Danganronpa 3 reaches the end of its run this week, but with two different concurrently airing series and a final TV special, it can be more than a little difficult to know how to tackle this beast.
Danganronpa 3 is split into three parts: Despair Arc, Future Arc, and Hope Arc. Despair Arc is a prequel to the rest of the main franchise as a whole and follows the characters of Danganronpa 2. Future Arc, on the other hand, takes place directly after Danganronpa 2 and follows the surviving cast of the first Danganronpa—as well as a host of adult former students of Hope’s Peak Academy—trapped in a new killing game. Meanwhile, Hope Arc serves as the final ending for both of them.
(For a more in-depth look at how the whole franchise fits together, check out our Danganronpa Explainer.)
So, logically, you might think it best to watch the series in chronological order: Despair Arc and then Future Arc and then Hope Arc. However, this might actually be the worst way to watch Danganronpa 3.
The best watch order is the order in which the episodes aired on TV: Future Arc Episode One, Despair Arc Episode One, Future Arc Episode Two, Despair Arc Episode Two, and so on before finally finishing off with Hope Arc.
Why? While Despair Arc and Future Arc aired as different series, they are deeply interconnected—and even share the same director. There are many new characters in Future Arc, and episodes of Future Arc tend to focus at least partly on these characters and their conflicts with one another.
The exact nature or impetus of their conflicts is alluded to in Future Arc but is rarely explicitly revealed. However, following the suggested airing order, you’ll find if a single character or group takes center stage in an episode of Future Arc, the next episode of Despair Arc will contain that person or group’s backstory. This in turn allows you to see firsthand why the various characters are at each other’s throats in the Future Arc death game despite being on the same side nominally.
Because of this interconnectivity, watching Future Arc in one unbroken marathon leaves mysteries aplenty and characters who are never quite fleshed out. Watching Despair Arc the same way leaves the story feeling more than a little bit schizophrenic, as the tale often leaves the main plot to focus on characters who are introduced and then promptly forgotten about, never to be heard from again.
This is also why, even if you are only familiar with either Danganronpa or Danganronpa 2 but not both, it still is best to watch both Despair Arc and Future Arc—even though you may only care about the characters of one story or the other.
When it comes down to it, the way the two series tie together is perhaps the most innovative aspect of Danganronpa 3 as a whole: Two stories separated by years in their fictional universe but so interconnected that they needed to be aired at the same time. So, sure; it makes it a bit confusing to figure out what order to watch it in, but when watched in the intended way, it makes for a viewing experience unlike any other.
Danganronpa 3 can be watched for free and with English subtitles on FUNimation.