Friday, December 6, 2013

Three Days to Heaven

「そばかす」 (Judy and Mary)

Memories are always beautiful
But my stomach feels empty with just that
"Freckles" (Judy and Mary)

And because I always use this first paragraph to talk about random topics: Broken Sword 5 - The Serpent's Curse Episode 1 was great! Muuuuuch better than the previous two games, and a great, humurous adventure on its own. But now I'll have to wait another two months before the final episode is released.... And talking about stories split up in two volumes...

I had a lot of fun with the game Danganronpa and its sequel Super Danganronpa 2 is probably the best detective game I played this year. The story of a group of students of the Hope Peak's Academy forced to commit the perfect murder and the surviving members trying to find the murderer in classroom trials was incredibly exciting, and this quirky mix of Battle Royale, Gyakuten Saiban and the psychedelic atmosphere proved to be a great hit in Japan, which in turn spawned a mountain of related merchandise and other releases. Among them is the novel Danganronpa / Zero (written by Kodaka Kazutaka), which serves as the prequel to the games. Set in a time when Hope's Peak Academy was just a school for super class students, when people weren't forced to kill each other yet.

Or maybe not. A certain incident has happened within the grounds of Hope's Peak Academy, leading to a very big group of unhappy students, despite the school's council efforts at a cover-up. The situation is looking grim and it seems like a violent storm might take over the school any day. But Otonashi Ryouko has little to do with that. Mostly because she is suffering from severe amnesia, which causes her to forget pretty much anything, including the tension in the academy. The only thing she remembers is her friend, Super Class Neurologist Matsuda, who is treating her. But it seems that even her forgetfulness might not be enough of an excuse, because despite her best efforts at not getting involved, Ryouko seems to be unable to avoid getting in the center of events. What is the incident that caused this, and what has it to do with her lost memories?

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. How to talk about Danganronpa / Zero. First of all, forget about reading this before playing Danganronpa. Heck, you might even consider playing Super Danganronpa 2 first. Sure, this is the prequel and set before all of the events in those two games, but it also spoils a lot of the plot twists you're supposed to uncover yourself in those games. Most important of all, despite being a prequel, Danganronpa / Zero will spoil the identity of the big bad of the first game. Furthermore, Danganronpa / Zero is actually quite badly written, so you really need the background information available in the games to even start thinking about enjoying Danganronpa / Zero. Many references and allusions to certain events and characters only make sense if you have played the games, and the world setting as presented in Danganronpa / Zero is very vague, showing just a glimpse. It's basically impossible to get a clear idea of the world of Danganronpa through just this novel, even though it's a pretty important aspect of the story.

One of the problems of the story as it is told, is it lacks any sense of direction. We're introduced to the amnesiac antics of Ryouko, and then stuff just happens to her. A lot of stuff, including murderous attempts at her life and Ryouko being framed for a murder. And Ryouko just flows along with the events. The whole story is seen from a very passive point of view, which is a bit hard to believe considering the seriousness of the events. Sure, Danganronpa always had a bit of a weird atmosphere ("Oh, one of us got killed... the murderer is among us... wanna go on a date? I have a present for ya!"), but Danganronpa / Zero takes a long time to get an interesting point. Add in that Ryouko's narration is a bit... tiresome to get through and you might understand why even though it's a very short story, it's pretty hard to get through.

As a detective novel, it's a bit strange too. The Danganronpa games were basically courtroom dramas in the spirit of the Gyakuten Saiban games; uncovering the murder through debates, finding contradictions and coming up with over the top deductions. The atmosphere might be pop'n psychodelic, but the mysteries are as classic as you can get, with the player/detective slowly getting closer to the truth. Danganronpa / Zero is nothing like that. Stuff just happens, and then the truth is suddenly revealed. And to be very honest, the truth that was revealed wasn't too surprising either, as I suspected that at the end of the first volume (of two), though I have to say that the hints were laid down very neatly.

As a mystery novel, Danganronpa / Zero is a bit disappointing. As a stand-alone novel Danganronpa / Zero is impossible. You really need to have played the first Danganronpa (and preferably Super Danganronpa 2 too) to even want to understand it, and even then it's just a mediocre story. It gives a bit more background information, but nothing groundbreaking. This is really just for the hardcore fans who just need to have more Danganronpa in their life.

Original Japanese title(s): 小高 和剛 『ダンガンロンパ  / ゼロ』

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