnier over time. I mean the main villain of this series brainwashes people with anime. Somehow, through the power of the techniques used to make these cartoons, people can be turned into loyal zombies. I am not making this up. Anime is literally used as a Ludovico technique in this show.
But here’s the kicker: despite being tongue-in-cheek regarding its wackiness and indulging in the lame humor from time to time, Danganronpa takes itself very seriously. I mean at the end of the day, these characters are still causing people to bleed pink to the point that anyone watching this show on Funimation will get constantly annoyed by the blatant censorship. Whenever the main villain references anime tropes, that generally means she’s about to get someone killed and is using nerd-ism to soften up the victim before getting a henchman to shoot him in the fucking face. When a Nazi girl like Monaca talks about going to become a NEET on the moon, it’s to indicate just how mentally unbalanced she is AND she actually does want to become a NEET on the moon. “Plain” characters with no special talent have to pay a lot of money to get into the school as part of a special program, and will develop inferiority complexes that either cause them to bully the special or participate in scientific experiments in order to become one of the chosen elite. And while there is no justification for why a shut-in gamer girl looks that cute and has a rack that big, part of Nanami’s character arc involves her bonding with other people through video games to the point that she becomes the most popular person in the class. Might as well make video games (that are clearly Nintendo parodies) a core port of your character if you’re going to be that nerd-pandering.
Even though it’s very rare, anime has made the otaku silliness a core part of the non-nerdy serious story in the past (the majority of Studio Trigger’s works attempt this to…very mixed results). However, Danganronpa is the first one I’ve seen to be this blatant about being for the anime gaming crowd and yet still having it function as one of the story’s essential parts. Stuff like those Persona games, Sakurasou, Re:Zero, and Kimi no Na wa mostly just keep both sides separate with the silliness used to make us care for the characters and the serious stuff used as the actual substance that utilizes these characters for a noble goal. And yeah, Danganronpa isn’t above that either (especially Despair Arc), but my point is that when those other anime go into “serious” mode, the anime-isms are usually dropped (and when they aren’t, they’re crowbarred in horribly to the point of tonal whiplash). When Despair Arc goes into serious mode, bonding over video games actually becomes pretty tragic. She just wanted to play games with you man, but you wanted to be more than a bland everyman protagonist, and look at what happened!
Although not great at it, Danganronpa actually does a pretty good job at parodying/deconstructing some of the anime character tropes that have come to define most of the medium as of late. Being overconfident in your physical abilities tends to get you shot, being pure tends to get you death-flagged (oh wait, that’s always been true for anime), being an everyman with no talent tends to make you into a murderer, and being psychotic tends to make you into the next Joker if he spouted anime tropes as threats. This is definitely more true in the games, where you don’t want to believe that these lovable stereotypes would be capable of murder (nor would you want to see them be murdered), but there’d be no conflict if it didn’t come to that. However, both Danganronpa 3 series seem to get that aspect as well even though there aren’t any court cases in ’em, and that’s why it succeeds where most anime-original shows spawning from visual novel roots fail.
Not to mention it’s not just the character tropes this go-around. As I said before, Danganronpa 3 takes things a step further and uses anime as a means to brainwash people into becoming mass-murderers, A Clockwork Orange-style. By doing so, the series is basically saying that anime is an evil-brainwashing tool that will create large numbers of crises if people are overexposed to it, especially with the increasing amount of crap that comes out with each year. Whilst people join this terrible industry with the intention of making others happy with their drawing skills, in the end, despair will swallow them whole and spit them out as the same kind of sunken corpse that the team behind the first Persona 4 anime ended up as, leaving them powerless to save their intended audience. It’s that sort of dark brilliance/humor that continues to interest me about this franchise, and it’s also the reason why both Danganronpa 3 series are my favorite anime of the summer.
Well, that and the issue that every other anime I’m watching this summer with maybe the exception of Mob Psycho has pretty much given up because they know that they captured all the fans that they’re going to by this point with their “peaks” and thus are free to be as lazy as they want. Seriously White Fox, if you fought so hard to get more time slots to animate that whale fight, why did it look so fucking bad?!
- Incidentally, I heard Despair Arc is ending next Thursday. Makes sense since there’s not much left you can really go to after “that”.
- If nothing else, these shows are a shit-posting goldmine.
- Admittedly, 91 Days‘ latest episode sorta kicked things up, even if “that” event should have happened three episodes ago.