Based on the formula it had followed thus far, I felt I had a pretty good idea of where Dangan Ronpa was going with its ending. I was wrong; the ending packed a genuine twist that flipped the premise on its head, tossing a bunch of huge endgame plusses for the show into the pot.
Initially, I thought the amnesia plot was just a shoddy pull to justify some of the looser parts of the final mystery. With a few strokes of a pen, the script quickly changed it into something much more relevant – a layer of poison on top of the kids’ much sought-after freedom. Without knowing whether the world was actually a crapsack cesspit the way Junko alleged (and goodness did she make a convincing case; consider how hard it would have been to fabricate a story like that on the fly), they faced a choice not between freedom and imprisonment, but freedom and safety. Obviously a big difference there; even before the “murder Naegi if you want to live” factor got tossed into the equation.
All of that layering on the final dilemma made it all the more critical that the ending was open-ended the way it was. If we find out it was either a lie or the truth, it’s a simple case of “oh, they were right” or “oh, they got snookered”. The ambiguous ending shifts the discussion, making it less about the decision’s outcomes than about the process behind it. Which is a debate with much deeper potential, since there are legitimately compelling arguments to each side. They went over their reasons to vote to escape in-show (an obligation to try and help the world, plus the possibility that Junko may have been lying), and the reasons one might not want to enter an outside world full of psychopathic Monokuma-masked mobs are fairly self-evident, but I can imagine kicking around this topic for a good 20 minutes or so and getting pretty far with it. Definitely had more impact than a flat-out sunshine and rainbows ending.
One side note, I was really impressed by all of Junko’s persona-shifting this episode, and the attitude she took once the kids all chose to leave and she was enforcing her own execution. That high-energy personality is a pretty close match for the sort of person I would actually imagine were controlling Monokuma. Towards the end of the series when Monokuma was sweating it out and losing his cool, I fully expected the person behind the curtain wouldn’t embrace their villainy in shameless Dio Brando style. The finale would not have been half as good without her deliberately milking every line of dialogue she got. Even if she wasn’t controlling Monokuma after all.
When I cracked open Dangan Ronpa back in July, I had it pegged for a game adaptation that knew its limitations and enjoyed being flippant and cheesy with its source material. That was more or less the flavor it had, with each arc using more-developed characters to tell a more advanced story while also dialing up the high-energy acting. It was also a fairly well-built mystery, splitting each murder trial into one week of clues and one week of answers, letting ideas percolate in the interim. And it came on strong at the end, tying the plot together in a nice neat bow. It may not be a perfect mystery series, but it’s damn good.
Character Designs: 1/1 (For a series that makes excessive, elaborate murders its bread and butter, shock is the one emotion that needs to be done well. Guess which one DR’s characters are particularly good at showing.)
Soundtrack: 2/2 (Not often a noticeable part of the show, but only because most of the time it blends in with the scenery to passive support what the rest of the show is trying to do.)
Writing: 2/3 (While some of the case setups are a tad rudimentary, it’s always possible to guess at the answer from the clues given in show. The cast of characters is a fun one and become more so as the cast is culled of the fat leading up to the ending.)
Direction: 4/4 (Embraces the excess nature of the script with a very campy, game-esque sense of presentation. Particularly good at hiding vital clues in plain sight without interrupting the flow of the story.)
Overall: 9/10 (One of the fresher “kids abducted and forced to kill each other in some survival game” genre stories out there. Definitely worth a try if you think the genre’s getting a little stale.)