Over and Over and Over Again: Danganronpa V3 and the Unending

*big spoilers for Danganronpa V3, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Rebuild of Evangelion*

There’s this new trend lately. Well, maybe there’s not quite the sample size to call it a trend. But it’s specific enough to take notice.

Final Fantasy VII Remake. Rebuild of Evangelion. The Matrix. Scream? Apparently Scream is in on this trend? Stories are beginning to reflect on their own legacies, and what it means to tell a story again. It’s a question worth asking in an age of endless remakes and remasters, with multiverses looming on the horizon, and I’ve really appreciated this new storytelling direction.

Still, I feel compelled to say a terrible and beautiful truth. Danganronpa did it first.

Yeah, it’s okay. Just accept it.

Okay, maybe, technically, the first few Rebuild movies came out before Danganronpa V3, maybe there are other pieces of media that have addressed this topic (please tell me about them!). But we’re here to talk about Danganronpa V3 and what it means to end something.

DRV3 and The End

An image of DRV3 protagonist Shuichi, with the world End behind him, as he wins the final argument

DRV3 is mostly about ending things. It’s about the dangers of letting something go on too long. The way meaning gets lost in the making of a franchise. About the way society chews up content and cries out, demanding more. The way the market reacts to that demand. What’s the point of doing something again and again and again? Well, that’s what the people want, right?

The game’s about a lot of other things, too, but let’s focus.

Danganronpa doesn’t have the weight of Final Fantasy or these other franchises in the real world. It’s a recognizable series if you’re online, and it has a very dedicated fandom, but it’s niche. But in the world of Danganronpa V3, the series does have that weight. It’s the biggest thing in the world, in fact. This is one of a myriad of ways that V3 actually keeps the fourth wall intact throughout its endgame.

Within the world of DRV3, the first two games and the anime were followed by countless spinoffs and sequels, until it eventually became something close to a reality show. Our protagonists have flesh and blood bodies, but authored backstories and personalities. Their lives, habits, desires, inclinations – they were written by someone else and put into the bodies of volunteers who loved the show enough to kill themselves over it. The cruelty has become the content. It’s become the coping mechanism of a peaceful world.

The finale leaves some room open for interpretation as to whether the mastermind was lying or telling the truth. That’s in line with the thematic interest of DRV3 on truth and lies – that perhaps it only matters what you believe in. But either way you fall on that front, DRV3 is an indictment of the endless call for more, a condemnation of content for the sake of content.

DRV3, FFVIIR, and The End

The cast of Final Fantasy 7 Remake prepare the fight their very destiny

In all the fifty three seasons of DRV3, Junko is the mastermind – or so is implied. Tsumugi’s cosplay version calls herself the fifty-third, at least. Danganronpa is all about the fight between hope and despair. The characters are different, the individual stories are different, but the patterns are the same. Personal betrayal in round one, a serial killer in round two, a senseless double murder in round 3, a sacrifice in round 4, something unknowable in round 5.

It’s familiar, almost comforting. Nothing ever changes in Danganronpa. That’s not what the people of its world want. They want more of the same, but bigger and prettier. They want Final Fantasy VII remade in Unreal Engine, just as it was in 1997.

Of course, that’s not what our world’s Final Fantasy Remake is interested in doing. Or not only what it’s interested in doing. Instead, it fleshes out the world, drawing on years of supplementary material. It gives room for characters to breathe. It seems to be both sequel and remake. And, most pivotally, it includes an element of fate.

Characters die when they’re supposed to. Characters live when they’re supposed to. The plate falls. Whenever a character shows a sign of deviating too far from the intended chain of events, fate itself comes to stop them in the form of spirits. What do they think they’re doing, changing things? We want what we had before. But shinier. You could say that those spirits are the demands of the fandom itself. It’s a pretty straightforward interpretation.

In the world of DRV3, the 53rd season of Danganronpa is the faithful FFVII Remake. The same patterns, the same result, now with real blood, real bodies, real tears on real faces. Danganronpa V3 is Danganronpa again. But shinier. 

The meta elements of Final Fantasy VII Remake were controversial. Of course they were. People hate being looked at. The students’ victory in Danganronpa V3 comes from Shuichi staring down that world’s audience unflinchingly, seeing them for what they really are until they can’t look away either.

Of course, the meta element in Final Fantasy VII Remake looks directly at real fans. I think it’s telling that a decent number of DRV3’s detractors felt attacked from the ending, despite the clear delineations between real audience and in-game audience. But you can’t do that. You have to look at yourself. When you ask to remake something, it’s important to ask yourself why. Are you getting anything new out of this, or are you desperately grasping at something that you used to be?

DRV3, Rebuild of Evangelion, and The End

Shinji and Mari run out into the rest of their lives in Eva 3.0 + 1.0

Tsumugi, the mastermind of Danganronpa V3, represents the faces behind the scenes of Danganronpa – Team Danganronpa, an entity that doesn’t exist in our real world. She’s a writer, a producer, a director, an actor, whatever she needs to be. Ultimately, what she’s most interested in is pleasing an audience, to the point that V3 includes audience participation through the robot Keebo, in which the world votes upon his actions and sees the world through his eyes (in DRV3’s world, Keebo is the protagonist, not Shuichi or Kaede or Maki or Himiko).

However, DRV3, the video game, posits not that you should ignore your audience per se, but perhaps that you shouldn’t always give your audience what they think they want. It says, unequivocally, that stories need to evolve, lest they continue on in stasis until they become harmful for the very reasons they were inspirational in the first place.

Hideaki Anno’s initial response to some hostile public reception of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s simple but uplifting ending was the twisted fanservice-y eff you of The End of Evangelion. There’s something satisfying to that, sure, but it’s also cruel.

Rebuild was concepted as a break from that cycle. A chance for Anno, in a healthier mental place, to give a kinder ending to his characters – third time’s the charm, thrice upon a time, goodbye all of Evangelion. Rebuild of Evangelion was not made just for the fans, but for the characters.

Shinji, Asuka, Rei, and Kawaru have been stuck in a perpetual adolescence for a long time – both outside the series and inside it. Neither Shinji nor Asuka are even physically capable of growing, but Asuka’s mind has grown older while Shinji slept years away. Rei is born and destroyed and born again. Kawaru wakes up in an endless time loop of failures. No matter how they try to grow up, they are forever stuck in the destructive cycles of childhood. They are unable to reach the future.

In Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0, Shinji births a new world for each of them. A place where they can be free of Evangelion itself and find the space to grow. And that includes himself. He sits, grown up on a train platform, having been seen by his father for the first time. Mari removes his collar. They hold hands and sprint up the stairs into the outside world, the real world, Anno’s hometown of Ube, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Similarly, the survivors of V3’s killing game look out of a hole in their cage, which Keebo made for them in an act of self-sacrifice. They can’t sit around wondering what’s out there anymore. They have to climb out with their own hands and see for themselves what’s waiting for them outside the confines of their existence.

Basically, Danganronpa V3 and Evangelion 3.0 +1.0 both really want you to let them go and go outside.

DRV3, The World, and The Unending

The survivors of Danganronpa V3 look out of the hole in their cage to the world that lays outside

Of course, nothing can really end in reality. Kodaka’s left Spike Chunsoft to form his own company, but Spike just released the 10th anniversary collector’s edition of the series, including a fleshed out version of the postgame board game from V3. Incidentally, none of the games run particularly well on Switch. Spike Chunsoft has also said that they have Danganronpa products in the works, and even Kodaka hasn’t ruled out returning to the series one day.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is only getting started, with more games to come and plenty of spin-offs in the works, including a remake more in the style of what fans wanted in the first place. 

Anno’s left Evangelion too, but he’s said that there could be some space for other creators to tell stories within its world. And, of course, Eva is a merchandising juggernaut. You could probably live on Evangelion products alone.

Stories can’t end anymore. But, of course, that’s not out of line with the message of Danganronpa V3. 

I’m sure, even now… Even on the other side… It lives on there, as well. And thus, the story lives on. Was this lie able to change something? Was this lie able to change someone? Was this lie…able to change the world? If it was able to change even the smallest thing… Then the story isn’t over.

I don’t think it’s inherently bad that stories can’t end. But you can’t fall into the pit. You can’t tell the same stories over and over and over again. You can’t grow that way.

Carry stories with you. Let them linger in the back of your mind. Let them change you. But never let them hold you. We don’t need the same things over and over and over again. That’s maybe what we want. But what we need is something new.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *