Danganronpa 2: Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair, Vol. 1

By Spike Chunsoft and Kyousuke Suga. Released in Japan by Mag Garden, serialized in the magazine Beat’s. Released in North America by Dark Horse. Translated by Jackie McClure.

I tried to play the first DR game, but never got far due to frustration over a “gatcha” system giving you random pointless things. In other words, a typical game experience. I do know enough about the franchise, though, to know that the second in the series was more popular than the first, at least over here. As such, licensing the manga seems like a lock. That said, I think that once again this is a manga to read if you’ve already played the games – there’s very little help given to the newbie reader, and the character introductions come fast and furious. Given the large cast, and the complete lack of holdovers from the last game/manga (mostly), it’d normally be hard to get a handle on who we should be following. The player character is clearly Hajime Hinata, a weird fusion of Naegi and Kirigiri from the first series, but being a player character he’s pretty blank and dull. So the manga focuses instead on Nagito Komaeda, who… isn’t.

Danganronpa 2 takes place on an uncharted desert island, where the cast wake up after being in school previkously. They’re supposedly led by a rabbit bascot named Usami, but Monokuma quickly takes over by force and decides to restart the usual killing games. Quite how Monokuma’s mastermind is alive after the last game is not clear, but oh well. Everyone tries to make the best of it with a party, but midway through the power cuts out, and when the lights come back on, oh look, somebody’s stabbed. It’s Byakuya Togami who… seems different from the last time we saw him, and also a lot heavier. OK, frankly, the discerning reader knows it’s NOT Byakuya Togami, but as to why someone is impersonating him… we don’t really find that out either. There are very few answers in this book, but a lot of setup, and a lot of Komaeda. The conceit of this manga is that it’s from Komaeda’s “POV”.

Komaeda is a piece of work, and reminds me quite a bit off Izaya Orihara from the DRRR!! series. He says that he’s trying to prove that hope exists in a world of despair, but seems to want to accomplish this by getting everyone around him to despair and see if someone manages to beat him. He has a lot of “laughing crazy” faces too, as well as a heap of bromantic tension with Hajime. As for the rest of the class, so far there aren’t many standouts. One tanned athletic girl gives me memories of Aoi Asahina. There’s a nurse whose personality and looks are reminiscent of Hinata from Naruto, though Hinata never quite fell and exposed herself quite the way Mikan does constantly. (This seems to be a fanservicey running gag, and it’s awful, frankly. DR is still written for teenage boys in Japan, no matter how much ho yay may be in it.) And there’s a gamer girl who may be the Kirigiri to Hajime’s Naegi. But yeah, mostly still a faceless mass.

I believe this series is only three volumes in Japan, so I’m not expecting much in terms of coherence. That said, if you like Komaeda, it’s an easy purchase. He is all over this manga, and he is dramatic as fuck. Which is all the player wants, really.

Danganronpa: The Animation, Vol. 1

By Spike Chunsoft and Takashi Tsukimi. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

I have made my opinions on the glut of ‘survival game’ manga well known by now, I hope. In general, if you’re writing a survival game manga, you need a lot to keep me interested, as teens locked in a school and killed off one by one has zoomed WAY past vampires and sadistic shoujo boyfriends in the things I avoid sweepstakes. And yet sometimes I do hear so much about a title that I feel the need to check it out anyway. Such a title is Danganronpa, which was originally a game and then got adapted to an anime. The manga wears on its sleeve that it’s adapting the anime and not the game, which is likely why it’s only 4 volumes instead of the 9-10 I’d expect otherwise. That said, what makes Danganronpa stand out?


Well, for starters it’s far more overdramatic than the usual glumness I’ve seen from survival game manga before. Monokuma, the bear lurking in the background on the cover, seems to be both the manga’s mascot and its villain. He’s a ludicrously cruel and over the top figure, making bear puns as he gleefully executes people. He’s just a lot of fun, and stands out in particular because the rest of the cast of students are stereotypes, many deliberately so. Our hero is the average “player character” type, we get the jock, the idol, the fashion plate, the overweight otaku, etc. With a cast like this, that sort of shorthand is necessary as you’ll know at a glance what they’re like and how they’ll react. Plus, of course, the cast starts getting killed off fairly quickly, so you don’t have to remember all of them.

The other interesting aspect of this title is the trial sequence. Basically the kids are told they can escape the school if they kill someone – but they have to get away with it. There’s a trial, and if the killer isn’t found, the rest of the cast will get punished. Of course, the killer is found, as our hero is very good at deductions, and is helped out by a stoic girl who seems to be a detective, and I suspect may be a love interest except this is one of those series where everyone tends to die, so I won’t commit to that just yet. And the kids aren’t complete sociopaths either, mostly killing out of terror and fear of blackmail. I was also amused at how easy it was to solve the first murder’s ‘written in blood’ clue, and the manga must have agreed with me, as the cast also figures it out immediately.

This is a title that’s pretty much marketed to fans of the gmae or anime, and they should find it quite enjoyable. If you haven’t seen either, it’s still pretty good, keeping in mind the usual irritations of the genre. The comedy and dramatics help make that less of a poison pill this time around, though.