Upon hearing the news that the overarching story of the Danganronpa series would be concluded in the form of an anime series instead of a third installment, I was more than a little confused, but understanding. There are a lot of loose ends to tie up, and if it were to serve as a conclusion, a third Danganronpa game would probably be constrained if it were presented in the format established in the two mainline entries, and Spike Chunsoft presumably did not want to change the game’s very foundation for a sequel. I previously reviewed Danganronpa 1, Danganronpa 2, and the spin-off Ultra Despair Girls, and will be spoiling all of them, as it is hard not to when talking about the story of a direct sequel.
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School Review
Well, I say direct sequel, but Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy is actually two intersecting anime series that aired at the same time, and are meant to be watched simultaneously. The Future Arc follows the exploits of the world saving yet incompetent Future Foundation and surviving members of the DR1 cast. While the Despair Arc serves as a prequel detailing the DR2 class as they became the Remnants of Despair, and the rise of the Ultimate Despair herself, Junko Enoshima. Characters and plot points intersect throughout the series as a whole, but when viewing them critically, it is very hard not to make that distinction, as I particularly enjoyed one of them, and the other, well, let’s just say that I’m shocked that I was able to dislike something bearing the name Danganronpa so much.
To elaborate, the Future Arc begins with the trial of Makoto Naegi, the Ultimate Hope, who is being accused of falling victim to despair after trying to save the Remnants of Despair as seen in the events of DR2. Which only lasts a scant few minutes before Makoto, Kyoko, Aoi, and several other members of Future Foundation waking up and being greeted by poison filled bracelet, a dead body, and the lovable monokuma on a TV screen, who introduces them to a whole new killing game.
The set up for the Future Arc is fairly… convoluted. All fifteen participants of this game have a bracelet that gives them a forbidden action that, if they enact on, will fill their bodies with a deadly poison. The bracelets also double as eight hour long timers that will inject everybody with a sleeping drug while one participant, a traitorous attacker, is said to take out one person after every eight hour period. Thereby setting up a scenario of mistrust and unease amongst the cast, or rather, among two members who effectively screw everything up, but I have problems with this conceptually.
First off, the idea of putting a sizable group of unwilling participants into a game where they have a bracelet filled with a sleeping drug and poison that triggers after a set time is sounds like a mashup of the set-ups found in Zero Escape, a visual novel mystery series also developed by Spike Chunsoft. Secondly, the forbidden actions of the characters are often very irrelevant to their nature or personality, and seem to have been designed around ways to maximize the body count and remove characters at set intervals more than anything else. For all other forbidden actions, they’re just kind of pointless, such as Makoto’s inability to run and Aoi’s inability to attack other participants.
Thirdly, the characters here are not a group of high schoolers, they are survivors of the destruction of society and the rebuilders of humanity. They are adults, and in high positions, implying that they are able to behave like rational and hope loving human beings. So why the hell would they suspect that Monokuma, the face and voice of the enemy, was so much as telling the truth about an attacker, let alone conceive of the notion that they should kill each other? Well, the reasoning behind this, and the reasoning for there being much conflict in the starting episodes of this arc, can be traced to two characters.
Kyosuke Mutakata, the vice president of Future Foundation and his friend, the head of security of Future Foundation, Juzo Sakakura. The reason why they bring so much conflict to this story is that they hate Makoto Naegi and want to murder him. Juzo wants to murder him for revenge, because Juzo is an idiot with a backstory that made me utterly despise his existence for the colossal and devastating mess that came from his insulting immaturity. He is irrational, thick headed, has a terrible temper, and has the temperament of a wolf. The best thing he did in the story is something he should have done hours beforehand, but… just didn’t.
While Kyosuke… Kyosuke is a genocidal fascist bastard who thinks that words, or platitudes as he calls them, are too dangerous of tools as they can be used to spread despair as well as hope. Instead, he believes that actions are the only way to truly spread hope, and the only way to do that is to murder anybody who is filled with despair, in a world that was effectively destroyed, and people have very little reason to hope for anything.
It is true that I am simplifying things a bit, but I cannot interpret his actions in any other way, and cannot look past this downright moronic philosophy or comprehend how even the most demented dullard could view this as right. With previous villains in the series, and boy do I consider Kyosuke to be a villain, they were clearly warped in the head, but Kyosuke? Not only was he working for Hope’s Peak before The Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History, but his justification for doing all of this makes him seem like the most shallow and manipulatable child to ever graduate from Kindergarten.
He does not behave like an adult, let alone a rational human being, and all of the conflict he brings to the Future Arc could be avoided if he and his lackey would just talk to the others. But no, so much death, pain, and so forth could fairly easily be avoided if this man, one of the most important men on the planet, just talked things out and shoved his asinine believes and baseless assumptions right up his own ass.
I genuinely cannot comprehend how the creative team behind such wonderfully charismatic and deplorable characters managed to botch a character this hard. I have not despised and loathed everything about a character this much since Master of Martial Hearts. I mean, the girl who forced her friend to beat women to the state of mental retardation at least had an understandable reason behind her actions. It was shit, but it was a reason.
I spent so much time focusing on Kyosuke because is is what drives so much of the initial story of the Future Arc, and I blame him for its lack of quality. His actions spur a needless conflict, and are responsible for the deaths of several newly introduced characters, who naturally begin being discarded before the viewer has a chance to so much know their personality beyond what was offered in a few lines. He contaminates the entire arc as far as I am concerned, to the point where I was actually upset that he was not horrifically murdered in the end.
That being said, there are plenty of misguided steps and oddities strewn across this arc, such as the fixation on the backstory of three characters, whose stories actually spread between both arcs, Seiko, Ruruka, and Sonosuke. Three former Hope’s Peak students whose entire story is something that could have easily been removed from the story itself, as they provide very little to the plot, other than finding something and murdering another character who… I don’t think contributed anything. At all.
To clarify, I don’t think that the story of these three students is bad. It’s an enjoyable tale that receives adequate screen time and portrays a unique relationship of three characters that I would fit a Danganronpa game quite well. Except for that bit with the giant dog (don’t ask). However, I don’t understand why this story is here, what it contributes to the greater story and goal of their entire arc, let alone what those are.
The reason why I have gone on for so long without saying what this story is about beyond the basic premise is because I do not know what exactly the creators wanted when making Danganronpa 3, other than to explain the backstory and end the story built up over the past three games. However, this is not the most effective way to do this. If anything, this is greatly ineffective. The fixation of having one final killing game, one with wildly different rules, is simply unwarranted. Nothing is gained by having more new characters, more murder, and staging a final confrontation in this manner.
I have reason to believe that this set up is a far cry from what was originally intended in prior games, and I don’t think I need to look any further than Ultra Despair Girls, which intentionally set the stage for a third mainline Danganronpa game, but most of what was foreshadowed was, well, pointless. The Warriors of Hope, Komaru’s desire to help Towa City, and Monaca rebranding herself as the successor to Junko Enoshima all amount to more or less nothing.
The Warriors of Hope receive thirty seconds of screen time before being discarded, Komaru and Toko undergo zero development, and Monaca is removed from the story in such an abrupt and unfulfilling way that I believe not only trivializes her entire existence as a character, but the entirety of Ultra Despair Girls. I genuinely think that the creative team wrote themselves into a corner here, as the only other explanations I can think of are apathy and blatant disregard for this series as a whole.
On that note, the general tone of the entire storyline is bizarrely dissimilar to the one featured in the prior three games. Everything is so dark, dour, and dreary that it is hard to stay invested in the storyline itself. The events of the story are too fixated on gruesome murder, the setting is both largely inconsequential on top of being insufferably dull and devoid of personality, and visually… I’ll talk about this later, because it actually applies to both arcs.
To conclude my thoughts on the Future Arc, the only reason why I am not truly filled with vitrial towards it is because of the ending. A rapidly assembled and swift conclusion that ignores many of the greater issues that came with the era of despair and the Tragedy, but manages to wrap things up where I ultimately wanted them to, and is satisfying because of it. Or in other words, all of the rubbish that pertained to the Future Arc can thankfully be discarded because everything ends well, and it really did not matter much in the end anyways.
As for the Despair Arc, it serves as a prequel to the entire series, detailing the budding bonds between the DR2 cast, the rise of Junko Enoshima, and some of the logistics of how despair consumed the world and The Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History happened. Aside from certain details, this story is already known to anybody who played through the first two titles, meaning the only real appeal of the show is how well this story is told, and it’s told pretty darn well.
The budding friendships of the DR2 cast are compelling enough to warrant a series devoted entirely to their youthful shenanigans. The dejectedness of Hajime Hinata and his eventual transformation manages to be rash and disheartening, yet fully understandable. The relentless malice, ingenuity, and relentless lust for despair of Junko Enoshima are an utter delight to behold. While the tone manages to strike a balance between being dark, spiteful, and demoralizing while never discouraging hope or denying its existence amidst all of the death, devastation, and despair that come with its conclusion. It manages to touch upon what I expected from the arc, and was thoroughly enjoyable to see the specifics of how this world ended.
Being what it is, this arc is pretty wonderful, but there are some odd omissions and questionable inclusions within it. For one thing, the cast of DR1 is largely absent from the Despair Arc, despite being students during a large part of it. This prevents them from getting the same swansong as other characters, and does not illustrate their school life in any detail beyond one small scene in the final episode of the arc, where most of them do not say or do anything.
There are also some leaps in logic throughout the story, such as the encounter between Nagito and Junko. A confrontation that had me positively giddy until I realized that Nagito has no reason to know anything about Junko, let alone how she is the Ultimate Despair. Or how an immeasurably important part of the story relies on a coincidental encounter between Junko and the newly introduced Ultimate Animator, Ryota Mitari. It is because of them that Junko is able to cause the deaths of billions and stifle humanity’s progress for decades to come, yet their encounter is based on Junko receiving a hunch that Ryota is a very useful person. I don’t want to call it lazy writing, but… I would have tried to come up with something better.
Ryota himself manages to be a strong and tragic character in spite of this odd move, but his talents, skills, and general impact to the plot all rely on him having a mastery of creating emotional reactions within one’s mind and fill them with intense emotions, namely extreme joy. The simple question of how he has these abilities and how potent they are really is not that important to the story, but the portrayed power of brainwashing and emotional manipulation at display here is at least a little farfetched. Especially when clips of a video that is intended to induce madness into any viewer are shown to the viewer.
Beyond those major nitpicks, and a qualm pertaining to Juzo being a culturally regressive dullard, the Despair Arc manages to be a beauteous blend of hope and despair, one with moments of emotional intensity that match if not usurp those found in the games themselves. It is not necessary viewing to understand the story, but it brings with it a pleasing level of clarity and a twistedly good time along with it.
To finally move away from this story analysis and critique and to the presentation, I need to make something clear. One of the primary reasons why I do not regularly watch let alone review modern anime is that I do not like the presentation of a lot of shows. Sometime over the past few years, the way in which simulated lighting worked in most Japanese animated shows changed, and I believe the medium suffered immensely for it.
One of the core tenants of animation is to create something that is visually striking if not generally appealing. This is made easier by a the skillful use of a color pallette, which can be used to bring added life, energy, and personality into a shot by making the world more vibrant and interesting, and the characters more distinct. Or in simpler terms, colors are good and lots of modern anime doesn’t use them well enough.
Danganronpa 3, despite being based on a series that fully understand the power and impact of vibrant colors, just look at Ultra Despair Girls to see my point, indulges in this crappy practice by making almost the entirety of the Future Arc a blue, red, and green tinted mesh of characters and dull backdrops that is just boring to look at. I understand that it is trying to be darker or more intense by using this more muted color scheme, but that simply is not Danganronpa. Danganronpa is a series where blood is pink and mountains of corpses are painted in vibrant blue and purple. Danganronpa 3 Future Arc tries to make corpses look disgusting and turns the blood red.
The Despair Arc manages to avoid these problems for the most part, but instead all too often reduces the saturation of the characters’ color schemes and makes them a series of pastels or more muted colors. It respects the source material enough to keep the blood pink, but instead it runs into a different issue, that of Japanese censorship. Simply put, the Japanese government does not want corpses and brutal murder featured in specific ways. So in a series where a group of teenagers brutally murder one another, things naturally needed to be obscured by obnoxious dark smudges that fail to hide the fact that a character is being mutilated with a chainsaw and that a hundred people threw themselves into a pit of fire.
There’s also a personal qualm of mine pertaining to the appearances of the Remnants of Despair. During the ending of DR2, it was revealed that all of the student characters had mutilated their bodies and gave themselves the body parts of Junko Enoshima, from one of her hands to her uterus. This is not reflected, at all, in their final designs, which are identical to their designs from DR2 proper, aside from three alterations amongst the sixteen members. That’s just lame…
As one final bit before ending what has become my second longest review ever, I should address the English dub. In short, Funimation and NIS America did not collaborate very well when assigning a cast of voice actors to the DR1 and to the DR1 anime. Only one voice actor, the voice actor of Makoto Naegi, was retained in both dubs, and seeing as how Funimation was simulcasting this series, they not only resumed using their voice cast for DR1 characters, but were not able to get everyone from DR2 or UDG.
All of this naturally leads to some differences between the casts when watching this dub. Most replacements are fine, others are notably different, and while the voice actors for Hajime Hinata and Chiaki Nanami reprise their roles, they don’t do the right voices for their respective characters. All of this nonsense would be enough to push me to watching the subtitled version, but comparing the writing quality of the official subtitles and the actual dub left something to be desired. So I guess the only winning move was to have played these games in Japanese from the start.
Danganronpa 3 is a mess. The Future Arc is a vain and needless story that could be summarized and dismissed with a statement that disregards the entire existance of another game in the series at the same time. None of the new characters mean anything, the killing game is largely pointless, and the dourness of the blasted affair is only worsened by the inclusions of the only truly unlikable characters in the entire series. While the Despair Arc shines radiantly in comparison and offers a share of wonderful moments and even full episodes, the connections to the Future Arc, minor plot gripes, and poor presentation make me far more inclined to recommend a summary and the final episode of the series over actually watching it.
Or if you’ve only played the first two games in the series, assume that everything ended happily ever after after DR2. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and will probably end up much happier that way.