Danganronpa is Still a Nightmare to Navigate in 2020

Between three companies, Danganronpa's concise story appears anything but.

I’ve been covering Spike Chunsoft’s Danganronpa series for a majority of my career in writing about the video game industry, meaning I’ve watched it go from obscure visual novel most people knew from a Something Awful thread to having a strong, worldwide fanbase. And now that the murder mystery series is coming to mobile devices, now seems the perfect time to give newcomers a PSA: Spike Chunsoft, Funimation, and NIS America’s inability to market the series in a ubiquitous fashion means you are about to stumble into the point where shit gets complicated.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is out today on iOS and Android devices, and, if it’s anywhere near the quality of the first entry’s mobile port, an argument could be made that it’s the best version of the game. It’s also my favorite individual game in the series, but over the years I’ve started considering the series a singular story rather than dividing it by individual games. Because despite spanning four games and an anime, Danganronpa’s story never really stops being about the same conflicts and themes, and it makes each entry feel meaningful and imperative.

Between Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School, the series gets in, says what it has to say, then gets out. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the latest game in the series is part of a new, seemingly self-contained continuity that is more of a commentary than a new story. Laying it out like this, it seems manageable enough, right? Well, it turns out, it’s not as simple as it should be, and that’s largely because Funimation, the company that helped bring the series’ anime to the west, and NIS America, the publisher that localized the games, have made these two sides of the series’ continuity feel like two separate entities rather than two pieces of one concise story.

In a vacuum, the series handles its own continuity as best as it’s able given the cross-medium circumstances. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc kicks things off, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair continues the story and themes in an honestly stunning way by the end of it, even as a mystery game where deception requires those connections to be obscured for most of the game. So as of right now, mobile players have yet to deal with any of localization’s tomfoolery. But when they consider what comes next, that’s where I (because no one who makes or translates this franchise will) must inform you that the next game that’s coming to your phone or tablet isn’t the next part of the story.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is coming to mobile devices next, and while it doesn’t have a release date, the uninitiated will naturally assume that it’s the next part of the story. Well, that could not be further from the truth, because not only is Danganronpa V3 not the next installment in the series after Danganronpa 2, it’s not even in the same continuity. So if you’re just starting Danganronpa 2, know that the rest of the story you’re invested in actually isn’t coming to your tablet. Not as a video game, at least.

Here’s the actual timeline of the Danganronpa series as it relates to you, the new fan who is playing these games on your phone without a care in the world:

  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc 
  • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
  • Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls
  • Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

If you’ve seen Spike Chunsoft’s mobile announcement, you’ll notice that two of these pieces of the story aren’t coming to mobile devices. That’s because one of them is a puzzle-shooter spin-off and the other is an anime (no, not the bad adaptation of the first game).

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls isn’t currently coming to mobile. But that makes some sense since it’s an action-oriented spin-off that takes place between Danganronpa 1 and 2 that might not translate to the platform as well as visual novels. Despite being set between the first two games, it’s best experienced after having completed both, as it has implied spoilers for a lot of the twists and turns of the sequel. It also has a specific thread that leads into what follows: Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School, an anime series that acts as both a prequel and sequel to everything that’s come before. It’s also the finale of the story the series had been telling for six years by the point it aired in 2016.

I would like to say that this is the end of the confusion, but that’s where Funimation’s handling of Danganronpa 3 comes in and complicates things further. When the anime aired back in 2016, it was with two “arcs,” or storylines: the Future Arc, the final act of Danganronpa’s story, and the Despair Arc, a prequel used to contextualize characters and relationships seen in Future. These both aired together, with episodes of Future being released on Mondays and Despair episodes following on Thursdays. The show aired and was meant to be viewed in alternating order, meaning you’d watch the first episode of Future, followed by the first episode of Despair, going back and forth between the present and the past to get the full story. In theory, this shouldn’t have been complicated, as most streaming services and box sets would have just sorted them in the order they aired. But not Funimation. 

If you go to Danganronpa 3’s page on Funimation, the series is divided by its two arcs, with the Despair Arc’s first episode being labeled as “episode 1,” despite in actuality being episode 2 of the entire anime. Anyone with no knowledge of the series beforehand would have no idea how the show was meant to be viewed and would proceed to watch the entirety of an out-of-context prequel before seeing any of the actual sequel that is happening in tandem. These dueling stories culminate in a finale called “Hope Arc,” which is, horrifyingly enough, listed as the final episode of the Despair Arc, meaning that anyone who is innocently watching the show as Funimation presented it would stumble into the finale out of context. It’s also worth noting that, despite being one series, Danganronpa 3 is listed as two distinct products on digital storefronts like iTunes, and sold as two separate Blu-ray sets on Funimation’s store.

But once you watch Danganronpa 3, all that’s left is Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, which, as we established, is a brand new story outside of everything that’s come before. But for whatever reason, no one is communicating that to fans outside of Japan, where much of this was being handled and marketed under one umbrella. Spike Chunsoft recently reacquired publishing rights for the series in the west, so maybe there’s an attempt being made to get the series back under one roof where it can be presented as this singular thing rather than being divided across three companies. But short of a new game coming (which, despite Danganronpa V3’s anti-consumerism commentary, seems to be happening), Danganronpa saw the height of its popularity as it was ongoing, and these problems were interfering with its reach and continuity as it was rolling out. The series has had a few upticks, including one of its main characters becoming a TikTok sensation, but now that it’s available on mobile devices where more people can play it, it’s apparent that the series’ distribution is more fractured than ever.

Despite the outside perception that Danganronpa is a wacky, nonsensical, bloody spectacle of a murder mystery, at its core there is something more thematically cohesive than most video game franchises ever manage, all culminating in an ending that lets it die on its own terms. But after changing hands so many times, and at least one of the companies involved handling it with so little care it couldn’t be bothered to put its episodes in order, Danganronpa’s own confident understanding of itself has been missing in its western rollout, and even this many years removed, that hasn’t been addressed by people with the power to fix it.