Reviewby James Beckett,
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School - Despair Arc
In the time before the world was plunged into Junko Enoshima's war of all-encompassing darkness, Hope's Peak High School stands as a beacon of exceptionalism, where the best of the best go to hone their talents and abilities. Hajime Hinata isn't the most exceptional student, but he believes in the promise of Hope's Peak enough to enroll in their predatory courses, where he desperately dreams of one day being allowed to join the ranks of the Ultimate High Schoolers. This desperation of Hajime's will eventually push both him and the rest of the Hope's Peak Students into the scheming arms of Junko Enoshima, who wants nothing more than to lead all of mankind in to the ultimate despair.
There are a couple of potentially confusing aspects of this series that should be addressed right off the bat: Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School is the final part in the trilogy (plus side materials) that forms Danganronpa's primary story arc. While Danganronpa 1 was adapted into an anime, Danganronpa 2 never was, so viewers would have to play that game to make any sense of this anime. Also, Danganronpa 3 is not to be confused with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, which is the third video game (ignoring remakes and one spinoff game) in the series that was released in English just last year. Both Danganronpa 3 and Danganronpa V3 are very good, but they have almost nothing to do with one another because Danganronpa V3 takes place in a separate canon from the Hope's Peak Academy stuff.
It also bears mentioning that Danganronpa 3 is actually made up of two separate series that aired concurrently with one another. This release covers the Despair Arc, a prequel series that shows everything that led up to "The Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History", which set the fates of the Hope's Peak students into motion. But the other half of the story is found in the Future Arc, which is the sequel series that gives closure to the ultimate fates of the Hope's Peak students who fought back against Junko's machinations over the past several games. The intended viewing order of Danganronpa 3 is actually to watch one episode of the Future Arc, and then an episode of the Despair Arc, and so on and so forth until the entire story has been completed.
If all that sounds a little complicated, that's because it is. While I personally admire this idiosyncratic method of execution, it also means that this Blu-Ray set only makes up half the story, and releasing the Future Arc separately makes experiencing Danganronpa 3 in its intended viewing order pretty inconvenient. But it wouldn't be Danganronpa without this kind of wild ambition. Over the years, series writer Kazutaka Kodaka has crafted a complex storyline filled with some of the most bizarre-yet-weirdly-lovable characters around. In this final curtain call for the Hope's Peak gang, the crew at Studio Lerche obviously had a lot of fun bringing this wacky world to life. What the Despair Arc such a treat is that we get to wind things back and finally see what set the world so topsy-turvy for the first time, without the obfuscation of Monokuma's half-truths and the general confusion caused by gleaning scraps of information in the middle of a Killing Game. Just by offering to answer some long-standing questions about how Junko Enoshima got her master plan of despairful societal collapse rolling, the Despair Arc is an exciting proposition for any fan of Danganronpa.
It also means we get an opportunity to spend more time with the cast of Danganronpa 2, some of the most endearing and engaging characters in the entire franchise. Even when some of the episodes seem to be killing time leading up to the bigger reveals, it's always a good time hanging out with the lovable Chiaki, the mysterious Nagito, the badass punk Ibuki, and so on. The handful of new characters also do well here, even if they can't quite stand toe-to-toe with favorites from the games. The Ultimate Animator, Ryota Mitarai, plays a surprisingly important role in the fate of Hope's Peak Academy, and a boxer named Juzo Sakakura becomes a source of a surprising amount of pathos. My personal favorite of the new additions was Chisa Yukizome, the Ultimate Housekeeper who ends up becoming the homeroom teacher of Danganronpa 2's 77th class. Of all the new characters introduced in both iterations of Danganronpa 3, Chisa serves as an important emotional and narrative lynchpin for the story, and I enjoyed seeing the strange places the story ended up taking her.
Thankfully, Funimation managed to assemble many of the original game's cast members for this animated reunion, which should make game fans feel both cozier and more apprehensive when watching these well-meaning weirdos slip closer and closer to the doom that is Junko Enoshima. Both new and old cast members do a great job in this dub; Johnny Yong Bosch turns in a reliably sturdy performance as Hajime Hinata, and Colleen Clinkenbeard does an excellent turn as the optimistic and genuinely caring Chisa. Christine Marie Cabanos also stands out reprising her role as Chiaki, securing her place as a fan favorite with an emotional and affecting performance in some of Danganronpa 3's most pivotal scenes.
We can't talk about the Despair Arc without talking about Junko herself, who gets plenty of time in the spotlight and milks that for all its worth. It's easy to see why Junko quickly became one of the most popular characters in anime fandom so quickly. This demonic diva has all of the charisma and mad genius that people look for in a great villain, and the way she adopts multiple voices and personalities to get her dark work done makes her eminently entertaining as an antagonist. She gets some of the juiciest scenes she's ever had to work with in this series, and Jamie Marchi does an excellent job of selling her theatrical brand of evil in the dub.
As far as Funimation's Blu-Ray release goes, Danganronpa 3: Despair Arc lives up to the standards of the franchise. The series' limited artwork and animation were never going to look spectacular, but the high-definition transfer lets the series' aesthetics shine as much as possible. This is also a good series to be able to watch uncensored, especially in the case of one pivotal episode that gets really bloody. The Japanese and English audio tracks are solid, and the music of franchise composer Masafumi Takada remains as infectious as ever. We also get some lighthearted commentary tracks from the dub's ADR directors, as well as various cast members.
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School: Despair Arc is not for the uninitiated, but those who want to spend a little more time in the world of Hope's Peak Academy will likely not be disappointed. Even if some of the big answers aren't quite as satisfying as they could have been, the Despair Arc of Danganronpa 3 is filled with humor, heart, and horror that can easily stand up to what the games have to offer (even if the actual animation of the series is modest at best). Combined with the Future Arc, Danganronpa 3 is a satisfying and thrilling conclusion to one of gaming's greatest and weirdest sagas. If you love the franchise, this expansion of Danganronpa's world is worth adding to your collection; just make sure to watch the Future Arc alongside it.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Wonderful cast of characters, Junko Enoshima is an excellently twisted villain, great English dub, unique structural interplay with the Future Arc
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