A brief, spoiler-free review of the 3-volume 2012-2016 manga “Danganronpa 2: Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair,” based on Spike Chunsoft’s game “Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair,” art by Kyousuke Suga.
A Spin-Off Full of Despair
Sixteen students from the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy suddenly awaken on a deserted beach. Their teacher, a white and pink “magical girl” rabbit named Usami, proclaims that their first assignment is to become friends with one another by means of touring the island and collecting hope fragments together. Storm clouds quickly gather over this isle of palm trees and blissful breeze when Monokuma, a sadistic bear of monochrome hue, takes Usami down and gives the students a new assignment: to kill one of their peers and get away with murder in the class trial.
To the victor goes the only spoil these teens want—escape from the island. The students swear to one another that they’d never commit such a crime, but as Monokuma slowly and meticulously introduces calculated motives that play on the whims and desires of these kids, temptation is given into, and blood is spilt.
Forced into this deadly killing school trip, what once was an island paradise has become a hell on earth. But when these poor kids find that they’ve been deceived far more than what is even imaginable, the very fabric of their world hangs on the thin threads of hope.
Greatly truncated for the sake of this review, this is the plot of Spike Chunsoft’s groundbreaking game “Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair,” and the sequel to the equally influential “Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.” But as you can tell, this review isn’t about the game; rather, we’re looking at the manga spin-off today. Instead of playing this survival game through the eyes of main character Hajime Hinata, we experience life from the view of Nagito Komaeda, the Ultimate Lucky Student, and the bane of the class’ existence.
The Ultimate Lucky Student
Infamous for his willingness to take his “friends” down yet beloved by the community for his twisted nature
and bromance with Hajime, Nagito is a complicated human bound by irrational thinking and a moral compass that always points south. Above all, he believes in the talents of the Ultimates of Hope’s Peak, and the insurmountable hope that can arise from their collective efforts. Weird, I know, but it gets worse.
Placing complete faith in his ultimate luck and the hopes and dreams of his friends sounds like a good thing, right? Well, not when you add in that twisted personality part I mentioned earlier. He derives pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering, and humiliation on his peers, without a doubt, but only because he deeply believes that his friends are Ultimates—students handpicked by hope itself. That means that no matter the size of the despair, hope always comes out on top. This flawed logic of his causes him to create scenarios that put everyone at risk just to watch the Ultimates overcome the despair. After all, according to Nagito, their talent can overcome any despair.
So, not only is this scrawny emo a huge Hope’s Peak fanboy, but he’s also a nut job with more than a couple loose screws. The PERFECT player to have in a killing game, right?
To give him credit, there’s never a dull moment around Nagito. In fact, many of the game’s most exciting moments revolve around Nagito’s lies and schemes. By packing the best reveals and most fascinating plot points into this short 3-volume series, you’ve got a spin-off that is anything but boring. Nagito’s trademark luck carries him through numerous plots and conspiracies—many of which he is directly involved with—at the behest of everyone else’s security.
Madness and Maliciousness in Manga Form
Danganronpa is one of the most stylish games out there, arguably more so than even the hit Persona 5. Its iconic gun-and-target imagery offers fun gameplay effects, sure, but the flashy courtroom gimmicks and screen-shattering special effects aren’t just for looks. The series prides itself with the class trials, the bread and butter of the franchise, and this motif of breaking through lies—shining through despair—to uncover the truth. And thankfully, Kyousuke Suga’s adaptation faithfully adapts this matter of style into the fast-paced panels of his manga.
That’s right. Most if not all of the crucial lines and moments are replicated nearly word-for-word in the class trials. Although we only get the first three (for reasons I can’t explain without entering spoiler territory), I was quite surprised with how full and thorough the trials felt, given the immensely short length.
Like anyone should be, I was skeptical about a measly 3-volumes doing Danganronpa 2 any justice. By limiting the story’s POV to that of Nagito only, however, you realize that the Ultimate Lucky Student’s time spent with the Ultimates of Hope’s Peak is short, perhaps, but immensely impactful.
The only turn-off to this little series is the character designs. All the guys look anorexic, while the ladies have totally unrealistic “curves,” almost as if everything was somewhat over-sexualized. Even if the seemingly sloppy, disproportionate bodies and facial expressions feel uncharacteristic of the game’s original designs (which were boldly outlined and always on point), there’s beauty in the quirkiness of Suga’s style, though.
This lax, less faithful style allows for us to see character expressions and reactions that the game just couldn’t keep up with. A sprite system might feel more stable, but this adaptive style manages to keep up with the subtle dark humor and self-deprecation (given that now we’re Nagito) that I felt the game just didn’t. Suga’s work is much more organic and less “cardboard cutout,” literally, and it makes for a nice afterword piece to the franchise.
Why Should You Read This Spin-Off?
For one, it’s short. At three volumes, I finished it in a day and a half. Plus, it fills in some gaps of the game. During chapters two and three, Nagito is tied up (don’t ask) and unconscious (also don’t ask), meaning that while the others (namely Hajime) are experiencing the events of the story live, Nagito is playing catch-up. And boy does he do a damn good job at assessing the evidence of each crime scene.
Instead of running around and talking to our classmates, we enter Nagito’s nightmares and delusions of self-reflection. We see his fears, understand his motives, and get a better picture of why Nagito antagonizes his peers like he does. Much better than in the game (save for chapter 4), we get inside Nagito’s headspace and see what makes him tick, allowing the viewer to connect with him a bit more—even if he’s still a freak at the end of the day. You can practically regard this spin-off as cannon, as it never strays from the original plot, nor does it add conflicting details. That’s always a plus.
Additionally, we get different angles from the game. The “camera” shows us live conversations with multiple characters in a shot at different angles talking to one another, as opposed to the game where 2D characters are layered on top of a 2D backdrop. Plus, Kyousuke Suga just seems to understand that Nagito is not a character to be disgusted or hated all the time; Nagito is an oddball to the class, an anomaly that can’t always be understood, and I appreciate Suga’s more comedic take on Nags’ obsession with hope.
Like Loki to Marvel’s Thor franchise, Nagito is a trickster that is fun to watch and frustrating to befriend, but undeniably inseparable from the equally quirky work in which he comes from. As such, it’s a real treat to have an entire narrative devoted to his character, even if it’s both a rehash of the game’s events (with a few dream sequences of backstory and inner monologues added) and, frankly, a series tragically short for its own good.
This manga series shows you some of the parts you wish you saw in the game, and it does so craftily without tampering with the existing plot. Is it for newcomers to the franchise? Absolutely not. But as supplemental material for those pining after anything extra to do with Hope’s Peak Academy’s 77th Class, Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair is your stepping stone toward hope.
Komaeda, you aren’t trash. If you died, or helped someone commit murder, it won’t give rise to hope. Just the opposite . . . it’ll wind up extinguising a ray of hope. ‘Cause . . . ’cause hope . . . is already shining inside you, Komaeda. — Monomi
I had a blast reading this short little spin-off, especially given that I finished playing the second game right before starting this series. All the parts of this franchise connect together so intricately, so purposefully and creatively, and this manga spin-off is no exception. It’s extra material for sure, but if you love Nagito Komaeda’s guile as much as I do, you’re bound to love Suga’s work.
And can we talk about those volume covers?? The first two are so brightly colored and stylish with all the characters wrapping around from front to back, while the third is a haunting minimalist piece of Nagito looking like he’s preparing for the final show (if you know what I mean). I think Suga could’ve split volume three into two separate volumes, adding in more content from the ENTIRELY SKIPPED fourth trial, as the third book is nearly twice the size of the other two. Oh well, at least we got the series (in all its matte-cover glory) thanks to Dark Horse.
I doubt many of you will end up checking out this series, but if you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! Although a manga series, I’ll give Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair the “Coffee” rating for being a fun read but not an essential one. I believe the regular manga adaptation of the second game along with Ultra Despair Girls are coming out this fall, so I look forward to picking those up. Till the next review, this has been
– Takuto, your host