So let me tell you about a little game series called Danganronpa, and how much of a complete pain in the rear it is to actually enjoy it.
If you ask most people what “Danganronpa” is, they’ll say, “Are you having a stroke? Do you need me to call an ambulance?” If you were to ask me, an educated individual, I would say that they’re two excellent visual novels for PS4, PC, and some strange device that I’m pretty sure doesn’t actually exist called the PS Vita. In them, 16 high school students are trapped in a location—a school in the first game, a tropical island in the second—which is promptly taken over by an evil teddy bear named Monokuma, who reveals that the only way for the students to escape is to kill another student and get away with it. If that dangerous delinquent manages to slip under everyone else’s radar, Monokuma will kill the other students—but if the killer is caught, the player gets to see Monokuma “punish” (read: execute) them in a spectacularly ludicrous fashion.
If that sounds a bit grisly to you, well…these things are rated M for a reason, y’know.
In terms of actual gameplay, you play as one of these students and you have to solve these inevitable murders in a manner not entirely dissimilar from the Ace Attorney games. The key difference is that rather than simply press a button to throw evidence in people’s faces, you have to play through a series of varyingly irritating minigames that range from aggressively clicking on subtitles to snowboarding (somehow).
But these games aren’t really games, they’re Visual Novels, so the main point of them isn’t to snowboard but to read. And it’s some good reading! The uniquely horrifying situation that the characters are thrust into allows for them to show off and evolve their personalities in engaging ways, which in turn means that each death is always shocking, and of course there’s an overarching mystery that always kept me on my toes. But the one thing that really ties everything together is Monokuma.
If Barney the dinosaur and Jigsaw had a secret love affair, Monkuma would be the unholy demon knocking at their door 15 years later demanding money. He’s somehow affable, terrifying, hilarious, and cruel all at once. He breaks the fourth wall even as he breaks our heroes’ spirits.
So basically: the games are good! And this is where a rational person would expect me to recommend that you go to Steam or the PlayStation Store or whatever to buy them. But unfortunately, while you might be perfectly sane, developer Spike Chunsoft is completely loony. After you play the first two games, you might think to yourself, “Gee, that game was killer! I can’t wait to play the next one!” Woah there, buckaroo. You don’t know what you got yourself into.
For starters, you’re already behind, because there’s this little book called Danganronpa Zero that supposedly has some important information about the overarching story. I wouldn’t know for certain, because that novel never got an English adaptation, and the only language I can read is the one you’re reading right now. As far as Spike Chunsoft is concerned, it’s your own dang fault for not knowing Japanese.
But that book is the exception, rather than the rule, so let’s focus on the stuff that English-speakers can actually enjoy without having to learn things. The Dango Bango series has no less than three things that qualify as the third game in the series:
There’s Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. This is the third game strictly in the literal sense; that title has too many words, but two of them are “another episode”, which at least hints at the fact that this is a different somehow. And it is: this one fills in the gaps between the first two games, which ordinarily would make it a guaranteed buy for a lore fanatic like me, but…it’s not a visual novel. No, it’s a third-person shooter, and if reviews are anything to go by, not a tremendously good one. Add in that it’s $10 more than the “real” games for a seemingly arbitrary reason, and it’s not hard to see why I’m holding off on it for now.
Well, if a game with “Another Episode” in the title is a spin-off, surely a game with the number 3 in the title is the third game? Well, it is! Except it isn’t. Glare condescendingly at Dangonronpa V3: Killing Harmony; this is the third Django Rango visual novel, and it has everything that you would want from one: Monokuma, a nice heaping helping of new characters to die off like flies, and lots of reading. But it’s the start of a whole new trilogy, rather than a culmination of the first two games’ stories. If you want the real “third game”, you have to look away from Steam, away from the PlayStation Store, and away from video games entirely because guess what?
The product titled Danganronpa 3—the culmination of the first trilogy—is an anime. And for that matter, attempting to watch it was the single most infuriating experience in my admittedly short career as a weaboo.
On the surface, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School is an extremely inventive show. It’s split into two arcs: a “Future” arc, where a largely original cast of characters have to deal with Monokuma popping up out of nowhere again, and a “Despair” arc, which is a prequel to every game in the series. These arcs aired alternatively—that is, Episode 1 of the Future arc was the first episode shown, then episode one of Despair, then Episode 2 of Future, then Episode 2 of Despair, and so on. This is a very inventive gimmick that reminds me of one of my favorite books, Holes. I just wish it wasn’t so much of a pain in the ass to actually watch the friggin’ thing.
Based on my Ultimate Internet Skills, I was able to discern that the only way a citizen of the Donald Trump Empire like myself could watch the show was through Funimation, but I could apparently watch it for free. I had recently watched a little bit of My Hero Academia and Mob Psycho 100 through that service, so I figured I would be able to watch it without a problem.
I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
For starters, the Funimation app on PS3—the only device that is regularly plugged into my TV that also has the app—is a clunky, infuriating, glitchy exercise in pure rage. The UI often leaves me guessing as to what exactly I have highlighted. Videos almost always stutter. It is often up to luck whether I can get a video to play at all, and not just 20 million ads in a row for Sprint or State Farm. Subtitles are mistimed and do not reflect what is coming out of my speakers. The app demands that I use their slow, unresponsive keyboard to type massive Japanese words like “Dangonronpa” rather than the PS3’s built-in keyboard. Basically, it’s annoying, but naturally Django Rodeo Three only gets worse.
See, DR3 is a manly, mature show for manly mature people, and it is a big no-no to even think about even possibly letting some little youngn’s watch it. So naturally, DR3 is behind an age gate, and naturally this age gate requires an account. Never mind that the anime adaptation of the first game can be watched without any problems.
So I had to turn off my PS3, open my laptop, give my email to the diabolical overlords at Funimation and otherwise sign away yet another part of my soul to the internet, then close my laptop and launch Funimation on my PS3. Then, I simply had to use that app’s obscenely clunky keyboard to punch in my credentials one slow character at a time—but finally, I could watch the conclusion of the Dangonronpa story!
Except I couldn’t, because any scrub who claims to be a 13-year-old can make an account, and the idea of someone who doesn’t at least claim to be 18 watching the worst the service has to offer is enough to send Funimation’s lawyers running for the hills. In order to watch TV-MA shows, you have to click a little flag in the options menu to show that the idea of anime characters murdering each other graphically is something that you have no problem subjecting yourself to. But because this is Funimation, they of course had to make this difficult, so naturally that particular option is nowhere to be found in the PS3 app, and I had to crack open my laptop yet again.
After that incredibly obtuse process, I finally got to watch the show. But my frustration was only just beginning. As mentioned, the show is split into two “arcs”—one in the future, and one in the past. When the show was aired, it alternated between the two, starting in the future. However, Funimation must not have received that memo. See, on their website, the “Despair” and “Future” arcs are listed separately, as if each were its own separate season. This is not the case. In order to watch the show as intended, you have to watch a “Future” episode, back out, go into the “Despair” arc’s menu, and select the next episode, before repeating the process for the next “Future” episode. Of course, you have to do this while struggling with one of the glitchiest, most unresponsive video streaming apps I’ve ever seen, and of course you have to alternate for all 24 episodes. This of course assumes that you even know to alternate to begin with, because this is only revealed if you just happen to have the idea to Google “Dangonronpa 3 viewing order” before Funimation’s broken viewing order spoils the show for you.
Nonetheless, I looked past those issues and proceeded to watch the show. I decided to watch the dubbed version, because I am a filthy weeb who chose English voices when I was playing the games, and for all of my other complaints Funimation is usually nothing short of fantastic at its actual job of dubbing these weird Japanese cartoons. But they somehow managed to screw that up too.
The thing is, by its own merits, the dub of D3 is perfectly fine, maybe even great. But it really seems like Funimation could not be bothered to play previous games in the series, because the show is oozing with inconsistencies.
In the games, each character has an “Ultimate” ability, such as “Ultimate Mechanic” or “Ultimate Martial Artist”. This is one of the core tenets of the franchise, and something that is mentioned in dialogue very frequently. But this word is not in the vocabulary of whoever wrote the script of this dub, so instead the characters are endlessly repeating the words “Super High-School Level” instead. So where Kazuichi is called the “Ultimate Mechanic” in D2, he’s called the “Super High-School Level Mechanic” instead. That is not a title. That is a tongue-twister worthy of a cheap children’s activity book.
It doesn’t end there. Characters are referred to by their surnames, not their first names. I understand and appreciate that this is normal for Japanese people, but the fact remains that this is inconsistent with the first two video games in the series. There is no reason why characters should suddenly switch from calling someone “Makoto” to calling that same person “Naegi” without any explanation. I feel like I was being asked to relearn the names of characters I had already spend dozens of hours reading about.
Worst of all, The voice acting is infuriatingly inconsistent. All of the actual actors are clearly talented, but only a few of the actual voice actors from the games return, with most of the cast being replaced by soundalikes. Now, this is a series with dozens of equally important characters, so it’s not hard to imagine that hunting down over two dozen voice actors after they had finished their job would be a tall order. But even with that in mind...how could they screw up Monokuma?
The single most egregious problem with the dub is that Monkuma sounds absolutely nothing like how he does in the games. In games, his voice is high-pitched and almost cute, creating a sharp and engaging disconnect with his vile and merciless personality. In the anime, he speaks with a deep, menacing growl that makes him seem interchangeable with any one of dozens of generic fictional criminal masterminds. They even replaced his trademark “Puhuhu” laugh with a generic “Nyuk-nyuk-nyuknyuk”! Given that most of the dub is actually rather good at either finding the original voice actors or convincing soundalikes, why did they not even try to capture the personality of the one person who is the face of the franchise!?!
Oh, and Gundham Tanaka’s last name is pronounced “TAH-nah-kah” in the anime, when it was pronounced “Tuh-nah-ka” in the game, and the name of the franchise’s most significant setting was arbitrarily changed from “Hope’s Peak Academy” to “Hope’s Peak High School”. Just...come on, Funimation. I’ve watched the dub of Fullmetal Alchemist. I know you’re better than this.
But all of these issues were surmountable. Annoying and infuriating, sure, but I’ve dealt with annoying apps and inconsistent sequels in the past. But then Funimation decided to reveal one last trick up its sleeve: only the first four episodes of D3 are free to watch. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have a problem with service providers demanding money in exchange for services—I am an American capitalist pig, after all—but I could not find any sign that most of the season is exclusive to subscribers until I had watched a sixth of the show. Most shows on the app and website have a little icon over each relevant episode that reads “SUBSCRIBE”, but whatever merciless sociopath is in charge of Funimation’s website and app seemed to forget to add that little icon for Dangonronpa 3.
So basically, after having to fight to watch one show every step of the way, and basically being lied to about my ability to invest myself in that one show, I was being told to fork over money for the privilege of fighting for 20 more episodes. Yeah, no.
As if to rub salt in the wound, the home video release of the show is also split into the two arcs, making each individual release effectively worthless on its own (it also costs nearly $100, but why would an anime ever be cheap?).
At the end of the day, I am conflicted. I don’t want to go for a free trial for Funimation, because that would involve giving my credit card information to the most infuriating streaming service I have ever used. I don’t want to pirate it, not just because that is very much a Bad Thing To Do, but because I don’t trust myself to not accidentally download a virus. On the off-chance that I go crazy and splurge on the blu-rays, I would be out over $100 for one dang(onronpa) show I probably won’t ever watch again.
The ironic thing about all this? I don’t even like Dragon Romper Tree that much, at least so far. The pacing is off, the characters are all obnoxious flanderizations of their past selves, and they couldn’t even be bothered to even try to get the most important character’s voice right. Oh, and the last episode ended with them killing off one of my favorite characters, so it practically feels like a personal insult.
It seems that, after two full games lasting over 50 hours total, I have finally given into despair.