Danganronpa is full of mystery, introduces endearing characters to a terrifying situation, and builds an entire world around it. Danganronpa 2 adds more layers of mystery, more endearing characters to a terrifying situation, and ends with incredibly shocking twists. Ultra Despair Girls places the player squarely in the middle of the terrible state of the world, but the story has to end somewhere, and it does so in an anime.
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School is split into two series that must be watched by alternating episodes in two arcs—Future Arc and Despair Arc. It is impossible to watch a single arc and get the whole story (this is one instance where you do need to listen to both sides). Both series take place at different times but meet and conclude together, and that is what makes this a fascinating piece of storytelling. But just so you don’t despair, I will warn of major spoilers in your future, anime-niacs.
Future Arc takes place in the present and focuses on the Future Foundation’s reaction to learning that fellow member and protagonist of the first game, Makoto, has tried to save the evil Remnants of Despair, the cast of Danganronpa 2. Unfortunately, everyone in the Foundation building has been lured into a trap and a new killing game begins, albeit one without trials, which has been the Danganronpa norm. All participants have been outfitted with a bangle that puts the wearer to sleep for a short period of time. During this time, a designated killer awakens and kills a participant. Obviously, there is no gameplay, so the lack of trials works only to the story’s advantage. The trials with mini-games are a fantastic staple of the series but not something that needed to be translated to non-interactive media.
Despair Arc takes place in the past and primarily focuses on class 77 of Hope’s Peak—the cast of Danganronpa 2, before that game takes place. This is essentially the beginning of the Danganronpa story, showing the class and their homeroom teacher, Chisa, meeting for their first year together in Hope’s Peak Academy, a school for gifted youngsters (check out my X-Men podcast). Despair Arc begins with the students becoming friends, but ends with class 77 becoming Remnants of Despair.
Although Future Arc’s killing game is quite different from the video games and there are only a few familiar characters, it manages to quickly create and execute a thrilling story full of suspense and mystery, similar to the games. However, since this is fully animated, there is lot of intense action that is absent from the games, which is a welcome difference. Also, not only are there questions about the identity of the killer, but also how he or she is accomplishing the murders without leaving behind clues. The first two Danganronpa games hinged on investigations and trials, and although Future Arc lacks both, it doesn’t feel like anything is missing because this is actually necessary for the story. Although Future Arc bears more similarity to the games, I found myself much more emotionally invested in Despair Arc.
The player spends an entire game with class 77, grows to love or hate the characters, watches them suffer, and watches many of them die. So when the player ultimately finds out the truth, it doesn’t feel like a betrayal—it is an incredible shock. Neither the characters nor the player have any idea throughout the game that class 77 are Remnants of Despair, or that Makoto has placed them in a virtual reality simulation to undo their murderous instincts. This means that all these wonderful characters I grew to know and love were depraved killers, but not actually dead. Despair Arc begins with the class before they became Remnants of Despair, so clearly, this story would show how it happened. Knowing that, I was constantly on the edge of my seat and it was difficult and emotional to experience (there was plenty of despair—I cried multiple times).
My only complaint about either story is that there is barely a spotlight on class 77 as the Remnants of Despair. I believe the horrible stories and I know the evil they were capable of, but even a few minutes highlighting their terrible actions rather than what was likely less than 20 seconds would have been a welcome addition. However, their story didn’t end at the conclusion of Despair Arc. Class 77 arrives just in time to save the Future Foundation in one final episode of Danganronpa 3 tying both the Future Arc and the Despair Arc together (so Despair Arc went back to the Future).
Hope Arc is the final episode of Danganronpa 3 and ties the past actions of Despair Arc and Danganronpa 2 into the present where Future Arc takes place. Everyone from class 77 survived Danganronpa 2 and Makoto’s plan worked—the Remnants are no longer evil. Knowing what Makoto has done for them, the class saves him and the surviving members of the Future Foundation, then the former Remnants disappear together. The end of Danganronpa 3 is the perfect end to this entire story.
Although both connected, Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2 have completely different casts and there are different reasons to feel invested in the characters. It was amazing to watch so many different characters go through terrifying situations and see many of them… survive. Then Danganronpa 3 successfully concludes the story by showing the aftermath of the first game in one arc while revealing the background of the second game in the other arc before tying the entire story together in a conclusion. Both arcs were excellently paced and again, I have to praise the writers for having the ability to tell one cohesive story while alternating episodes in different timelines.
Watching these two series together was a roller coaster of emotions, but Hope Arc is a nice, heartwarming resolution which ends on a positive note. Of course I would have loved to see more stories featuring characters from these games, but the developers had different ideas. So what would happen with the future of this franchise? Don’t despair, folks…
Just one last game…