Calling Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (Everybody’s Killing School Semester in Japan)’s ending controversial wouldn’t be doing it justice. While the first and second game dropped fairly heavy in-universe bombshells, Danganronpa V3 seems to take up this mantle and then proceeds to fucking rob a bank with it. Unlike Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, Danganronpa V3s ending is designed to suck everything out of the player and acts as a final closure to the series.
Or… does it? There might be evidence that suggests otherwise. So please, let’s go on a ride together and see if I can uncover what is truth and what is actually a lie.
Obviously, Danganronpa V3 spoilers are to follow.
So, for those of you who might’ve forgotten (somehow), Danganronpa V3 brings with it one major twist: Everything was fiction. None of the actions taken by any of the characters mattered in the grand scheme of things. Junko Enoshima, the Remnants of Despair, Hopes Peak Academy, all of it is fiction in the universe of Danganronpa V3. From the 10th installment of the in-universe franchise on, the series switched over to “Ultimate Real Fiction”. The idea behind Ultimate Real Fiction is that instead of the video games, anime and manga that Danganronpa in-universe existed as before the 10th installment, the entire series is instead making use of volunteering people, whose memories get wiped, their personalities get reset and fake memories and personalities are implanted on them.
All of this is revealed in case 6.
Danganronpa V3 as a result brings eventually the most unique set of Masterminds to the table. While the first three installments brough along Junko Enoshima and Tengan Kazuo (the former being Ultimate Despair, the latter wanting to clean the Future Foundation), Danganronpa V3 features for a certain given, three Masterminds.
- Tsumugi Shirogane, the Ultimate Cosplayer, is the closest we get to the most “traditional” Mastermind and for the installment is meant to represent Despair.
- K1-B0, Kiibo, the Ultimate Robot, isn’t so much a Mastermind as he is a pawn made by the final Mastermind and serves as the audience avatar, replacing the security cameras from Trigger Happy Havoc, as well as having his decisions influenced by his “inner voice”, which is the audience. For the installment he represents Hope.
- Finally, the “true” mastermind is the audience that is watching Danganronpa V3. Stated by Tsumugi to consist of the entire world, they’re mostly shown as deranged fans obsessing over the characters from V3. Of these, the most specific group we see is Team Danganronpa, the ones that orchestrate the killing game for ratings and views and the ones who we can assume are controlling Monokuma.
So, this is what the game present to us. Everything that happened before case 6 was fiction, the games and anime before V3 were actual fiction, end of story, closed and fucking done.
Oooor… do these claims actually hold up?
Tsumugi Shirogane, liar or not
Our first point of contention comes directly from the first Mastermind, Tsumugi. She roughly ends up dropping two bombshells:
- Danganronpa V3 is fiction.
- The previous Danganronpa games are fiction too.
(note: fiction meaning in-universe fiction.)
Danganronpa V3 is fiction?
Of the first point, there’s not a lot to debate and discuss, but there are a couple of points that are noteworthy enough to call out.
First off, the first point suggests that all participants in V3 signed up willingly to be a part of the Killing Game… except this contradicts what we see in the prologue. In the prologue, we see Kaede and Shuichi meet up, before getting chased to the Gymnasium by the Exisals. The Monokubs inside the Exisals then proceed to wipe their memory and dress them up for V3. As a result, the characters we see in the prologue are likely their real personalities. Interestingly, for the most part, they don’t actually seem to differ from their real personality. There’s however a few key differences though:
- They don’t know about any form of Ultimate Talent. This is odd, considering the audition tapes seem to highly suggest they’d at least have an idea of what the Talents are.
- They recognize the word Monokub, but instead of feeling relief or joy that they’re finally participating in the Killing Game (which the tapes would suggest), instead they’re shown to be fearful of them.
Combine this with both original Kaede and original Shuichi’s account of being abducted in the streets, and we can reasonably draw the conclusion that V3s participants were not actually volunteers.
This contradicts the audition tapes, but as we see from Tsumugi, she’s completely capable of cosplaying any character she desires. Which draws me to the next point.
To divert suspicion off herself in the first (and subsequent) class trials, Tsumugi makes use of something called “cospox”. While there’s another aspect to this that I will cover in a moment, cospox essentially is an allergic reaction she has when cosplaying as a real person. Except… the cospox is applied inconsistently. Plot-device wise, it’s there to prevent Tsumugi from being a focal point each trial and prevent the idea of “what if it just was Tsumugi each time.”
Story wise… the cospox is described by Tsumugi as coming from the disgust when someone cosplays as a real person. Except, by her own (rather constant) admittance, Tsumugi Shirogane herself is a fictional character, and so are the people around her. As a result, when we see her try to cosplay as Kaede in Chapter 1, there is no reason to show any cospox at all, since Tsumugi wouldn’t have the allergic reaction, since Kaede is just a fictional character.
This as a result wouldn’t make it unlikely for the audition tapes to be faked by Tsumugi. They seemingly take place in the gymnasium of the academy (all are shown to take place in the same location with a wooden floorboard and an odd camera angle (which would be due to the nanokumas), which the Gymnasium is the most likely candidate for.)
Can we reasonably conclude that V3 is fiction? Yes. None of the aforementioned points really divert this conclusion, combined with the overwhelming evidence chapter 6 gives us. That said, we can reasonably conclude as well that none of the characters in V3 are the psychopathic killers that the audition tapes suggest they are due to the contrasting behavior from the prologue compared to what Tsumugi suggests.
The previous Danganronpa games are fiction too?
This… is a more difficult statement to discuss and there’s a lot more to debate here. First and foremost, let me quote Tsumugi’s final words:
My plan was such a flawless copy, it failed right at the end… So I should be able to hold my head up high as a cosplaycat criminal, right?
In-game the highlights are yellow. This statement in particular is what initially sparked my thought process on this. Especially since the game calls it out in the epilogue. Basically, the game invites you to consider wether what Tsumugi said is true or not.
As the previous discussion showed however, Tsumugi is an established liar. She outright lies about several facts, and unlike Junko Enoshima or Tengan Kazuo, is not bound by a belief to always tell the truth. (This carries over to Team Danganronpa/Monokuma too.) Junko simply never lied because it’d make the killing game unfair (and unlike Team Danganronpa, Junko mostly does care about keeping the game fair, since to Junko there is a fail state, while Team Danganronpa always considered any ending to be a succesful ending) and Tengan was unable to lie thanks to his own NG Code. Both did heavily make use of selectively telling the answers or relying on technical truths.
Tsumugi on the other hand has likely lied about the prologue, the concept of cospox and more outright actively lies about her status as the Mastermind of the Killing Game.
So this would mean that in order to believe Tsumugi’s statements at all, we need to ensure that the facts we are given are backed up by other facts. Danganronpa 1 and 2 actually did the same thing. Junko ending the world was corroborated by Genocider Syo, while the cast of Goodbye Despair being Remnants of Despair was corroborated by Makoto, Byakuya and Kyoko.
Danganronpa V3 being fiction is corroborated by the large audience that Monokuma shows during the 6th trial and the same audience eventually hijacks Kiibo, giving credence to them existing.
The other Danganronpa games being fiction is however only corroborated by two in-game facts:
- The fact that Tsumugi can cosplay as DR1/2 characters.
- The library in the Ultimate Detective’s lab has 53 cases, of which the first couple are “drawings only”.
The first bullet is disproven fairly easy. Cospox itself exist on the shaky plot-device ground of “we want to avoid Tsumugi being the subject of each class trail”, and there’s inconsistencies within regards to cosplaying as Kaede, since Kaede is quite clearly in Tsumugi’s mind a fictional character, yet Tsumugi gets cospox when trying to cosplay as her.
The second bullet is… a bit tougher to disprove. As some kind of easter egg, in the Ultimate Detectives lab, there is a large bookcase with several case files in it. When examining it, Shuichi will conclude that the first few case files only have drawings, while the later ones use pictures. He then proceeds to consider that the first few cases might be fictional due to this. Actually counting the number of cases in the bookcase gives you 5 rows of 10 cases and 1 row with 3 cases.
This is… solid evidence. If it weren’t for Twilight Syndrome Murder Case. To quickly jog your memory, Twilight Syndrome Murder Case serves as 2-2s motive. It’s a video game that essentially parodies Danganronpa within Danganronpa (these games get weird man), but when accessing the secret method to beat the game (press down 5 times on the title screen), the game completes and the first winner is given the real case files for the murder in the game. That said, Twilight Syndrome Murder Case’s regular ending consists of one of the girls getting bashed in the head. This shot actually makes use of a photorealistic shot of a Japanese girl sitting next to the baseball bat to provide a jumpscare.
This contradicts the solidity of the aforementioned bookcase. Because if they can reproduce a murder case from the drawings (and the regular ending eventually gets a more “proper” CG), this would mean that Team Danganronpa has no excuse or ability to not simply fake the crime scenes.
This… essentially shatters the evidence that the original games are fiction.
What actually might’ve happened
Okay. So, the previous parts are all backed by logic that can be found in the games themselves. What follows however is large and rampant speculation. Consider this to be my personal theory of how Danganronpa V3 connects to the previous two games. There might be holes in it for all I know, but this is my personal conclusion.
There’s two rough ways it could’ve gone, one of which is reliant on a timeline split (and as a result is much easier to explain), while the other requires a bit more of a stretch but might fit in better with the actual canon.
My first theory is that at the end of Danganronpa 3: End of Hopes Peak Academy, when Ryota Mitarai is asked to stop broadcasting his “Hope video” (a video that has been visually manipulated in such a way to permanently manipulate the viewers feelings and emotions to feel nothing but hope… hey this sounds familiar!), a timeline split occurs. One timeline in which indeed, Ryota stops the hope video, while in the other he doesn’t stop it. Danganronpa V3 would then take place in a timeline where he doesn’t stop his hope video. Eventually, Team Danganronpa gets produced out of the result of several “high on Hope” folks who want to produce even more hope, a la Komaeda style. This would explain away why Monokuma ends up relenting during case 6, as Monokuma is controlled by Team Danganronpa in V3.
This… is one way it could’ve gone. That said, compared to the other, it just feels cheap. Timeline splits never go over well and more importantly they can complicate an already complicated canon into an unrecognizable mess (see the Fate franchise which unironically operates on 3 different timelines for its first entry alone for an example of how timeline splits can really confuse and mess up a franchise.)
The second theory is a bit more difficult. This one relies on the concept of “time heals all wounds”. People forget tragedies and what caused them eventually and start to romanticize certain aspects of it. In this instance, the fact that the bookcase has drawings instead of the actual pictures is explained away because the actual tragedy would’ve been too graphic and would upset the audience to know the truth about them. Team Danganronpa is instead the final incarnation of the original Remnants of Despair. Motherkuma in this case is actually the second Junko AI. Because for all intent and purposes, there are two Junko AIs.
Wait what? Two AIs? Okay, let me explain this. At the end of Ultra Despair Girls, the heads of the two Monokuma robots that during the game have a unique identity (Kurokuma and Shirokuma) are shown being carted away. Both first call the characters in Ultra Despair Girls idiots for being “easily manipulatable”, revealing that the two were working together. Then, they talk about the idea of making a successor, eventually calling it foolish because “the original still exists”, after which Shirokuma tries to proclaim themselves as “we are”, which Kurokuma then contradicts with “maybe I”. After this odd sequence, both robots disable their original personality and AE Junko starts talking. While this scene suggests that AE Junko is only a single AI and is split between the robots, when actually looking at the eyes of the robots (which light up whenever AE Junko talks), the actual splits happen mostly in between sentences and while both seem to talk about the same subject, there is a clear implication that there are two AE Junko’s. One in each robot.
One of the two AIs ends up getting used in Danganronpa 2 to drive the plot, while the other kinda… drops off the radar. This theory poses that that the other AI gets placed inside Motherkuma (indicated by it using 1 and 2 soundbytes instead of the higher pitched voice from V3.)
Motherkuma eventually gets destroyed during V3, while Monokuma gets crushed by a rock, therefore wiping out the final Junko AI for good. Of note is that V3s Monokuma seems more concerned with that he’ll be out of a job if the Killing Games stop, rather than Tsumugi who acts outright distraught when the possibility is raised in a serious manner or Motherkuma who simply believes the Killing Game can’t and won’t ever end.
This would also explain why Tsumugi Shirogane is willing to throw the audience in despair as well. Since End of Hopes Peaks ending basically means that any public outing of despair will be vindicated by the general public and wouldn’t gain much traction, by making the Killing Games a TV show and eventually trying to let despair win (and to Team Danganronpa, the Killing Games are a victory no matter which wins, hope or despair) would destroy all the hope the audience has.
It’d also explain the “copy” quote from Tsumugi as she was simply trying to emulate the original three Killing Games.
The second theory is very outlandish and really takes a lot of effort to try and connect the games together, but in the end, it, at least to me, is the most satisfying conclusion to the series.
Plot and in-game stuff aside, the ending is a great criticism at taking delight in others suffering through a fictional medium. It also takes a firm hammer through the concept that fiction is just “fiction” and couldn’t ever affect real events. For that alone, the ending, regardless of plot-holes it might induce, deserves praise. It takes a lot of balls from a writer to be able to make this statement while also at the same time debunking all of their previous hard work and effort.
Buff Monokuma is the sexiest character in Danganronpa across all timelines. ‘nuff said.