Danganronpa: Hope Versus Despair and How These Themes Translate into Real Life

By Katya Manukyan

Hope and despair: two starkly different ideologies, both of which can describe the human experience in a variety of ways. Respectively, they represent the concepts of good and evil on a theoretical moral compass that society has deemed agreeable. Danganronpa, a multimedia franchise created by Kazutaka Kodaka and developed by Spike Chunsoft Inc., utilizes these ideas as its prevalent themes, serving as the basis for the plotline of this story. The series seeks to identify what hope and despair look like in an exaggerated manner, achieving this through the depiction of the extremes of either side of this spectrum.

The main premise of the franchise follows a pattern of events that all lead up to a mutual killing game amongst a group of teenagers. The individual provoking these horrendous acts and entrapping the students in the school is a small bear mascot named Monokuma. He himself represents the division between humanities morality, visually depicted in a more palatable design of black and white. Monokuma is the symbol of despair itself and is the catalyst for the killing games that force the teenagers to question their own values as they decide between living lives of altruism or egoism. Throughout the series, several students are shown to have succumbed to persuasion in the forms of money, power, success, and even simple survival. These strings of hope that the teenagers so desperately cling to are the cause of their vulnerability, yet they are punished for seeking out these impulsive desires. The nature of the game and the motives provided to invoke bloodlust among the participants are made to inflate the egos of the easily malleable and convince them that they truly can find happiness if they fight for it. This is similar to the temptations that surround society in the real world. Promises of money and power plague the airwaves and billboards, feeding an internal struggle between morals and yearning for success. It is precisely these kinds of people that these advertisements target. This is reflected within the game: each motive provided by Monokuma aims to invoke certain emotions within the teenagers that would push them to murder classmates for the sake of these feelings. This sick game pits human emotions against one another and showcases the lengths people will go to for their own selfish aspirations… even if it means sacrificing the lives of those around them. 

Monokuma

 As the games go on, the bonds between the participants fluctuate as feelings of betrayal and skepticism overtake those of trust and friendship, and vice versa. With every murder, a class trial is held to provide the opportunity for students to identify the culprit of each case. If they vote incorrectly, everyone aside from the culprit will be punished by death. This means their conclusions must be unanimous as well as correct to ensure their survival. The trials often result in shocking revelations and the unravelling of the relationships built between peers as they uncover the truth and motives behind the deaths of their friends. If they vote incorrectly, everyone aside from the culprit will be punished by death. This means their conclusions must be unanimous as well as correct to ensure their survival. The game itself can be regarded as a metaphor for society: how people will gladly use others as stepping stones to reach what they so hopelessly seek. They will do this in order to fill their need for self-satisfaction in a world that caters to the top 1% of the population. The ideologies set upon individuals from childhood teach them that this world is one in which the only person they can trust is themself: their life is their own, and if they do not meet a certain standard of success they have failed. The fear of losing everything for the sake of others eats away at people, causing them to spiral into despair. This is precisely the goal set in mind by Monokuma, who craves entertainment through watching the deterioration of society at the hands of infatuation towards the suffocating sensation of winning. Many characters in these games exhibit severe signs of anxiety and depression, developing and worsening over time as the reality of their situation sets in for them. Some characters began to distrust their surroundings, thus making them believe that everyone was out to get them. KilIing someone else first to escape started to become the better option. Some became tired of living in this world overrun with despair and were easily led along by the empty promises of Monokuma regarding their motives. Winning this game seemed like their only way out of this dire situation. Though these emotions reach an extreme level in the context of this killing game, feelings of anxiety and depression due to fears of failure and despair are very common in our society. They cause many people to feel at a loss. The feelings further increase their chances of grasping for anything that can keep them afloat, regardless of the cost. 

Although this fictional world carries higher stakes than what is seen in the real world, the manifestations of this fabricated universe can be linked to the daily lives of regular people. The mindset many people have when given a task is that success is the only path towards happiness. They have hope that their hard work will pay off and that everything will work out. However, the lingering possibility of failure can cause others to feel despair when this task is brought to their attention. The idea that everything could come crashing down and that all their effort could amount to nothing is a burden that many people shoulder throughout their lives, which stems from the continuous conditioning placed on them as they grow older. To be happy is to succeed, to be hopeful, and to have something to look forward to. To fail is to lose everything and fall into despair. The same principles are shown in Danganronpa, albeit in a more intense setting. With each class trial comes a risk that relies on how well the participants can cooperate in order to find and condemn the killer. It is ironic that the disparity of the situation they are put into is also what drives them to seek out hope and fight to escape the game. But in the end, the world around them is in ruins and truly unrecoverable; the only hope they can foster is one of uncertainty that can only bloom in the arms of solidarity and perseverance. To live and be happy is to succeed, whereas to fail and die is to despair. These are the fundamental elements to this game and they represent the standard belief that people must accomplish their goals in order to live a worthwhile life. 

The conflicting themes of hope and despair in the Danganronpa franchise translate into the real world in a variety of ways and have proven to reside in everyone due to the smothering mold people are placed in from birth. This game is a fair, albeit extreme, representation of how easy it is to manipulate the human psyche into turning away from established beliefs once given the incentivizing reward of materialistic things and self-serving freedom. The participants of the killing game were forced to question and redefine the meaning of hope and despair within themselves to break the murderous cycle and survive. This parallels the real world: in order to escape the fear of failure, society must question and redefine its own meaning of hope and despair.