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When it comes to the Danganronpa franchise as a whole, it’s a given that many of the characters are going to die. Because of this, it hasn’t been the deaths of Danganronpa 3 so far that have shocked me: It’s the reveal of who is alive.

[This article contains major spoilers for the games Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2 as well as the first episode of currently airing anime Danganronpa 3: Despair Arc.]

Despite the numbering, Danganronpa 3: Despair Arc is actually a prequel to Danganronpa 2. It follows the seventeen student characters of Danganronpa 2 and their fall into villainy that eventually results in the group working together to bring the world to the edge of eternal despair. However, there’s just one problem with the previous sentence: There should only be sixteen characters.

While there indeed are seventeen students in Danganronpa 2, it’s revealed that one of them, “Ultimate Gamer” Chiaki Nanami, is not actually a real person but is an AI construct made to befriend and monitor the other sixteen students during their rehabilitation. Known to be built by the first Danganronpa’s “Ultimate Programmer” Chihiro Fujisaki, there is nothing in the game to suggest that Chiaki is based off of a real person.

All this is why, despite the several high profile character deaths across Danganronpa 3’s two concurrently airing anime, the biggest surprise to me was the introduction of the real life human Chiaki Nanami. Like her AI counterpart, she also carries the title of “Ultimate Gamer” and even forms an instant connection with Danganronpa 2’s protagonist Hajime Hinata.

While it’s great to discover that one of the most memorable Danganronpa 2 characters has been granted a new lease on life for Danganronpa 3, what really excites me about her appearance are the implications she brings to the story.

Because of the events and revelations of Danganronpa 2, we already have a good idea of what will happen in Danganronpa 3: Despair Arc. The class of students will come under the sway of series main villain Junko Enoshima who will use each person’s past tragedy to drive them to despair. At the same time, Hajime will be experimented on and become Izuru Kamukura–before being broken by Junko as well.

However, the addition of Chiaki Nanami adds an unknown element into the story. There is nothing to imply that she will be broken by Junko like the rest, and there is every possibility that she is the protagonist of the series. There is also the additional mystery of her fate. If she dies, her death could be a catalyst to drive the others to despair. Likewise, her survival could mean the characters in Danganronpa 3: Future Arc may have an unexpected ally waiting in the wings.

Because of all this, Chiaki’s existence adds a whole new layer of complexity to the series, making it just as interesting as the Future Arc, if not more so.

Danganronpa 3: Despair Arc can be watched for free and with English subtitles on FUNimation.

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