The beginning of the beginning of the end
Despite the anime adaptation of the first Danganronpa game gaining a less than stellar reception, many fans were still disappointed by the lack of a Danganronpa 2 anime (though some would argue that that’s a blessing). However, Danganronpa 3 will be giving those people the next best thing. Whilst half of the anime, titled Side: Future, is focusing on Makoto and his allies’ final confrontation with Monokuma (which you can read a review of the first episode here), the other half, Side: Despair, sees what happened to the cast of Danganronpa 2 back when they were students at Hope’s Peak and how they became the Remnants of Despair and brought about “The Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History.”
As a first episode, it’s dedicated mostly to set-up. It feels like very little progress is made as the entirety of the episode serves as an introduction to the cast (or a re-introduction if you played the second game). This actually isn’t a detriment since it’s important to actually know who our cast is – hell, they get more of an introduction than the cast in Side: Future. The whole thing is pretty humourous as the class’ new teacher, Chisa Yukizome, seems unnaturally prepared in dealing with the larger-than-life personalities of these students, very rarely dropping her smile regardless of the strange antics she comes across.
Plus, while we already know what the ultimate outcome is, there’s still a decent amount of mystery concerning the aforementioned Yukizome’s connection to the students, considering she also appears in Side: Future, and the prescence of the Ultimate Gamer, Chiaki Nanami, is enough to raise questions (and if you played Danganronpa 2, you’ll know why). Knowing what will happen to all these characters also adds a very heavy level of tragedy on the whole thing; seeing them all interact and be goofy with one another is both funny and heartbreaking.
That said, it unfortunately suffers from the same problems that Danganronpa 2 had. While the premise for the entire series is incredibly bizarre, the first game still possessed a strange sense of realism – it made you believe that what you were seeing could potentially happen within the realms of reality. Danganronpa 2 arguably tested your suspension of disbelief and Side: Despair continues that by having characters pulling off superhuman feats, like running up the side of tall buildings, surviving being hit by trucks and causing explosions by taking a really big dump (I am NOT making that last one up).
The other issue it carries is over is how much more “fanservice-y” it is. While the first game wasn’t completely guilty of this, it was a lot more restrained. Here, the anime seems to go out of its way multiple times to show off how well endowed some of the female characters are. There’s also a recurring gag where the character Mikan keeps tripping and ending up in incredibly compromising situations, which is more degrading and distracting than anything, and especially insensitive considering both her own backstory and what happens to her later on.
Side: Despair seems to be set to serve as the polar opposite of Side: Future. Whereas the latter is filled with a dark, tense atmosphere, the former is where the more lighthearted and laid-back antics can be found. It’s splitting the two distinct tones that the series is known for. Of course, that doesn’t mean Side: Despair won’t have any dark undertones – Hajime’s introductory scene and the post-credits scene further prove how this is only the start.
How the two sides of the anime affect one another remains unknown (for all we know, there might not even be any deeper connections besides some characters appearing in both), but it still looks set to be worth watching if only to see the Danganronpa 2 cast in happier times, and how they eventually fall into despair.
Final verdict: 3/5