This past summer, the popular animation series Danganronpa returned, bringing back familiar faces and introducing a cast of new characters. After the success of the two main games, a spinoff, an animation, and several manga adaptations, fans enthusiastically welcomed the newest installment, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy. The show had a unique format. Most shows air weekly, but the ‘Future’ side aired on Mondays, and the ‘Despair’ side aired on Thursdays. The 'Future' side followed the main character from the first game, Makoto Naegi, and his dealings with the mysterious Future Foundation as they became trapped in another Mutual Killing game. The 'Despair' side focused on the events leading up to the ‘The Tragedy of Hope's Peak Academy’, one of the events that jumpstarted the world spiraling into chaos. These two individual arcs eventually blended into one unified story and routinely played off each other to give context to questions the other arc posed.
In the 'Future' side, fans finally got to see the workings of The Future Foundation, which had been shrouded in mystery since its introduction in Super Danganronpa 2. The antagonist of the 'Future' arc, Vice Chairman Kyousuke Munakata, had an extreme interpretation of hope. Munakata wanted to eradicate all despair and was willing to do whatever it took to do so. The first episode made his stance abundantly clear when he was hostile towards Naegi for secretly helping to rehabilitate the Despairs instead of following the Foundation’s orders to execute them. Despite being actively against Naegi, Munakata’s logic early in the Game was mostly sound, but his conclusions were misguided. His extremism was amplified after one of his loved ones, Chisa Yukizome, became the first victim of the new Mutual Killing Game. It is through his cloud of grief that he started to lose track of his objectives and became extremely aggressive.
The main revelation of the series exposed the culprit of the new Mutual Killing to be the Chairman of the Future Foundation, whose goal was to get member Mitarai Ryota to brainwash the entire world into feeling hope. The fact that top members of the Future Foundation were actually antagonists proved that the Foundation was not the perfect stronghold that it was believed to be. The Mutual Killing Game forced sixteen characters to participate, including three recurring characters. It was nice to see the surviving members of the first Danganronpa game back together again and doing their best to survive.
While the story fully developed several of the new characters, it fell short in giving enough information about all of them. Some characters received backstories through exposition and flashbacks, but it was not enough to make the audience truly feel for them. Unlike the lengthy games, the animation’s time constraints and multitude of new characters made it impossible for each one to truly develop. Death scenes were enough to upset the audience but not to the same degree as when one of the more developed characters was threatened.
The 'Despair' side delivered some long-sought answers about the events leading up to The Tragedy. The events of the second game showed fans what had happened -- that the main mastermind of the series, Junko Enoshima, was behind it all -- but not the cause. The story followed Yukizome as the homeroom teacher of the 77th class (that was filled with students who were later influenced by Enoshima to become her agents and spread despair throughout the world). Yukizome was largely the main character, and her role as both a teacher in the Academy and Munakata’s confidant helped show what was happening on both ends. As the first victim on the 'Future' side, this was the only opportunity to get to know who she was as a character. The Yukizome we saw through Munakata’s flashbacks did not wholly cover the determined, energetic Yukizome that starred in this side. The show also offered up the surprise that Chiaki Nanami, a character who was revealed to be an A.I. in the second game, had at one point been a real person. It was heartwarming to see Nanami interacting with the 77th class and with the protagonist of the second game, Hajime Hinata. Hinata’s appearance was key, as the audience got to see the thought processes and struggles that led up to him becoming Kamukura Izuru.
Unfortunately, the 'Despair' side, which focused on events already established in the series, was weaker than its 'Future' counterpart. Several moments were contradictory to the established canon and had to be hastily explained in the very last episode. The 'Despair' side had been advertised to be about the 77th class, but they were left in the background while the new characters grabbed the spotlight. Although this made sense for the plot, fans were left disappointed, as the story never really delivered on what had been promised. The tool behind The Tragedy was revealed to be a brainwashing video, originally created by Mitarai and tweaked by Enoshima to fit her agenda. This video was also used to brainwash the 77th class into aligning with despair and to incite the mass suicide of the rebelling Reserve Course students. While it made sense to use the same tool as a driving force behind everything in the story, when held up to the larger narrative, it was lacking. In the last part of the second game, the remaining members of the 77th class had to come to terms with the fact that they were responsible for numerous worldwide atrocities. They had to find the will to continue on into the future bearing their sins. The revelation of having been brainwashed and coaxed into Junko’s agenda against their will absolved them of a good chunk of responsibility and diminished the impact of their decision. When the class appeared again in the final episode, they maintained their resolve to continue to live against all odds, but its meaning in the new context was weakened.
Overall, Danganronpa 3, as an animated series, managed to shed light on some crucial events and questions that fans had wondered about for a long time. However, it suffered from time constraints and weak narrative construction. It was entertaining, but it failed to create the same depth that the games managed to do so well. Either way, it leads directly into the upcoming Danganronpa 3 game, which is currently in production, so watching it is essential to the series.
Overall Score: 7/10
- Asahina's determination was absolutely key to Naegi's survival, and her interactions with her former classmates were truly heartwarming.
- The decision to make Sakakura's love for Munakata clear, instead of leaving it to subtext, was a surprising move for a popular series and greatly appreciated.
- The animation was well done, but the soft colors and subtle changes in the opening animation for the 'Despair' side really stands out.