Reviewby James Beckett,
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School - Future Arc
Following the events of the Danganronpa video games, Makoto Naegi and his surviving classmates from Hope's Peak Academy are being put on trial by the Future Foundation for their involvement in "aiding" the acolytes of the infamous Junko Enoshima, the Remnants of Despair. Even though she's long dead, Junko's reign of despair-inducing terror manages to ensnare Makoto and his friends once more, as the familiar face of Monokuma interrupts the trial to announce that the Hope's Peak survivors and the rest of the Future Foundation will all be participating in one final Killing Game. With enemies on all sides and no escape in sight, will Makoto and his friends be able to outsmart Monokuma and put a stop to the despair once and for all?
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 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. But the other half of the story is found in 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. 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. The Danganronpa franchise has always had a knack for telling stories with as many crazy twists and turns as grisly murders, and Danganronpa 3 is no exception. From the beginning, series writer Kazutaka Kodaka and the crew at Studio Lerche aimed to send the Hope's Peak storyline off with a bang, and Danganronpa 3 certainly succeeds in that regard. However, 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 Despair Arc separately makes experiencing Danganronpa 3 in its intended viewing order pretty inconvenient. Still, if you are up to date with the games and have access to the Despair Arc, then Future Arc provides an exciting, emotional, and mostly sensible finale to a great gaming franchise, albeit in an anime that's slightly hampered by middling production values and occasionally shaky writing.
It's clear that a lot of thought and care went into the final adventure of Makoto Naegi and friends, and the results mostly speak to that effort. The story's primary fault lies with the very nature of its new Killing Game, which doesn't allow for the murder-mystery fun that the precious games delivered. Instead of participating in whodunit mysteries and gripping trials, the Future Foundation members end up in a battle of wits and deception that moves the plot along swiftly at the expense of the goofy mystery and bizarre intrigue that made the franchise famous. A couple of sub-plots end up petering out instead of resolving in a satisfying manner, but the main story moves along so briskly that those loose threads and dead ends are a bit easier to forgive.
On top of that, none of the new Future Foundation members can hold a candle to the casts of previous games, save for a couple major players like the headstrong Juzo Sakakura or the fiercely determined Kyosuke Munakata. The new characters do well enough to serve their purpose as doomed pawns in what could be considered Hope's Peak's long overdue graduation ceremony, but they don't get the opportunity to make a much stronger impression. Still, long-standing mysteries regarding Junko Enoshima, the Remnants of Despair, and the The Biggest, Most Tragic, Most Awful Event in Human History are all solved, and nearly every beloved returning character gets something to do (including my personal favorites, the Ultra Despair Girls). While some elements to this finale don't live up to years' worth of hype and build-up, I still felt satisfied by the time I reached this series' conclusion. If you love the Danganronpa series and want to see the Hope's Peak storyline to its proper conclusion, then Danganronpa 3: Future Arc is definitely worth seeking out, provided you can get your hands on the Despair Arc and hopefully watch them in alternating order.
The results of Funimation's dub work for this series are quite strong. While not every original voice actor from the games was able to reprise their roles, key players like Makoto Naegi and Hajime Hinata did make the transition to animation with their original VAs attached. The new players all do a good job of filling in the gaps (I didn't even notice a couple of the cast changes); Caitlin Glass in particular does an excellent job portraying Kyoko Kirigiri. However, this season is Makoto's show above all else, and Bryce Papenbrook continues to bring the goofy charm and charisma that has made Makoto such an endearing hero over the years. One performance that might nag at longtime fans of the series would be Greg Ayres' take on Monokuma. While he voiced the maniacal ursine for the previous anime adaptation as well, his distinctive timbre sounds very different from the Monokuma of the video game dub by Brian Beacock. Ayres isn't bad, but he's different enough to be distracting, which could be a point of contention for some viewers.
As far as this release is concerned, it does live up to the standards set by the franchise. While this series' animation and artwork is only ever passable at best, the crisp Blu-Ray transfer assures that even the dark and muddy settings of Danganronpa 3 look their best. The Japanese and English audio tracks sound good, and the music of franchise composer Masafumi Takada is as devilishly infectious as always. 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: Future Arc is a mouthful of a title for an ambitious story that accomplishes almost everything it sets out to do. Danganronpa is as unique and entertaining a game series as you can find, and the Hope's Peak storyline deserved a proper sendoff, even if it only got one in anime form. While not perfect, this half of the Danganronpa 3 anime lives up to the series standard of telling a bizarre, violent, and at times downright crazy tale of murder, mayhem, despair, and hope. If you've poured hours and hours of your life into the mad world of Danganronpa, you owe it to yourself to see how the story ends. Just make sure you watch the Despair Arc alongside it.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Thrilling conclusion to the story of Hope's Peak Academy, solid English dub, fun soundtrack, unique structural interplay with the Despair Arc
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