A Story of Hope That Ends in Disappointment
WARNING THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE DANGANRONPA SERIES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Danganronpa 3 Despair Arc is the second of the two animes that conclude the Hope’s Peak storyline. Oddly enough this show acts as the starting point for the storyline, showing how the world fell into despair and how a generic high school girl obsessed with despair turned a class of lovable misfits into the most lethal group of terrorists the world has ever known.
The Despair Arc follows several interconnected plot lines. One of them follows the cast of Danganronpa 2, but most of the focus is on the other storylines, which include Chisa Yozume; a short lived character in the Future Arc investigating Hope’s Peak’s secret illegal project, and Junko Enoshima’s quest to bring the world into despair.
I always had a soft spot for the colorful, unique characters that made up Danganronpa 2’s cast, so getting to see all these characters interacting with one another again was a treat. However, I felt a little cheated by this show because the Danganronpa 2 cast aren’t the focus most of the time despite being advertised as the focus in trailers and promotional art. Alot of the time is spent following the new Danganronpa 3 characters and the despair twins, focusing more on the events leading up to the rise of despair rather than the Danganronpa 2 cast’s involvement with it. I was also looking forward to learning more about the DR2 cast through their interactions with one another in a less dangerous environment, I didn’t really get that. Most of their interactions are the exactly the same as in the game, except for “Mitari”, Komaeda (who is absent most of the show), and Chiaki.
It feels like the Danganronpa 2 cast are given less focus so the writers can have more time to develop the characters of Danganronpa 3, but they don’t even do that right half the time. On one hand it worked for developing Chisa, Juzo, and a few of the other characters, but characters like Bandai and Gozu who would greatly benefit from more development don’t even get any screen time.
One thing we did get to see more of however was the character of Izuru Kamakura, the true mastermind of Danganronpa 2. He didn’t get much attention in the game and I was pleasantly surprised by his personality. I expected a cold, merciless killing machine but instead he turned out to be a man bored with his great talent, only attacking others in self defense. I liked Izuru’s cold indifference to the world around him and I was surprised at how understandable he was as a character.
Despite being advertised as two separate shows, you have to watch the Future and Despair arcs side by side to fully understand the story and understand the characters. Often times a character in the Future Arc would have a major part of their character revealed in the Despair arc, where it would become relevant in the following week’s Future Arc Episode. From a practical standpoint this is not a bad idea, using the Despair arc to develop characters outside of the Future Arc and save time, but on the other hand it requires the viewer to watch both arcs in a specific kind of confusing fashion and it takes time away from the Future Arc to develop it’s own characters.
Like with the Future Arc the animation was pretty good as well, with the exception of maybe one or two scenes where the animation quality dropped. The Despair arc also did a good job playing with the lighting in many scenes, more upbeat scenes are presented with brighter lighting or in brighter enviornments while the darker, more malicious scenes have darker lighting or are set in dimmer locations, like a kitchen with the lights off or a rainstorm that makes everything look grayer. It was a nice visual touch that improves the mood in a couple scenes.
Initially the show makes itself out to be a slice of life comedy anime, with the first two episodes having a notably upbeat feel to them and comedic segments broken up by pixel art cards. This is meant to make the turn to the darker parts of the series a greater shock to the viewer, however this doesn’t really work for a few reasons. The first is that the show stops this format after episode 2, when they should have kept the slice of life bait and switch format for at least one more episode, or at least kept the comedic segments up until Junko appears at the midway point. The second reason that this doesn’t work is because the viewer most likely expects the bad stuff to happen. Since most of the intended audience has seen or played Danganronpa 2 (which did the same bait and switch with the tone in the game) they know that the show is going to get dark, especially since the anime is called the Despair Arc.
Storywise the Despair arc is good, but not better than the Future arc. A majority of the Despair arc is taking events mentioned previously in the series and showing how they happened. Sometimes they put an unexpected spin on these events, such as The Twilight Murder Mystery from Danganronpa 2, which rather than retelling what was already shown in the game instead focuses on the victims, giving more insight into their motives and the events that led up to the murders. It’s a shame that the murder isn’t really brought up again after Ep4 because it should have played a larger role in some of the character’s (specifically Fuyuhiko and Koizumi) fall into despair. Most of the new story material focuses on plot elements brought up in the Future Arc, such as the Ruruka-Seiko feud and the brainwashing videos.
The seventh episode however caught me off guard when it showed the first mutual killing game, which turned out to be the most chilling, disturbing thing I’ve seen in an anime in a long time, but damn if it wasn’t executed perfectly. Every minute of that scene was designed to make the viewer uncomfortable, and spur a reaction, to make them feel actual despair. Whereas the Future Arc excelled at creating suspense, the Despair Arc excelled at creating disturbing, despair inducing moments, such as the previousky mentioned killing game, a lobotomy, and the first execution. At it’s best the Despair Arc is downright horrifying in the best way possiblr. Unfortunately this scene wasn’t enough to make the Despair Arc surpass the Future Arc.
Whereas the Future arc kept me at the edge of my seat, and made me excited to see what would happen next, the Despair arc, specifically the later episodes made me dread watching them. Not because They were bad (because they are not), but because going in I knew bad things would happen, but the buildup to the bad things was torture, like standing in the road waiting for a car to hit you, I was afraid to see what would happen next but I had to watch because it was kind of necessary for fully understanding Future Arc.
I was looking forward to seeing how Junko brought the Danganronpa 2 cast into despair but I was disappointed when it actually happened. The games mentioned that Junko used her charisma to prey on the class’ weaknesses and bring them into despair naturally one by one. This does not happen in the show, instead Junko uses a brainwashing video that ties into the Future Arc’s big plot twist to bring everyone into despair while they watch someone get horribly murdered. I feel like this was partially done to tie into the events of the Future arc and partially due to time constraints but it cheapens impact of everyone’s fall into despair because they weren’t doing the horrible things that destroyed the world by choice, they did them because a video altered their thinking patterns. While the brainwashing does make the Reserve course mass suicide make sense, it felt like a quick and cheap Deus Ex Machina to fit in with the limited timeframe of the series.
In my Future Arc review I expressed my dislike of the dub. Oddly enough, I found myself liking the Despair Arc’s dub better. Funimation got most of the DR2 voice cast to reprise their roles with the exception of only a few voice changes. I wasn’t too fond of the new voices though, most of them were either too deep or different from their game counterparts. But better to have only a few new voices than to get no returning actors at all (god I miss Gundam’s game voice….). From what I watched the writing for the dub differed from the subs, but in a better way. Rather than rewriting important dialogue and changing a scene drastically, the rewrites I saw worked in the show’s favor and made some scenes better by adding additional humor. The broadcast dub for this arc gets my seal of approval.
Overall Danganronpa 3 Despair Arc while the weakest of the two Danganronpa 3 anime still manages to provide an entertaining and dark experience that helps tie up loose ends in the series’ past while also developing the Future Arc.
Final Verdict 3.5/5