The first Danganronpa was one of my favorite games of last year, so I was really excited to get into the second one, which some even consider to be better. I thought it would be fun for me to do write-ups about the game every few chapters or so, not in a comprehensive “let’s play” style, since that would require a lot of screenshots and detailed exposition (things which I am too lazy to do). These posts would be just my thoughts on some of the characters or some of the events that happen in the game. More importantly, I wanted to capture my thoughts as fresh as they could be, as I am still playing the game, without the hindsight acquired after finishing the game completely and having learned all that can be learned about it. I hoped to record all the mysteries and speculations I had while playing it, and then see later on if any of my speculations became true or not, which I think would be a lot of fun to look back and laugh at.
Suffice to say, these posts will be very spoilery, as they will definitely spoil the first Danganronpa completely, and Danganronpa 2 partially, which for this post would be right until the middle of Chapter 2 (right before the star of the second trial). You have been warned.
Playing Danganronpa 2 for a while made me realize how it does a great job at disrupting player expectations, especially those coming from the first game (I guess there may be some who skipped the first and went straight into 2 but why would you do that?). It goes so far as to call itself out on the silly plot-twists it pulled in the first game (like the whole memory brain-washing plot-twist at the end, which was honestly a little bit Deus Ex Machina). The way Danganronpa breaks the fourth-wall, not in a necessarily shocking way but more in a self-critiquing and jokey way, is almost Kojima-esque. These fourth-wall breaking parts are mainly delivered through Monokuma, who by now you would expect to say such bizarre and funny stuff. But it’s not just Monokuma, some of the other characters do their part in messing with player expectations too.
For the sequel, the setting is changed from a school to a deserted set of islands called Jabberwock Island. This isn’t like an uninhabited, untouched-by-human-civilization island, it’s more of a well-known tourist destination (with a fancy hotel, an airport, parks, large buildings, mall etc.) that was seemingly cleared out out of people, and only the 16 students, Monokuma, and Monomi/Usami are inhabiting it.
This change into a deserted island setting is funny to me in how the series is veering ever closer to Battle Royale, which is probably the most popular piece of media with the “trapped teenage kids trying to kill each other for survival” plot. But lets get something out of the way: The premises of Danganronpa 1 & 2 are as common as it could be. It’s a little like Battle Royale, a little like kamaitachi no yoru/Banshee’s Last Cry, a little like the Zero Escape series, especially Virtue’s Last Reward*, and plenty more, not just common with media from Japan, but outside as well, like Lord of the Flies or Hunger Games.
There are a lot if these murder-mystery visual novels with similar premises. And Danganronpa knows that, pulling the same tropes found in the genre throughout. In fact, Danganronpa 2 does a ode to one such murder-mystery adventure game series: the Japanese-Only Twilight Syndrome series, by Human Entertainment (the first three of which were directed by Goichi Suda). Danganronpa 2 makes a mini-game based on it, and puts in within the world as an arcade game that the students themselves can play. It’s a really cool tribute.
Still. it’s not the broad strokes and general plot that make Danganronpa great, it’s the specific events and characters that do it for me (and that goes for a lot of things, not just video games).
As I mentioned before, The cast of characters also works into that “subverting of expectations” deal. Some draw parallels to the cast in the first game in direct ways (like Akane Owari. She’s pretty much this game’s Aoi Asahina, filling in the role of the super athletic girl with big boobs who eats a lot of fatty food. Although Akane’s personality is more hyper than Aoi). Other characters have a much more subverted meaning behind them. So lets take a look at a few of the more interesting ones:
Byakuya Togami, The Ultimate Affluent Progeny
“Wait, Byakuya Togami? The same Byakuya from the first game? But he’s fat now? What is happening?”
That’s what I thought when I first saw Byakuya in the opening movie. It looks like this is the same Byakuya. He looks the same, maybe a little bit overweight. He has the same voice actor (and voice clips). He wears and acts just like the Byakuya we all know and love. But he never really mentions anything about what happened to him in the first game. Byakuya did survive the first Danganronpa, so it could be that after the ending, he may have gained a few pounds, got kidnapped again, got his memories erased again, and was then thrown back into the fray. But with Danganronpa, you’re never really %100 sure about anything.
More importantly, Byakuya seems to be continuing his character arc from where we left him off during the last game. At the start of Danganronpa 1, Byakuya was simply a pompous selfish asshole, but at the end, he learned to start appreciating others, and to help and protect his friends in order to achieve a common goal (while still maintaining his somewhat pompous sense of pride). And that is exactly the Byakuya we see here in Danganronpa 2, one that is striving to protect his friends from any harm as long as he is alive. This supports my initial theory that Byakuya simply lost his memory again, while still maintaining his now reformed sense of morality he got after the end of Danganronpa 1, and that memory loss cannot take that away.
So OF COURSE Byakuya is the first one to get killed. The whole series is about “Despair”, and what could be more dreadful than killing the one character whom the whole cast of desperate students looked up to, the one who comforted everyone with his promises of safety, the one who took very careful measures to protect everyone.
But more importantly, Byakuya was the most relatable character to the player since players are already familiar with him from the first game. He is an old friend, the only known face out of a bunch of strangers, the one we were happy to see come out alive from their hellish stay at Hope Peak’s Academy. This is what Danganronpa 2 says with its first kill: Nope, not even those characters whom you loved, who made it out from the first game, are safe. The first Danganronpa did a similar thing by killing off Sayaka first, who was Makoto’s friend, his only friend out of a cast of strangers. And sure, it does have a little bit of a “shock” to it, because it hit Makoto hard particularly out of all the cast, and players are expected to emphasize with the protagonist, even if they only knew Sayaka for an hour or so before she gets killed.
But with Byakuya, it’s much more immediate. Players literally knew Byakura longer than the rest of the cast. In a sense, he is even more relatable than the main protagonist of Danganronpa 2. And killing Byakuya off was the worst case scenario the average player would have hoped not to happen, the one leading ever closer to “TRUE DESPAIR” (unless you hated Byakuya anyway).
Nagito Komaeda, The Ultimate Lucky Student
By far the most enigmatic student of the group is Nagito Komaeda. He is the “Ultimate Lucky Student” just like Makoto in the first game. In fact, he even looks a lot like Makoto, wearing a similar greenish hoodie with reddish highlights, and voiced by the same voice actor in both English and Japanese (well, actress technically). Even his name is similar as it is almost an anagram for Makoto Naegi (in English at least, I don’t know if there are any significant similarities with their names in Japanese).
However, unlike Makotot, Nagito is not the main protagonist. He is just one of the other students beside the protagonist. Actually, Nagito is the first student you meet. He quickly befriends you and helps you meet the rest of the cast. And unlike his cohorts who are all terrified at their terrible ordeal, Nagito seemed to be well adjusted and taking the situation in stride.
But during the first trial, his true colors show, revealing his sick nature as someone who revels in the death of his fellow survivors, spouting nonsense about how “The Ultimates” will bring about hope amidst this despair, seemingly lacking empathy towards his friends, both the dead, and the survived. He’s such a crazy person that he doesn’t even care about his own life, willing to sacrifice his life if it means it would help achieve his rather ambiguous goals of bringing about “hope through despair”. This isn’t some sort of heroic gesture, and it doesn’t seem like he’s being suicidal due to a severe depression or something like that. He’s just a lunatic who just does not seem to grasp the gravity of the situation he is in, what sort of nonsense he’s saying, and how monstrous he sounds. He is almost out of touch with his reality, like he’s some sort of avatar being controlled by some insane manipulator. Like he is being played with.
So by making Nagito similar to Makoto, is Nagito then a commentary on players of Danganronpa? Obviously, players real lives aren’t at stake when playing these games. Lives are cheap in video games, and death is so abundant. So many games task you with killing 100s of people or creatures. More than not, death usually represents a stepping stone towards achieving your goals, to reaching the end and “beating the game”, whether it’s the death of a final boss, or the death of the player-character in super difficult game, which forms a learning experience, bettering players, and allowing them to overcome that obstacle or level through trial-and-error. Or in the case of Danganronpa and similar murder-mystery games, death signals the beginning of a new chapter, a moment of excitement where we expect new dramatical revelations to happen, and new twists and turns to appear in the plot. So players expect (nay, desire) a few deaths to happen in a game like this. These expectations sound normal in the context of players of Danganronpa, but it would instead sound maniacal when heard in the context of other characters in the game. That may be what Spike-Chunsoft is saying with Nagito.
Or Nagito is just weird because he’s just weird like that. This is Danganronpa after all.
In the parlance of Jerry Seinfeld, what’s the deal with Monomi? She looks like Monokuma. She seems to be his “little sister”. She has her own weird vocal theme song. She always appears out of nowhere at random times just like Monokuma. Actually, she seems to have taken part of Monokuma’s duties from the first game, appearing whenever a student has a small question or request, so Monokuma doesn’t need to appear as often as he did.
And yet, Monomi doesn’t seem willing to work for him, which is why she gets tormented by Monokuma, getting cartoonishly beat up all the time by him (the poor thing). She doesn’t even harbor ill will towards the students. All she wants is for the students to get along and be friends, and to collect all those hope fragments. She doesn’t want anyone to die, at all.
Monomi is a total mystery. Is she being controlled by someone who is also trapped in the island by Monokuma? Or is this whole pity-act just an facade by an accomplice to Monokuma? Or are both Monokuma and Monomi being controlled by 1 person simultaneously, one side being the tough mean bear, and the other the whimpering sad sympathetic bear, just as a psychological tactic to coerce the students to kill each other? I don’t know, but it seems like Monomi is this somewhat independent entity between the captivated students, and their captor Monokuma. The students (and the player) are not sure on which side of that divide Monomi falls on. Given that the general premise of Danganronpa 2 is very similar to the first game, the existence of Monomi herself brings about a certain level of unpredictability to an otherwise similar-looking plot. And knowing what’s her deal will definitely be one of the bigger revelations in Danganronpa 2.
Chiaki Nanami, The Ultimate Gamer
In some sense, I feel like I’m being duped into liking Chiaki. Obviously, I’m a “gamer”, and most of the Danganronpa fanbase are “gamers” too. Spike-Chunsoft knew that they’re making a fan favorite character with Chiaki. I wouldn’t call her pandering, but there’s certainly a little bit of “fanservice” in her, not the pervy kind (even if there is a lot of that in Danganronpa 2, more so than the first game).
But despite that, I think she’s a great character that’s always fun to talk to. She’s this soft-spoken girl that loves video games and has this immense knowledge about them. But she seems to always be tired and drowsy, and has problems paying attention, always slipping off and staring into space, or even napping whenever the chance arrives (ironic given that you’d expect “The Ultimate Gamer” to have a little bit more of an active and attentive personality).
Chiaki likes to bring up video games ever now and then, whether she’s talking about herself or by using video game terminology to explain whatever current ordeal is happening in her own gamer-centric point of view. She also references other games, and they’re always real games, which is kind of hilarious in that bizarre unexpected “Wait, did she just reference Trio The Punch” way. But unlike Hifumi in the first Danganronpa (who I still like), Chiaki is not so obnoxious about her nerdy hobby. She’s pretty chill about it. And I like that about a character.
Gundham Tanaka, The Ultimate Breeder
When I first saw Gundham, I tried to guess what sort of “Ultimate Student” he is. For the most part, it is pretty easy to guess what sort of “Ultimate” each member of the cast is: Mahiru is the Ultimate Photographer because she has a camera, Teruteru is the Ultimate Chef because he’s in chef clothing, Peko Pekoyama has a sword (a bamboo sword, to be precise) because she is the Ultimate Swordswoman. And so forth.
With Gundham, I was almost sure he was some sort of “Ultimate Ninja”, with his menacing leer, the scar across his eye, and the long scarf. And then he pulls tiny adorable furry creatures out of nowhere like so:
And then proclaims proudly that he is “The Ultimate Breeder”. This is exactly why Gundham is so awesome. His intensity and melodrama just clashes with the fact that he is the best man at breeding cute little animals. He calls his tiny hamster/gerbil/guinea pig friends “The Dark Devas of Destruction”. He talks like an insane person, spouting about demonic eyes and evil dimensions, but you somehow can get the point he’s making under all his crazy-talk. And you even start to understand how his eccentric personality would make him the Ultimate Breeder.
Just like Chiaki, talking to Gundham is always a fun time. I’m always excited to hear what sort of madness he’ll be talking about at every meeting. It is why I try to spend time with them both whenever I get any free time, at least before the game kills them off.
They’ll probably be killed off, right? Oh please don’t kill them off. Please don’t, Why would you do such a cruel thing, Danganronpa 2? Why oh why I HATE YOU DANGANRONPA!
(Hopefully, they won’t die before my next post. See you then)
* I guess Danganronpa may have inspired VLR since Danganronpa 1 came out before. In fact, the Zero Escape games were published by Chunsoft, while Danganronpa were by Spike. And both companies soon merged together to form Spike-Chunsoft. Plus Kotaro Uchikoshi, writer for the Zero Escape Series, did mention on his twitter that he’s friends with the Kaz Kodaka, the writer for Danganronpa, but my point is, they share a lot of ideas.