No really, they do.
Danganronpa is an underground hit series of video games centered on a bunch of high school students who are accepted into an academy based on the anime cliche they embody, and forced to murder each other through the bizarre machinations of a talking teddy bear who speaks in pop culture references and fights people off with moves straight out of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. It’s been praised for a lot of things, but what I like the most about the series is its irreverent deconstruction of anime tropes and the anarchic black humor used to tell its tales. The storytelling is completely self-aware of how fucking bonkers its premise, but that doesn’t change the fact that the danger the characters face are real and personal, sort of the opposite end of the cynical humor that made Guilty Crown so fun to watch. Transitioning everything that makes this series great from video game to anime hasn’t exactly been successful in the past, but for the conclusion to everything the previous games and supplementary material have been building towards, the creators have once again teamed up with Seiji Kishi to give fans the ending they deserved so that we can set the next game in Prison School with no strings attached. Besides Monokuma and his children(?) I mean.
Danganronpa 3 – as keeping with Danganronpa tradition of refusing to following the rules – actually consists of two separate series named Future Arc and Despair Arc that aired at the same time and are meant to be watched in conjunction with each other in a way that would bamboozle devout followers of the first season of Haruhi. Presumably the series are separate from each other despite this third main installment on the whole basically being a two-cour series that we got in a single season because they both embody different timelines with a different core cast of characters for each one. Future Arc is the actual sequel anime to the games and focuses on the surviving cast of Danganronpa 1 and how they’re thrown into one last killing game with a bunch of new characters – who in a stark contrast to previous games, are a bunch of assholes who would rather kill first and come up with a reasonable solution second – in order to determine the fate of the world and whether humanity really deserves to recover from the post-apocalyptic Earth that was created thanks to what happened in Despair Arc. Meanwhile, Despair Arc is a prequel anime to the games that focuses on the cast of Danganronpa 2 and how their actions inevitably led to the world turning into an anime version of Mad Max, while detailing a lot of the backgrounds and motivations that make up the new characters we see in Future Arc.
Although both male protagonists from both games spearhead a good chunk of the narrative, Danganronpa 3 mostly follows the Ryogho Narita-ish model of not really having a main character at all. The show switches focus from Naegi to Hinata to Chiaki to the new teacher to the main villain to the sickly animator and all the other colorful characters that make up the huge cast in order to convey what the fuck is going on whilst also highlighting Danganronpa’s usual spiel of hope, despair, talent and all that other stuff the characters just can’t stop banging on about. Believe me, I was sick of the words “kibou” and “zetsubou” by the time the show was over. They’re basically synonyms of he words “light” and “dark”, and are repeated just as much here as the latter words are in those Kingdom Hearts games. However, these themes are necessary to giving Danganronpa its subversive edge, because there’d be no personal conflict otherwise. And chances are, you will feel very sad at what these characters have to go through.
Witness Hajime Hinata, a young ordinary boy who has a massive inferiority complex regarding how he’s basically just a bland male dude surrounded by much more interesting anime stereotypes to the point that he doesn’t feel worthy of the big-busted moe gamer goddess who’s attracted to his geekiness. So he joins a project to make him the most talented human being on the planet, only to become an emotionless drone who thinks everything is boring, and things just get worse from there. See Makoto Naegi as he struggles to become the hope for the world that people believe him to be after defeating the evil mastermind who caused Earth’s destruction in the first place, despite the fact that he can’t fight worth shit or prevent the deaths of the people he cares for. And then there’s fan-girl favorite and male version of Haruhi (right down to getting his own episode whose name references three of the books), Nagito Komaeda, who you won’t feel sorry for in the least, but you’ll definitely feel sorry for the people whose lives he inadvertently fucks up whilst laughing at how he gets away with it thanks to his ultimate bullshit powers. Seriously, everything that guy does is solid gold, which is probably why the show tries it best to keep him out of the narrative and risk game-breaking the entire affair.
As most of you know, I don’t have the best record with visual novel writers trying to make it into the anime medium, because they can’t seem to get over the inherent flaws that come with applying interactive logic to a non-interactive environment. But for the most part, Danganronpa 3 overcomes those problems as long as you accept that this is a continuation to a series of games that a lot of anime fans probably haven’t played. The very first episode starts off by establishing the setting and ends by throwing us into the game and killing off an important character in order to make the stakes very clear, which most visual novel anime would take more than half a series’ runtime to get through. And everything else that follows builds off on that strong start, even if it does resort to buildup for the sake of buildup at times, or devoting an entire episode to acknowledging that Ultra Despair Girls spin-off that nobody really liked.
Admittedly, the last few episodes see the writers start to succumb to the problems that usually result from applying video game logic to a cartoon, but by then I’m invested. And to its credit, it does foreshadow some of the big twists quite well, even if it would have been better if they hadn’t existed in the first place. But hey, we all know that Danganronpa’s actual plotting is a big mess. No one is going into this series expecting fucking Inception or anything. And as far as I’m concerned, the actual story stayed intact despite the hiccups, so I’m not going to consider that loopy logic that made fans declare 3 to be the Star Wars prequel trilogy of the franchise to be a deal breaker, even if it did take me a few weeks to actually accept it. Seriously, I like that specific character, but there are times when you just have to let sleeping dogs lie.
I’d advise those of you who can’t stomach gratuitous violence to be wary of this show as well, because even by the standards of a show that delights on anime cliches cutting each other’s heads open, it can get pretty nasty at times. There’s one controversial episode in the middle of Despair Arc that involves a bunch of high school students killing each other in gruesome ways whilst one of the villains sings the Japanese song “Give Me Wings” in the background. It’s censored on the official streams, but not to the point that you can’t see what’s going on, and what’s going on will most likely make you barf if you don’t have the strong stomach I got from watching Salo and A Serbian Film. But then there’s the episode where that violence is directed towards a large fan favorite, which has been known to both disgust people and make them cry at the same time. Personally, I saw it coming from a mile away, but then again my ultimate talent is the Super Duper Level Heartless.
If I had to pick my major flaw with the show, it’s the constant need to tie in everything that’s happened before to what happened now. Because when you do that, not only do you make it hard for the anime to stand as its own thing, but you also tend to dilute what made the previous entries special in the process. After all, the appeal of mysteries disappear the instance you explain them, and it doesn’t exactly help that the answer to most of them was kinda simplistic, even though there is a funny twist added to it. To be fair, said answer was hinted at in a throwaway sentence in the second game, but you probably forgot all about that in favor of all the lies the mastermind threw in your direction. I personally only remembered after watching a Let’s Play of the game after going through it myself. But then again, I forgot all the other contradictory stuff that pissed viewers off, so ultimate bullshit, go!
So while it may not be perfect, Danganronpa 3 is a mostly entertaining conclusion to a really entertaining series of games. The number of risks that paid off were high. The characters are all tragically flawed in a way that directly challenges anime conventions. And even with all the changes to the formula in order to make it work as an anime – including demoting Monokuma to making occasional cameos every now and then – it still retains the same humorous storytelling that makes this whole mess one of my favorite franchises of all-time. I’ve already pre-ordered the Ps4 ports of the first three games, I’m eager to get the next game coming out in 2017, and I can’t wait to own this series on Blu-ray itself.
- I have no shame in using the term “deconstruction” because I wasn’t hanging out with anime fans when Madoka made that a curse word.
- Actually, most of my real-life anime friends have watched Danganronpa 3, and yet they haven’t watched Yuri on Ice!! Just goes to show how exclusive the online anime community can be.
- This show has girls bonding with each other over Bomberman 64. What does your favorite anime this year have…oh right.