The Problem with Dangan Ronpa: Another Episode
CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of child abuse and sexual abuse. Graphic sexual descriptions and images. SPOILER WARNING.
While some of the dialogue was changed, I shared the same excitement (and quote) as Komaru Naegi, the main protagonist of Dangan Ronpa: Another Episode. The Dangan Ronpa franchise had me hooked back when orenronen was translating it on the Something Awful forums. A mixture of visual novel and mystery, it’s like a darker Phoenix Wright game with high schoolers. The games hook you in with fascinating characters, an engaging story, and easy playing mechanics. When news of the third game was announced, I was curious. When it was announced the third game was like a first person shooter, allowed you to play as Genocider Jack (or Syo as she’s known in the original), and let you play as Komaru Naegi, the little sister of the original game’s protagonist Makoto Naegi, I was hooked.
That excitement died down with certain spoilers from the game. When playing and experiencing said spoilers, all that could be felt was stomach-churning uneasiness.
I hope you’re okay with spoilers. This article is full of them. (This article also deals with talk of child abuse and sexual abuse.)
As with the other two in the franchise, this game deals with heavy issues. The Warriors of Hope, the ones that kept Komaru a hostage and released her only to ‘play a game’ and hunt her down, are all victims of abuse. Masaru’s physical abuse and Jataro’s neglect is known through slight dialogue at their boss battle and from notes from themselves and their parents. Nagisa’s physical, mental, and emotional abuse is explained by him, shown by notes from himself and his parents, and his breakdown is a cutscene during his boss battle. Kotoko’s sexual abuse is made known through her dialogue, jokes, notes, and a mini-game.
Again, Kotoko’s past sexual abuse is made known throughout the game through dialogue, cutscenes, as a mini-game that involves molestation, and has her exposing her bloomer-style panties multiple times. The last two are used as jokes again and again.
When the player is first introduced to the Warriors of Hope, the children are playing with the corpse of a newscaster. While Masaru and Jataro move him around like a zombie, they chase Kotoko while she yells, “Please don’t eat me! Don’t violate me!” Later on when Komaru is captured and taken to the WoH, Kotoko talks about loving sweets, but hating ‘salty things’ and how they don’t belong in her mouth. When they all talk about the paradise for children, Kotoko talks of her excitement for being away from pedophiles. It’s specific language like this that gives the player an idea of the sort of abuse Kotoko endured. While dialogue is enough for the boys, the game doesn’t seem to think so for one of the two girls.
Chapter 3 is Kotoko’s main chapter and where things escalate. Monaca, the other girl in the Warriors of Hope, mentions the word ‘gentle,’ and Kotoko is triggered. The player is given a cutscene (though it’s just an image) of a younger Kotoko, shaking, as a shadow looms over her. An adult man’s voice tells her he’ll be gentle and the word echoes in her head. She cries to Monaca that she doesn’t want gentle. She hates the word (and Monaca knows that). So Monaca slaps her repeatedly, until she has Kotoko quiet and in an almost trance-like state. This scene, though incredibly sad, would have been all we needed. We know what happened to Kotoko and we are shown how Monaca is manipulative.
It doesn’t stop there though. The next part is where it becomes very problematic.
Kotoko catches Komaru and traps her in a coffin-like machine with tentacles on it. The machine is to give Komaru ‘motivation’ as it touches and gropes her. A tutorial pops up, apologizing for ‘interrupting’ the player while s/he is ‘busy’ and talks about how to keep the tentacles away from Komaru’s head, breasts, hips, and between her legs. As the tutorial ends, it let’s the player know they can enjoy him/herself, but to remember not to let the ‘obedience’ gauge get too high. The game also tries to erase any fault or unease by mentioning this sort of thing is the opposite of child porn, as it’s a child forcing this onto an adult.
After this minigame finishes Kotoko talks to Komaru, giving the player a sense of dread and unease. She tells Komaru that everything happened to her ‘because she’s cute.’ She wants payback for what happened to her and says if what she’s doing is wrong, then what happened to her was wrong as well. However, she resigns that it’s the sad fate for those that are cute.
What’s sadder is that this scene, despite being powerful, has that impact taken away by the gross tutorial and what happens next. Genocider Jack comes to Komaru’s rescue and a battle between her and Kotoko begin. As you fight the young girl, her clothes are torn off. You win when she’s down to her undershirt and panties.
It’s supposed to be okay though, she’s 18. (She’s not. It’s a lie.)
While it seems to be a theme that Jack’s scissors are so sharp they tear off clothes, as demonstrated in a later battle between Jack and Komaru (in which you are left fighting in your bra and panties), why is this only against female characters? Is this sort of thing really needed against a young girl, especially one that was a victim of sexual abuse? There’s no fight where you play as Jack against the boys, so why include this unless it’s meant to be wank bait?
With the subject of sexual abuse, there’s also Monaca forcibly kissing Nagisa and Kurokuma’s lines about Monaca’s ‘little hills.’ Of these two, Kurokuma’s line as Monaca hugs him is really not needed and gross. Granted that it does adds on that he’s the ‘bad’ bear, but was it really necessary? In contrast, Monaca’s forcible kiss is needed. Monaca is incredibly calculating and devious. She knows how Nagisa feels about her and uses herself to manipulate him. When she kisses him, he cries out for her to stop and slaps her repeatedly. While the reaction may seem childish, it’s also needed as Monaca ignores his cries until he’s in a quiet, trance-like state that Kotoko was in earlier. It’s when these children are physically, mentally, and emotionally spent that Monaca shapes them to do her bidding.
In a game that has the theme of hope and despair, this is just excess. As the other children were triggered and talked about their abuse, that was all that was needed with Kotoko. Her speech and her trigger are the biggest giveaways for what happened. Her diary, along with the note from her mother, instill a sense of heartbreak and dread into the player.
There is another part that may seem problematic, but it isn’t. In the game, Komaru has to seek and join forces with Haiji Towa, who is leading the adults. Normally that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but Haiji admits to having a Lolita complex. He tells the two teens “the younger, the better.” I’m glad for Toko’s reactions to him. She responds as the player should. At first glance, she’s attracted to him, but the more he talks the more she dislikes and distrusts him. Even when Komaru tries to see the positive of him admitting how he likes younger women (“I think it’s attractive that he can admit that.” What the hell, Komaru?), Toko tells her the truth–She has horrible taste in men.
Why isn’t this a cause for upset? Because his sexual attraction to girls makes an important point (and one the kids tell the two protagonists earlier): sometimes adults really are worse than demons (what the children call adults). Haiji is the sort of adult that can’t be trusted. Though you do need his help, it’s only out of necessity and a common enemy that you work with him. Given that he rallies the adults to rise up and kill the children that are attacking, it’s clear by the end that he’s as bad as Monaca.
With all that’s been said though, that’s it for the game’s problems. Dangan Ronpa: Another Episode is fun! The game isn’t as black and white as it seems. There are more to the villains, the Warriors of Hope, than it seems. The leader of the adults in hiding, Haiji Towa, isn’t the sort of ally a heroine would want by her side. Best of all is Komaru Naegi and Toko Fukawa. The two have great character arcs and grow so well in the game. Their relationship is incredibly touching and the fact that they rely so much on one another is really heart-warming. It’s something I would want to see more of.