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The Danganronpa Character Who Deserved Better

*Ding Dong, Bing Bong*

Ahem... Hope's Peak Academy School Trip Executive Committee has an announcement to make...

This post contains MASSIVE spoilers for all of the Danganronpa games. There will also be mention of violence and death.

Please proceed with caution and take care of yourselves!

via Wikipedia

Danganronpa is something I might call one of my guilty pleasure games. It's not perfect, and portions of it haven't aged well, but there is plenty I like about its writing specifically. It's one of those games I wish I could go back and experience for the first time all over again because of its twists and turns and the fun of solving the mysteries throughout.

Danganronpa is often compared to the Ace Attorney franchise, as they both have investigation and trial gameplay mechanics and it's up to you as the player to figure out what happened and whodunnit. Each follows a group of high school students known as Ultimates—a title earned by being the very best at what they do. For example, Chihiro is the Ultimate Programmer, Akane is the Ultimate Gymnast, and Kaede is the Ultimate Pianist.

The Ultimates are scouted to attend the prestigious Hope's Peak Academy but, not long after they arrive on campus, they realize something is very, very wrong. They've been locked in, and things only get stranger with the introduction of Monokuma, a sadistic robotic teddy bear and self-proclaimed headmaster who informs the students that the Killing Game has begun. Their only escape is to kill a classmate and get away with it; if they are found out in the class trial, they will be executed. But if the remaining students come to the wrong conclusion, everyone but the killer will be executed.

One of the reasons Danganronpa remains so popular is its characters. Unlike the Ace Attorney games (at least in the ones I've played at the time of writing), you have Free Time between story beats and murder cases, during which you're able to spend time one-on-one with the classmate of your choosing and learn more about them—something that makes their deaths all the more heartwrenching but also makes the experience more personal for those of us who love character-driven stories.

There is a huge cosplay community around the series and even more fanart to be found. There's an especially large fanbase for Nagito in particular, and to that I say, more power to you. I get it, but I am a steadfast Gonta and Gundham kind of gal.

And while many of these characters suffer awful, tragic fates either at the hands of a peer or as punishment for their own crimes, there is one Ultimate I would argue got the short end of the stick—at least from the storytelling side of things.

*Ding Dong, Bing Bong*

This is your last spoiler warning. From here on out, I'll be going into depth about the Danganronpa games. If you haven't played them yet and want to, I highly recommend bookmarking this post and coming back after you've done so.

For everyone sticking around, class is now in session!

Now, you may be thinking that I'm basing this on who my favorite character is and wanting to keep them alive.

In that case, this post would be about Gonta, the Ultimate Etymologist from V3. It's no secret that I love cinnamon rolls. Combine that with the gentle giant trope, his being an animal lover (which is also one of the reasons I love Gundham), the clear Tarzan influence, and how he maintains his faith in his friends in such a wholesome way amid the murders—I was pretty much guaranteed to love him.

Gonta's genuine innocence made his death that much more devastating as a player.

After a simple misunderstanding causes a glitch in a VR world akin to that of Sword Art Online, it is revealed that Gonta was the one who killed Miu—and he has no memory of doing so. What makes it worse is that he was used by Kokichi, who convinced him that it would be better to let his friends perish via group execution for an incorrect conviction than for them to uncover the truth of the outside world.

As horrid as Gonta's death was, it served a narrative purpose. It likely made you as a player hate Kokichi in that moment and see him as not just an antagonist surpassing Nagito's brand of crazy, but as a true villain. It's the moment the group collectively loses all remaining vestiges of respect for him. That further impacts the events of the fifth trial, as well as the sixth once the surviving students realize Kokichi is not the mastermind after all.

It pains me to say it, but Gonta's death worked from a storytelling perspective. It had clear purpose.

But if it's not Gonta, and it’s not my other faves like Gundham, Celeste, or Ibuki, who is it that I feel deserved better from Danganronpa?

There are several contenders. Hajime was screwed over by Hope's Peak Academy, an institution he admired so deeply, and they stripped him of everything right down to his identity. I wasn't a fan of Ultra Despair Girls, but Kotoko's backstory was effective in making me understand her rage towards adults. Finding out Kaede was actually innocent and wrongly executed was a jaw-drop moment for me. The way most of the remaining students turned on Sakura and led to her decision to bring an end to things on her own terms, for their sake was terrible. And let's not forget how Junko used her twin sister Mukuro even after her death (which, mind you, was at Junko's own hands).

If we're being completely honest, the majority of characters across Danganronpa deserved better.

But if we're looking at it purely from a narrative perspective, my answer to this question is Hiyoko Saionji.

Who Is Hiyoko?

Appearing in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Hiyoko is the Ultimate Traditional Dancer, said to be favored by audiences for her petite, childlike appearance (in a creepy way by some, if you catch my drift).

Hiyoko is not a book to be judged by her cover, however. When you're introduced to her, she's killing ants because they make what she thinks is a neat sound when you crush them. She's one of the most fowl-mouthed characters in the franchise, and she has a habit of calling people names and throwing a fit when the same is done to her.

There are many who dislike Hiyoko, and while her personality is a contributing factor, much of that might have to do with her severely limited arc in the game.

Hiyoko In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Apart from some crude remarks, Hiyoko doesn't play much of a role until the second chapter.

The morning after the first trial and execution, the students meet up at the Restaurant where Hiyoko proceeds to continue bullying Mikan. A stop is put to this when they notice an odd smell and figure out it is coming from Hiyoko, who admits she hasn't showered since they were transported to the island because she cannot tie her kimono sash on her own. Mahiru steps in and offers to help, and is immediately dragged to the showers by an excited Hiyoko.

From this point on, Hiyoko is glued to Mahiru's hip and calls her "Big Sis."

This new friendship doesn't last long. Mahiru is found dead in the Beach House, with Hiyoko being one of the prime suspects. Hiyoko, understandably, denies the accusations and becomes even more hostile.

During the trial, Hiyoko's innocence is proven and Peko is found guilty, having killed Mahiru because she believed it was what Fuyuhiko wanted her to do; for context, Peko was adopted by the Kuzuryu clan to be a bodyguard for Fuyuhiko and Mahiru was linked to the death of Fuyuhiko's sister prior to the events of Danganronpa 2.

Hiyoko is devasted by Mahiru's death, just as Fuyuhiko is upset with losing Peko. Feeling responsible, he makes an attempt to make amends on her behalf (going as far as attempting to commit seppuku), which inspires Hiyoko to forgive him as best she can while aspiring to change for the better.

This doesn't come to pass.

When the Despair Disease breaks out as Monokuma's motive for the next killing, the surviving students are divided so those who have come in contact with the infected can quarantine. Hiyoko is unafflicted and locks herself in her motel room, leaving only to find a mirror so she can tie her kimono sash the way Mahiru taught her after taking a shower so she won't smell bad again.

Upon entering the music hall, she witnesses Mikan about to murder Ibuki, and Mikan hastily kills her in order to prevent her from alerting the others.

This is effectively where Hiyoko's role in Danganronpa 2 comes to an end, save for a photo of her becoming a vital clue in solving the mystery of Jabberwock Island.

The Issues With Hiyoko's Arc

The nature of Danganronpa and its killing games means there are quite a few characters who don't get a lot of screen time. The majority of them, actually. Chances are, unless you either replay the whole game or check out the bonus modes, you aren't going to get to know most of the cast.

Some characters' backstories come out during the course of the game's scripted events, as is the case with Peko and Fuyuhiko knowing each other since childhood, but there are things you can only learn if you choose to engage with them during Free Time.

Some players will hop between different characters and talk to everybody, whereas others may concentrate on maxing out one character at a time in order to explore their backstory (and get an upgrade or new ability for Class Trials). In both scenarios, the characters you choose to hang out with at any given point might depend on your feelings towards them. That's why Chiaki and Nagito tend to be among the first Free Times of the Danganronpa 2 playthroughs I've watched on YouTube.

Hiyoko's demeanor at the start of the game tends to be a turn-off, and a lot of people don't want to spend their few allotted Free Time segments with her before her death. But it's in these Free Time conversations that players get to know Hiyoko and understand her better. The way she talks about people being out to get her and do her harm out of jealousy or otherwise offensive reasons provides insight and reason as to why she is always on her guard and doesn't make friends easily. I would venture to guess this is also why she is so crude towards her classmates.

Small dogs bark louder and more often to let you know they're there. Given her stature, maybe Hiyoko is trying to make herself seem bigger than she is by putting others down—especially the meek and timid Mikan, whom she knows she can bully more effectively than someone like Akane or Peko.

Hurt people hurt people.

I would also speculate that her upbringing is a factor in Hiyoko's character. Knowing her popularity as a dancer stems from her childlike appearance, it's possible that she was infantilized to maintain that perception. Were that true, it would be a reason she is unable to tie her own kimono and care for herself properly, as everything would have been done for her.

Regardless, the way Hiyoko's storyline is cut drastically short impacts how she is viewed by audiences—and it seems even shorter compared to other early Danganronpa casualties.

In the first game, we get hints about Mondo's past early on and are filled in ahead of his execution at the end of Chapter 2. Rantaro is made out to be kind of sketchy in V3, but more is revealed much later on as to why his Ultimate Talent was kept under wraps.

But Hiyoko's part in Danganronpa 2 is severely lacking by comparison. Her backstory isn't revealed in the main game, so she's often taken at face value: a snotty, foul-mouthed brat. Anyone who doesn't do her Free Time events misses out on her dedication to dancing and the history behind it. You aren't given the insight into her as a character.

Rumor has it that Fuyuhiko was actually supposed to be the second victim in this murder case but was swapped out due to the game's writers fearing that it would diminish the impact of Peko's death, as she sacrificed herself for him believing that was what he wanted.

But if that story is true, it puts the weight of that problem on Hiyoko's shoulders instead.

Losing Peko, the person who Fuyuhiko loved most, broke something in him and cast him far beyond his comfort zone, but it also pushed him to become a better person. After the second trial of Danganronpa 2, he works to befriend his classmates and takes a more active role in the remaining events.

This also seems to be the path for Hiyoko after losing Mahiru. She's eventually willing to try and give Fuyuhiko a second chance while being nicer to her peers going forward. We see her making an effort to shower and tie her kimono the way Mahiru showed her so they won't pick on her for it, which would in turn result in her being accepted by them.

Hiyoko doesn't get to have that redemption arc Fuyuhiko does. Instead, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she ends up unceremoniously killed. She barely comes up in the subsequent trial, as the greater focus is on solving Ibuki's murder. Hiyoko is just kind of there, with no talk of the weapon used to slit her throat; to this day, that remains a mystery that gives further credence to the last-minute victim swap theory, but many fans think it was a scalpel or other instrument Mikan would likely have on her as the Ultimate Nurse.

How it happened does not change the fact that Hiyoko felt so quickly discarded, with so much of her story left untold.

The (Possible) Hiyoko Effect On Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

I think it's possible that the flaws in Hiyoko's arc influenced Himiko's in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. Like Hiyoko, she is short in stature and openly wants nothing to do with the killing game. Additionally, there is a childlike air to Himiko as there is with Hiyoko.

She also becomes attached to female classmates, Tenko and Angie, both of whom are murdered in a double-death third case as is the tradition of Danganronpa as a franchise (though I enjoyed the way this one goes down much more than the others up until you get into the killer's motives during the trial because holy heck what was literally any of that?!).

After the trial to convict their killer, Himiko is pushed into growth as a character, just as Hiyoko was in the wake of Mahiru's death. She also makes a point to solve both murders, demanding an answer for Tenko's death while everyone else is still focused on Angie's, a change from Hiyoko's death being glossed over compared to Ibuki's.

Himiko also vows to no longer hold back her feelings, allowing herself to weep for her friends until she's so exhausted Gonta has to carry her out of the trial grounds (which furthers our endearment toward him ahead of the fourth trial) and continues to find her own inner strength as she takes a more active role in the rest of the investigations.

However, unlike Hiyoko, Himiko survives the killing game and fulfills her redemption arc.

While I did not like Himiko at the beginning of V3, she began to grow on me over time, much of which has to do with her redemption arc following the deaths of Angie and Tenko.

That leads me to wonder if my stance and others' towards Hiyoko would be different had her full story been told.

Hiyoko is the greatest loss of potential in the Danganronpa games. While there are multiple things I would approach differently were I rewriting each game in the series, including improving the way Chihiro's gender identity is handled, scrapping the Monokubs altogether, and striking the incest from Korekiyo's story (because DEAR GOD what was literally any of that?!?!) but further exploring the Tulpa of his late sister, the first change I would make would be to Hiyoko's arc. Even if she does not survive the killing game, giving her the chance to change her ways in a fulfilling redemption arc would be the ultimate goal for me.

(okay, I might want to keep Gonta and Gundham alive, too...)



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