Danganronpa proves Chesterton’s assertion that it is a real shame so much bad fiction becomes lost: we have so much to learn from its mistakes! Now, Danganronpa is not that bad of an anime (I have not played the video game, though the anime wears its origins on its sleeve), but the hero fights against despair with an inferior philosophy–at once Nietzschean and idyllic. This article will mainly focus on the final conflict, so you may want to quit reading now if your have not seen Danganronpa and do not want it spoiled. I myself went into the anime knowing the identity of the final villain, but spoilers–especially within the mystery genre–might vex you.
At any rate, after many deaths and curious twists and turns, our remaining heroes arrive at the last tribunal led by Monokuma. They must both determine the identity of the last murderer and solve the mystery of behind their entrapment in Hope’s Peak Academy. Monokuma happens to be a puppet controlled by Junko Enoshima, who faked her death in episode one. She’s really quite insane, but has a perfect grasp of the extreme chaos which fell upon civilization prior to the students opting to imprison themselves within Hope’s Peak Academy. Life outside of these four walls is nasty, brutish and short; yet, Makoto Naegi, our hero, pushes his comrades to enter that chaos despite its dangers. Junko instead argues for them to continue safe and imprisoned within the school. To settle the argument over whether to leave the academy or not, they hold a vote between despair and hope–to stay safe and imprisoned or to become free with its concomitant perils.
Here, I would recommend reading Russell Kirk’s “The Moral Imagination” if possible, because it more clearly delineates the moral conflict I see present in Danganronpa. Fiction relies upon imagination. The form an author’s imagination takes falls in one of three classes: moral, idyllic, and diabolic. The moral is characterized by a sense of purpose and meaning; the idyllic by caprice and escape from tradition; and the diabolic by nihilism and hedonism. The struggle in Danganronpa is not between the moral and diabolic imaginations, as one would expect, but between the idyllic (represented by Makoto Naegi) and diabolic (Junko Enoshima).
There is at least one great flaw with combating the diabolic mode of thinking with the idyllic: the idyllic type tends to avoid looking at the nature of evil and is prone to disillusionment when confronted with it. Do you know where the idyllic imagination most appears in anime? The Iyashikei or “calming anime” genre. (My main beef with Flying Witch had to do with this fact.) In a definite manner, Makoto struggles against Junko not by force of argument, but by force of will. Makoto has an unwavering faith in hope, while Junko provides a million reasons to despair. He eschews arguing with her on the basis of reason and resorts to representing hope and despair as absolutes tied to one’s mental state rather than to the reality itself.
Yet, hope cannot exist as an absolute value in the same way as despair can. A brilliant psychologist by the name of Jordan Peterson introduced me to the fact that positive and negative emotion operate differently in the human mind. Positive states, like happiness or hopefulness, require constant maintenance. One maintains happiness and hope by overcoming challenges and by seeing personal growth. Despair, on the other hand, needs no stimuli at all. In the absence of objectives which produce joy, the mind can spiral into endless depths of negativity. Eventually, one can come to hate being itself (and Being Himself, for that matter) and long for annihilation, as we see in Junko Enoshima’s death. She is actually ecstatic about her demise, which she sees as a release from ennui and existential angst.
Makoto’s victory through power of the will cannot satisfy rational viewers. Enoshima has a million reasons for the heroes to despair, while Makoto only insists on life being the source of hope. Why? “Because where there is life there is hope!” Makoto would insist. To a certain extent, this blind faith in existence is natural, and most people keep it until circumstances render their blind faith in existence ridiculous: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life,” (Prov. 13:12). Hope, to be true hope, requires a raison d’etre; otherwise, people can be overcome by reasons to despair–the idyllic falls to the diabolic.
The moral imagination contains the true antidote to despair of all kinds: God. I almost wrote “the divine,” because the pagans also believed in a moral universe; but, when they speak of the justice of the universe, they often refer to a singular “God,” as we see in Plato and Aristotle. The power of the good God is stronger than all evil. The just shall be saved, and the wicked condemned to eternal destruction. This is the true ground for all of real hope. Our Lord increased the hope we have in Him by His death on the cross, which opened the way to salvation for all of the repentant. No one is beyond the prayer of Christ, as St. Leo the Great averred. For that reason, Christians can confidently say: “If I should be cast into hell, Thou, O Lord, will deliver me.”
At this point, one sees that the moral and idyllic imaginations rely upon faith, but the faith of the moral imagination is bolstered by reason. On the other hand, the diabolic imagination claims, like Milton’s Satan, that a being’s own reason or rationality suffices without the transcendent. That one does not need God is the pride which fuels the diabolic imagination. Man either turns to God and bases his life on God’s commandments or imitates Satan in making himself his own God.
The idyllic soul, which describes most people in the modern world, escapes descent into the diabolic by adhering to some moral principles without realizing their basis in transcendent reality. One cannot remain within this middle ground of accepting some moral principles and rejecting others! The battle between God and the devil is fought in the heart of every man, and men are doomed either to see the beautiful face of God or the horrible face of the devil in the end.