Somehow, someway I’ve allowed myself to become addicted to another series, a series that I’ve been trying to avoid for so long. I can’t escape from the Dang ‘Ol Ropes. Can’t block out the Dangit Grandpas. Can’t resist that Darling Roomba. With as many ways to say it as Benedict Cumberbatch’s name, Dangan Ronpa has taken the internet by its throat and has refused to let go until we’re all in a state of delicious despair.
The quirky series takes place at the esteemed Hope’s Peak Academy, famous for its students being the hope of the nation and continuing on to something amazing after their graduation. To be invited to the academy means that you’re truly amazing at something, a personification of a certain feat. This extraordinary skill level is helpfully called one’s “Super High School Level”. However, protagonist Makoto Naegi doesn’t feel very special. His super high school level is “Super High School Level Good Luck”, which means he was chosen at random from every student in Japan to attend. After gathering the courage to walk inside the academy, Naegi is suddenly faced with a blackout. When he comes to, he finds he’s in the building without recollection of how he got to the desk he was sleeping on. Investigating the halls, he comes face to face with the other fourteen students of Hope’s Peak Academy who also have no recollection of how they got inside the building. Not the best way to start the first day of school.
Luckily for them, their benevolent headmaster is here to set things straight. Unluckily for them, their headmaster is a small, bi-colored teddy bear with a filthy mouth and a strange sense of humor. After a short discussion, this bear, called Monobear, makes two things clear: first, the students are not allowed to leave—rather, they don’t hold the ability to break out of— the academy, and second, violence against the headmaster will not be tolerated as Monobear seems to explode when attacked.
With this charming set-up, Monobear tells the students what they want to know: the way to leave the academy. It’s simple, really, all they have to do is kill someone and get away with it. If they can do that, they’ll be able to “graduate” from Hope’s Peak. However, it’s not as simple as killing someone and then simply remaining silent. When three students find a body, they must perform an investigation of the crime scene, after which they must hold a trial to determine the killer. If the correct culprit is chosen, that culprit gets “detention”, a harsh punishment, but if the incorrect culprit is chosen the real culprit gets to “graduate” while everyone else gets “detention”. With suspicions high and word of a mole among their ranks, there’s a lot at stake in this new look at the classic murder mystery genre.
I have to be honest with you: this isn’t exactly a manga. Dangan Ronpa is a visual novel available for the PSP (titled: Dangan Ronpa: Kibou no Gakuen to Zetsubou no Koukousei or Dangan Ronpa: Academy of Hope and High School Students of Despair). The reason I chose to put this as a Manga Mondays is that 1) I think the visual novel genre of video games is close enough to a manga to warrant it, but mostly 2) that the way many people have been exposed to this series is in a manga-like format. Currently on the Something Awful forums there is an archive of the Let’s Play of this game. What makes this different from other Let’s Plays is that the only video parts are when “detentions” occur and during the trials, the rest of the Let’s Play is comprised of screenshots and translations. This gives the feeling that one is reading something more like a manga than sitting through a game.
orenronen, the one responsible for the entire project, has obviously put a lot of time and effort into making sure their screenshots show all they need to and that their translations are perfect, despite neither Japanese nor English being their first language. From this perspective, their accomplishments are truly astounding and something to be lauded for.
If you have an itching to read through this despair-filled series, take a visit to the Something Awful forums and experience it for yourself (and it is something that needs to be experienced). I’ll leave you with two warnings, though, this first being the most important. Due to the popularity of this Let’s Play, Something Awful has put up a paywall on the threads.
What this means is that you can’t see the threads unless you own an account, and accounts on Something Awful cost money. Unless you’re willing to shell out ten bucks for their forum (or know someone with an account), you’ll have to wait until the paywall drops which it actually does occasionally. Secondly, when you get to a place where you can read it, don’t read the comments following each part. The “goons” of Something Awful may be trolls, but stupid they are not… sometimes. When they put their minds to it they’re surprisingly deductive, so if you want a spoiler-free experience I’d stay as far away as possible from those user comments. If you can get your hands on the actual game, I would completely recommend playing through it on your own. There’s even word of a translation patch coming out for it, so if you don’t know Japanese but are still interested I’d watch out for that. Whatever it comes down it, I highly recommend looking into Dangan Ronpa: the characters are fantastic and seeing what makes a certain student turn to murder is truly fascinating.