I told you I had a couple of these up my sleeve. This time I’m contrasting Danganronpa with my latest obsession, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Yes, I realize I’m the absolute last person at this particular party. I’m still in the middle of the series (35 episodes in) as I write this, but I think I’m getting a feel for it. In any case, absolutely everyone in the universe is right, FMA is a great show. I will most likely fail to do it justice, in yet another fawning review some time in the near future. Again, spoilerrific for both Danganronpa and the first half of FMA. You have been warned.
In the meantime though, I was struck by how ruthlessly it portrayed hope (and a lot of other things, FMA is a harsh show guys…)
V3 has a ridiculous, pseudo-meta ending that had me grinning from ear to ear. It’s probably not quite as clever as it wants to be, but I still loved it, and somehow it fell right in place with the rest of the series while being over the top absurd. It did however go out of it’s way to spell out exactly how brutal hope can be, something that has been consistently illustrated throughout the series. I don’t particularly enjoy when a narrative feels obligated to take us by the hand like that. It was already glaringly obvious, but I’ll forgive them because the games were so much fun.
Brotherhood actually makes the exact same point (so far, maybe it turns it on its head in the latter half, but I doubt it) in a much more discreet matter, that’s likely to stay with the audience a lot longer.
A repeated philosophy of the Danganronpa series is the duality of Hope and Despair. Despair being impossible without hope, and as such creating and nurturing hope becomes a necessity for breathing despair. The absence of hope is seen as complacency or apathy and must be avoided at all costs.
In the first game, the duality is highlighted but an uneasy balance is maintained. In the second, we see the very concept of hope itself brought to an extreme which renders it just as devastating as despair. Blind faith in your happy ending can lead you to atrocities just as horrific as desperation. The two are in fact chillingly similar when stripped of reason. By the end of the third game, the characters finally catch on that hope and despair are an endless cycle and that one cannot be completely avoided without forsaking both. Or to put it in the most direct terms, hope will always lead to despair.
Yeah, it’s a bit on the nose and guileless but kitsch is part of the Danganronpa appeal. And it’s not a message we see all that often in anime, or even in general. There’s a certain novelty in shrugging off the happily ever after convention. One that may sound bleak at first but holds so much freedom and possibility.
In Fullmetal, hope is the catalyst for boundless pain. It is the brothers’ unwillingness to accept cruel fate and their hope to remedy it that leads them to commit the taboo in the first place and sets them on such an unmerciful road. It’s Mustang and Hughes’ hope for a better world that costs them both their lives, one literally and the other figuratively as he sets everything else aside in the pursuit if this hope.
Hope for glory, for peace, for equality, moves nations to war and gives power to monsters. Most of the characters in the story have a clear dream and an imposing hope that they can reach it. It is what sets them up to violently clash with one another. This hope has given them all the eyes of a killer.
Because hope is so often presented as a savior, a happy ending, we tend to forget that it is not a pleasant emotion. Hope is a desire, a frantic need to gain something we do not have. It’s uncomfortable that’s why it spurs us forward. It’s greedy and selfish, even in it’s kindest form it demands sacrifice. Hope is painful, difficult and draining to sustain.
A truly contempt individual, one that is happy with life and the world around them has little need for hope. But what fun is that?
Both of these stories show us just how brutal and agonizing hope can be. Just how prone it is to lead us to our own destruction. But they also show us just how necessary it is.
No matter how many times the students of Hope’s Peak are brought to the brink of despair, they get up and try again driven by hope alone. It may be twisted beyond recognition but hope still gives us purpose and that is just as precious as happiness.
Hope may have paved the way to hell for the Elric Brothers and the survivors of the Ishval war. They would have all lead quieter, more comfortable, and in a few cases longer lives, if they had simply given up on their goals and stayed home. All of them. But they would not have been the same people. They would not have brought about change.
So, I guess my point was, just because something is unpleasant, a little ugly at times, painful and miserable, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Hope isn’t an inherently good thing. It can be misleading even dangerous. The villains have just as much hope as the heroes. But it can also be a saving grace. It is responsible for all of our greatest accomplishments and all of our most deplorable tragedies. Both Danganronpa and FMA understand this duplicitous nature. They invite hope in cautiously. They accept it, knowing the risk. Personally, I find this frank treatment refreshing and inspiring!