Ink & Paint: Junko Enoshima Has Won

Ever encounter a series that you've enjoyed every entry of, even the ones that seem to be a bit too different from the previous entries, until one comes along that just takes all of that goodwill and curb stomps it?

Cuz that is exactly what I'm going through with Danganronpa right now.

(Take warning now - to articulate what bothers me, I'm going to be spoiling a LOT, from the new anime to the games. So leave if you're afraid of being spoiled. This goes for the DR3 anime, at least through the 5th episodes of each arc; if I missed anything from there out, I stopped watching & can catch up via reviews/the wiki entry.)

I loved the games. Even though the trials' rhythm game elements were infuriatingly tough for me (not a genre I'm good at) and Absolute Despair Girls was a third-person shooter, their stories & characters sucked me into this weird, twisted universe. Even the worst of them likability-wise were at least entertaining, and thanks to after-game stuff, no one felt one-dimensional.

The new anime sounded interesting - simultaneously wrapping up the main story centered around Hope's Peak Academy & its related cast while filling in the blanks connected to DR2's cast.  But the designs for the new characters should have been a red flag - with a few exceptions, they looked very same-y and very much like the generic idea of a "cool" anime character. What's more, the dominant coloring for these new designs - and their connected series - was various shades of army drab.  Compared to the colorful and vividly unique designs from the games, it just seemed dull and disconnected.  But it's Danganronpa, so how bad could it be?

When I started watching, there were a few characters who had promise - Seiko the nervous pharmacist who seemed very fragile but was shown to be a fierce fighter when needed, Bandai was cheerful & friendly despite everyone inexplicably hating his high-pitched voice & malapropisms (probably also didn't help him he was the only black guy), the older chairman was the only time an authority figure in this series seemed honest & sensible, and the best of the bunch, the Great Gozu, a boisterous & honorable wrestler who wears his cow mask with a three-piece suit. Outside of the returning characters, they are the only ones whose names stuck with me. Cuz they were the only likable new additions, and they are all dead.

Who's left?  Well, there's Sword Asshole, the leader of the crew & the clear writers' favorite; he's so obsessed with killing all sources of despair that he's willing to pretty much kill everyone.  Since he's so favored by the writers, he takes up a lot of screen time, and any efforts to portray him as anything else than a brooding maniac ring incredibly false since they are so (a) cliche and (b) badly done at that.  Also, his design is a straight up clone of Persona 4's player character.  His right-hand man is Punchy Asshole, a boxing expert who is the absolute worst of the bunch.  He gets his own damn paragraph, since he is absolutely key to the kind of missteps that are so off-putting.  There's their shared morality pet/love interest, Fridge Maid; she gets some added development in the Despair side, but it isn't enough to negate her shallow gimmick (she's Ultimate Housekeeper?!) or that, as my nickname suggests, she is the first to die.  Any narrative insistence that the Asshole Brothers are not assholes comes largely from her, not from anything we actually see them doing.  Then there's the loving couple of Stabby Joe (who never speaks but is quick to pull knives on everyone, all while wearing Vash's old coat) and Candy Womanchild (who takes it as a personal insult that Seiko is fatally allergic to sugar & thus won't eat her sweets); they're just really obnoxious in that generic school bully way, but since they're standing & Seiko is not, they're as bad as the Asshole Brothers.  Anyone who saw Wheelchair Girl that played ADG knew what her deal was instantly and was thus not surprised by ~*The Big Reveal*~ about her; she's not a character so much as a really obvious plot device.  Finally, there's the talent scout dude, who reminds me so much of a classmate who was a functional alcoholic through high school that it's kind of scary; he's just boring and unfunny.

(Oh, and Ultimate Animator. He's just a scared little rabbit who exists largely to give the Ultimate Imposter both a new role to assume in the Despair arc & a friend to give them a bit more development.  He's just kind of... there.)

Now, if all of these unlikable new characters stayed in the Future arc, I'd be fine. But because the writers seem to ~loooove~ these new guys so much, they're all over the Despair arc like ants in the sugar bowl.  It worked out okay with Fridge Maid - she gets a lot of good development as the erstwhile homeroom teacher of our DR2 kids - but everyone else (except maybe Seiko & the chairman) just becomes that much worse.  Candy Womanchild is the worst kind of mean girl, her boyfriend is still a blandly violent cipher, the scout is still a blase alkie, and Sword Asshole is just a device for vague conspiracy stuff. But the worst - the absolute fuck-this-shit-I'm-out worst - is Punchy Asshole.  The entire transformation of Hajime into Izuru and thus Junko's power over the DR2 kids & rise to power is wholly his fault.  Instead of "protecting" Hajime, as Punchy Asshole claimed, he just nearly beat him into a coma & mocked his lack of "talent", undoing all of the good the influence of Chiaki's friendship & the chairman's guidance did to make him feel good with himself.  Way to go, Punchy Asshole - you just helped Junko destroy society.

And the worst part? There will be no satisfying narrative comeuppance to this.

The killing game in this series has no executions, so seeing these unlikable new jerks get their just desserts isn't likely.  From what spoilers I've heard from stronger souls who kept watching, they're actively walking back the melancholy-but-still-optimistic ending of DR2 thanks to the need to "build" the new characters more.  There is a strong feeling that, in a franchise that was built on trying to find justice for fallen friends in an unfair world & fight back against it with the sheer force of hopefulness, there will be no justice, no fairness, not even a glimmer of positivity or optimism.  This is where Danganronpa as a series is going to go from here on, and it is into a self-defeating pit of hatefulness, unsympatheticness, and, well, despair.

Despair into tomorrow.  Despair into your memories.  Despair into nothingness.

Despair into no longer watching and being actively afraid if the fourth game will be more of this instead of the stuff that actually was fun.

There have been a few series I enjoyed in this past year that I actively dipped on because they had new entries that were off-putting.  I loved the carefree world of Aikatsu! but because Aikatsu Stars introduced one of those unbearable shoujo romances where the main love interest is an utter bully to the heroine, I bailed.  I drifted from Precure after a strong season because while Maho Gilrs Precure isn't actively bad, it's just monotonous and feels very skippable & like the franchise has largely run its course.  And right now, Marvel Comics is taking a heroine I like (one that they're going to intro into the movies soon) and making her actively unsympathetic & borderline villainous, derailing several of the titles I read regularly as the heroes deal with the fallout of her (mischaracterized) bad decisions.  DC Comics is such a trash pile that I've basically had to give them up entirely.  2016 has been a very good year for very bad entries in very good series and driving me away from them.

So why not add Danganronpa to this kind of depressing list?

EDIT 10/2/16: So I am two things - a pig-headed, temperamental punk and a masochist. So of course, I kept watching DR3. And I'll say this - they managed to fix 90% of the complaints from above.  Between twists I genuinely don't want to spoil because they were legit clever and a truly amazing 11th hour redemption arc for the Asshole Brothers, I have to say that I was being pig-headed, temperamental, and hasty to judge AGAIN.  That said, the finale doesn't really work for me; it felt like they tried to hammer out a happy ending despite this being a franchise that's really not built for them.  It winds back a genuinely heartbreaking moment to get there, while the DR2 kids more or less have to keep being demonized even though they're sincerely cured.  But yeah, it wasn't as much of a garbage fire as the early episodes suggested it would be.  So consider this a mea culpa and a mild recommendation.


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