『ダンガンロンパ3 -The End of 希望ヶ峰学園-』
"Even if I don't have any talents, I still have hope."
"Danganronpa 3 - The End of Hope's Peak Academy"
I read a lot of mystery series (in any medium), but usually, I don't have to explain that much about the actual series in a review, as most of the time, I only need to explain the general setting and how they pertain to the work at hand. Today's review is really unique in that sense as it needs a lot of explanation.
The Hope Peak's Academy was once a school especially intended for pupils who excelled in their (very) specific fields. From Ultimate Gamers to Ultimate Otaku, Ultimate Cooks and Ultimate Nurses, only the best of the best were accepted at the school. The school turned into a symbol of hope because of its collection of students with a bright future ahead. But through the machinations of a certain individual, the home of hope turned into a birthplace of despair: a worldwide infection of despair spread out like a meme and led to anarchy, chaos and mindless killing among people. In Danganronpa, the last surviving class of Hope Peak's Academy was imprisoned in the school and forced to kill each other through a sadistic murder game, as a display of despair to the rest of the world. However, a group of students kept their faith with hope and made it out alive, taking out the great mastermind. The fight against despair wasn't over, as there were still people around who wanted to spread the chaotic, masochistic beliefs of despair, and the survivors of the class killing, led by Naegi, vowed to bring back hope to the world.
Super Danganronpa 2, Naegi is brought to the Future Foundation, the main organization that poses the Remnants of Despair. Due to his actions during Super Danganronpa 2, Naegi is suspected of having fallen to the dark, Despair side too, but the high-level meeting on Naegi's fate is cut short when Monokuma, symbol of Despair, shows himself again, and manages to seal off the Future Foundation, Naegi and his friends from the outside world. A new "game" is started with these participants, using a set of bracelets that can limit cerain actions of the participants (a poison is injected if you do perform the NG action). A traitor is hiding among the participants, and this person is killing the others one by one. Can the participants find out who the traitor among them is and escape this game? Meanwhile, it is revealed that the events that are happening right now find their ultimate root some time in the past, in the period before Ultimate Despair broke out. Past and future storylines cross paths as Danganronpa 3: The End of Kibougamine Gakuen ("Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy", 2016) makes its way to the end of the road. Will it be hope or despair that is waiting there?
The Danganronpa franchise started in 2010 with the first game released on the PSP, as an eclectic mix of Ace Attorney style mystery-solving, minor action and character-focused dating simulation elements, with a distinct, psycho-pop atmosphere. Its wacky energy, fueled by pop culture references and a unique visual style led to an unexpected hit. The game was followed by 2012 with Super Danganronpa 2, and other spin-off materials like Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (2014; a Vita action/puzzle game set between the two main games), and novels like Danganronpa Zero (2011), that fleshed the world out. The anime TV series Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy (2016) forms the end of the storyline surrounding the students of Hope's Peak Academy, which started with the first game. The upcoming game New Danganronpa V3 (2017) in turn will feature a completely new cast and setting, seperate of the Hope's Peak Academy storyline.
And I am terribly sorry for all that exposition, but it is a necessary evil: by now I hope you will understand that Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy should only be watched by people who have already played the Danganronpa games. It is the proper finale to the series, and it won't stop to explain this or that to the viewer: it expects you to know all of that. While it is surprisig the ending of the Hope's Peak Academy storyline is not in the form of a video game (like Danganronpa and Siper Danganronpa 2) , the anime is still supervised by series creator Kodaka Kazutaka (who in his time as freelance writer also wrote the scenarios for several Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games and Detective Conan & Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo).
Around the midpoint, Future does become rather slow, with little side-stories here and there (and the series isn't long either: twelve episodes). This works partly, because the overall focus of the narrative of Danganronpa 3 switches over to the Despair side, but that does make the Future side drag a bit in comparison. I also think it was a shame that the Ultimate talents of each of the characters didn't really come into play anymore in this story: by now they're more like character traits, rather than part of the mystery, like early on in the franchise.
What makes Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy on the whole an interesting project as a mystery anime is the way the Future and Despair narratives are interlinked. The mystery genre has always been about making sense of the present (i.e. "a murder") through a reconstruction of the past (i.e. "the investigation). Danganronpa 3 shows this in multiple ways: events in Future are for example explained in better detail by showing the past in the corresponding Despair episode. It 'cleans' up the narrative of Future, because they don't have to do constant flashbacks to explain everything (like you often seen with mystery drama), while Despair never suffers, but often really shines by revealing these unexpected pasts in every character. There's also some really clever hinting going in: some scenes in Despair (past) are very neat hints ncessary to solve what is going on in Future, though you are unlikely to notice them until it's too late. So while Despair itself is not a mystery narrative, it is without a doubt a crucial element to making the mystery of Future work. It kinda reminds of bibliomysteries, where a reading of a body of text leads to the solving of a mystery. I have never seen such a neatly constructed mystery using two simultanously developing storylines before though (usually with bibliomysteries, you'll have the main text being 'interrupted' by a smaller body of text), and I wonder whether Kodaka had originally intended this to be a game with a zapping mechanism, like Machi or 428, where you jump between different POVs and put information gained through one POV to use in another POV.
The Future and Despair episodes are followed by one final Hope episode, which really forms the conclusion of the Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy and the Hope's Peak Academy storyline started back in 2010 with the first game. It's a bit predictable, but as the series has always been very open about following the grand tropes of many genres, it doesn't really bother me.
Overall, I did enjoy Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy. It had a lot to do as the ending of a long storyline across several media, but it does a fairly good job at it, by providing answers and details on the past, by providing an admittedly at times somewhat odd final mystery that does thematically fit the other games set in the present, and by ending on a hopeful note. Perfect, it is not, but I for one can't help but be quite pleased with the way they did the dual narrative. It's been a long ride for me too: I originally learned of the series when it was first published in Japan back in 2010, but didn't get a chance to play it until 2012 and I have enjoyed the series quite a lot since then, also delving into the greater Danganronpa franchise. But with this, it's really farewell to the Academy of Despair and Hope.
Original Japanese title(s): 『ダンガンロンパ3 -The End of 希望ヶ峰学園-』