Danganronpa excels because of its characters. Video games excel because you, dear player, get to be the hero and actively participate in the story, so the protagonist is very important! And of the four Danganronpa games, 3 have amazing protagonists. And one of them sucks, a lot, and his name is Hajime Hinata.
But Lux does not agree with me. No, she thinks he is a great character, one of the best, actually. I jokingly said she needs to write an essay to explain herself.
And, the mad lass, actually took me up on it. She posted her outline of the piece and is writing it as I’m editing this.
So this “essay” is a counter-argument to (most of) her points. I have no idea how she is actually going to make those points, and I think it’ll be funnier if this is written going in (mostly) blind. [You can read her post here].
And, as a head’s up: this has major spoilers for all 3 mainline Danganronpa games (DR1 = Trigger Happy Havoc, DR2 = Goodbye Despair, DRv3 = Killing Harmony). The big exception is the ending of DRv3 since Lux hasn’t gotten to that yet, but everything before that is fair game. I do talk about Komaru as a protagonist in Ultra Despair Girls (UDG), but nothing that is spoiler-y. I’m aware that some of these characters get extra development in Danagronpa 3 (the anime), but they were not presented with the original game, nor is the anime very good at all, nor has Lux watched it, I believe, so we’re going to pretend that never happened. I don’t include anything else in here, like the light novels or manga adaptions. I wanted to look at these characters and their arcs/narrative roles, solely as they do in their main piece of media. The works, and the characters, should hold up in the media in question, not be patched up later.
The gist of Hope’s Peak Academy, if you are somehow unfamiliar with Danganronpa and are reading this anyway, is that everyone is an ultimate, the very best at what they do. The Ultimate Baseball Guy! The Ultimate Gamer! The Ultimate “Wait, so he’s just rich?”! But, paradoxically, they randomly pick someone to join the class as the Ultimate Lucky Student. Nagito Komaeda is the lucky student in DR2, and he absolutely has the ultimate luck; it’s called upon at several crucial moments of the story, with them only happening due to his sheer luck. Makoto, as the protagonist of DR1, is, like many protagonists, Just An Ordinary Guy, so him being the Ultimate Lucky Student gives him a diegetic reason to attend Hope’s Peak. But there are never any moments where his luck comes up. This is because he’s actually “the Ultimate Hope,” to counter Junko Enoshima’s Ultimate Despair. His ordinariness is intentional, as hope can spring from anyone and anywhere.
[aside: “diegetic” means something that exists within the world of the story, while “exdiegetic” means it does not. Chapter headings in a novel or the pause menu of a game are exdiegetic. Music coming from a jukebox in the bar is diegetic. My discussion of diegesis in this essay is mostly referring to “in-universe” reasons/explanations for things, compared to things happening because of narrative tropes.
For example: if a zombie apocalypse is happening, the main character should know that’s what’s going on and prepares accordingly. Because, diegetically speaking, they should be aware of what a zombie is and what to do. But this never happens, because the creator wants those moments of fear and confusion. For exdiegetic reasons, knowledge of zombies, or anything like them, does not exist within the world of the story. Which leads to the viewer wondering why no one knows what a zombie is, which breaks immersion and story enjoyment. Which are generally bad things.]
And now, we have Hajime, the protagonist of DR2. Once again, we have a protagonist that is Just An Ordinary Guy. But he’s not the Ultimate Lucky Student, that’s Nagito. So why is he here? He can’t recall what his talent is, and no one else knows what it is, either. But having a character that is the Ultimate ??? is not novel to the series. Kyoko Kirigi, technically, was an Ultimate ??? for most of the game, claiming she didn’t remember her talent. But it becomes immediately obvious that she is the Ultimate Detective, to the point where her “coming clean” feels odd, because you feel like you already knew that, so what was the secret?
[Personally, I find this to be a very funny anticlimatic non-twist, so I like it, but I’m also aware that the things I find funny in stories aren’t necessarily the same as everyone else.]
But there is never a moment where his true talent shines through as it does with Kyoko. That’s because he (Hajime, in the singular) has no talent. Okay, fair! But that doesn’t change the fact that, despite being the player character, isn’t very good at anything. Makoto is very good at befriending people and searching for hope. His sister, Komaru, has similar talents. Other characters comment on this.
Hajime has no such talent. Even someone who is talentless is still a little good at something and has knowledge about a topic someone else might not. Komaru knows a lot about manga, and ghosts, which is surprisingly relevant to the plot. She also does a very good job at befriending Genocide Jack, an actual serial killer. But Komaru constantly puts herself down, because she’s not amazing at anything, not like Byakuya, or Toko, or even her brother Makoto, as the Ultimate Lucky Student. But because she has unique things about her, such as all the ghost stuff, she is not just a blank slate. She is a unique character.
Hajime has no such interests. He has no talent, ultimate or otherwise. He has no backstory until we get a bunch dumped onto us at the last hour of the game (put a pin in that, that’s a later point). Many visual novels are like this, intentionally, to maximize the protagonist as a true “audience surrogate.” The creator wants to make it easy for you to project onto this bland nobody so you can vicariously date those catgirl maids.
Makoto’s “ordinariness” is a riff on this, because his reason to be at Hope’s Peak sounds like it’s straight out of a bad VN. But, despite all that, he still has a personality. He works well with the other characters, allowing unique situations to open up between them, as he goes out of his way to befriend them and understand what they do and what makes them happy. You can tell he honestly cares about everyone, and that he is friends with everyone because he is that kind of person. Danganronpa is not a dating game (at least 1, 2, and UDG are not), the protagonist’s goal is not to get as close to the other characters as possible. Makoto is just like that.
Hajime doesn’t have this draw, despite being explicitly told by Usami that is the reason they’re in this predicament. As soon as someone is a jerk, he thinks “good riddance!” and is done with them. Of course, he can still seek them out during free time events, but if/when those happen are not canon. Those aren’t activities he actively seeks out, the player makes him choose them.
Characters are interesting because they want something, they need to do something. We want to see those struggles. All of the protagonists of Danganronpa have the same need (to survive), as do all of the other characters. But they still have individual wants, which drive their actions. Celeste wants a castle full of vampire himbos. Sonia wants to be the best queen for her country. Maki wants you to not discover what her talent actually is.
Now let’s look at the protagonists. Shuichi wants to honor Kaede and stop the mastermind/get everyone out alive. Komaru wants to find out if her family is okay. Makoto, too. Hajime…what does he want? To find his own talent, maybe, but this is rarely at the forefront of his mind. It mostly comes up when Nagito teases him about it.
So we have a character with no wants, no hobbies, no talents, no backstory, and no unique desires. How are we supposed to be attached to him? How can we fear for his safety? And, comparing him to the other protagonists in the series, what does he look like in comparison? Shuichi and Komaru have full character arcs, and Makoto does grow over the course of the story.
One of my biggest criticisms of DR1 is that most characters do not have an arc. Byakuya goes from “friends are fake and gay, like magic, and Egypt” season 1 Seto Kaiba to “tch, I guess friends are good sometimes” latter half of Battle City Seto Kaiba, but that’s really it. DR2’s “I don’t need FRIENDS” character, Fuyuhiko, has an incredible arc. So, once again, how are we supposed to feel about Hajime as the main character when he’s being outshined by someone else?
He Only Figures Things Out Because He’s the Protagonist (Derogatory)
So we have 3 Dangaronpa games with trials: Makoto, the Ultimate Lucky Student; Hajime, the Ultimate Just A Guy; and Shuichi, the Ultimate Detective. I’ll also compare the various protagonists from the Ace Attorney series to these, as they have similar trial mechanics.
Shuichi is able to look at the crime scenes and evidence and put things together because that is his talent. He has a “sidekick” that will investigate with him in each case, who he can explain things to, for the audience members out there who have not watched all of Law and Order as I have. The sidekick works as the audience surrogate, so the player is never left confused. When Shuichi makes these breakthroughs, it makes sense, and he should! As he is the most competent person in the room. He also really, truly, wants to ensure no more people die, and that requires solving a case, no matter how hard and ugly that truth might be. That’s kinda his whole character arc!
In Ace Attorney, these are all highly-trained lawyers, who also seem to work as detectives/private investigators, considering the amount of legwork they do examining crime scenes and questioning witnesses. So when they are in court, pondering what the solution is, well, they’re supposed to be smart! Lawyers are good at this! They will also have a sidekick, a magical but not legal girl, who needs things explained to her, or perhaps they ask insightful questions. They might even summon a ghost to backseat lawyer for you! But, again, they would be a lawyer, who would have the ability and reason to solve cases and make compelling arguments in the trial.
Now, let’s examine Makoto. He is, quite frankly, a dumbass, but it works. Kyoko or Byakuya will set something up for him to answer (“Go on, Makoto, tell them. Tell them why the ice cream machine is hella broke.”). But, since his true talent is befriending everyone, he’s able to get pieces of evidence no one else can. Infamously, this leads to Byakuya making himself look like the prime suspect for a murder, with new sprites and everything. And, if you’ve ever played Ace Attorney, you know that once they break out the new sprites, you got your man! But he is actually upset that he missed something that Makoto found, which he only did because he took the time to work with others.
But Hajime doesn’t have this ability. He’s friends with people because he is the protagonist, but he doesn’t have the same ability to draw people together (that’s Chiaki’s job). He never mentioned he watches NCIS, or likes detective novels, or anything that gives him a diegetic reason for making these connections and solving these crimes. He only is because the player is, and the player has the ability to try as many times as they want, which, diegetically, Hajime does not.
Imagine the situation from the outside. Hajime is leading the trials, but why? He’s making all the big revelations, but why him? Is he actually the Ultimate Lawyer? Probably not, he doesn’t seem to have many other lawyerly skills. And that’s because…
God, He Is So Stupid
I’m going to put a giant caveat here: yes, I know this is because of localization, but they didn’t choose to tweak things here. The content, presented as-is, forces you to this conclusion. Diegetically, this is the truth, no matter how much you might not like it, so look at it.
In chapter 2, Hajime runs into Sonia at the library. She shows him a booklet about the island they’re on. “Huh, what language is this?” Hajime asks. Sonia doesn’t say. But you, dear player, can see the pamphlet is in English. Which is pretty weird, considering he is speaking in English. This is also a core skill in Japanese schools, so am I to believe he’s really never encountered English before?
And as I retell this here, for the millionth time, I realize: The name of the hotel is in English. “Usami Ranch” is in English. Rocketpunch Market, Titty Typhoon, there is so much signage and items in English that Hajime reads perfectly fine. But not a pamphlet? He clearly CAN read English, just not this one time? Why? Establishing that Sonia can speak English never comes up ever again, only her knowing Spanish is plot-relevant, and the pamphlet certainly is not in Spanish. So even in the original Japanese version of the game, Hajime not knowing what English is doesn’t make any sense.
When the despair disease rips through the island, Nagito gets the liar disease, so everything he tells is untrue. At one point, Hajime checks in on him at the hospital, and Nagito says. “Oh, it’s Hajime, I am so unhappy you are here to visit me! I want you to leave!” And, without a second thought, Hajime just LEAVES. The guy is lying to you, and I have seen people say Hajime has great emotional intelligence. Huh?
Makoto is stupid, yes. But it works with him because he is everyone’s pet idiot. He’s dumb, but not dumb to the point of uselessness. Or, the only use they have is they throw out random ideas that happen to be true (looking at you, Akane). To be fair, many of the other characters in DR1 are stupid (Hiro and Hina especially so), so Makoto being stupid is not especially egregious.
Komaru is also dumb, but she doesn’t have to deal with trials. She has Toko to temper her, but Komaru’s obliviousness to the true extent of The Tragedy and what happened inside Hope’s Peak doesn’t get in the way of what she has to do. I mean, it is a little shitty of Toko to not tell her from the get-go that her brother is alive and well, or Hiro’s mom, or Hina’s brother, but Toko is the deurotagonist, so we’re not here to pass judgment on her. For now.
Hajime’s lack of hobbies, backstory, or talents means he has no knowledge to draw on. He only has…whatever a student in the Japanese school system should have at that age. But also you have Akane there, too, and I doubt she knows what a conjunction is. So the bar doesn’t seem to be all that high to get into Hope’s Peak.
He’s Reactive, Not Active
Since this is technically a literary criticism, but maybe you, dear reader, may not be hip to all the things that go into good writing, I shall explain to you passive vs active roles.
A passive character is one where things happen to them. This happens at the start of a lot of books for children, as children don’t get to choose if their parents get divorced or move them to another school. An active character, meanwhile, is taking actions, which moves the plot forward.
Ash Ketchum chooses to go on a Pokemon adventure. But since he slept in late, the only starter left is Pikachu–he doesn’t have a choice in the matter, so this is passive. The conflict is Pikachu won’t listen to him, which is a problem if he wants to catch ’em all, which is his goal. When they get attacked by Spearow (get is passive, someone else is doing something to them), he defends Pikachu (active), which motivates Pikachu to defend him in turn. He then steals (active) Misty’s bike to bring him to the Pokemon Center in time. Because of his actions (defending Pikachu), the conflict is resolved and the greater plot moves forward.
Hajime, despite being the protagonist, has a very passive role in the story, serving as a receptacle for information. He is pulling a June Osborne the entire game. It’s his story since he is the main character, but he takes no action.
This is in reference to the Hulu show The Handmaid’s Tale, where the main character, June Osborne, gets invited (passive) to various important conversations and scenes and doesn’t do anything besides observe and have some thoughts about it. Narratively, this has to happen because she is the sole point-of-view character in Gilead for a decent chunk of the show, but tv is less constricted to limiting POV compared to a novel, so there was no need to do this. “Head hopping” is less of a sin in a visual medium, since you are never truly “inside” the head of a character.
This is, by no means, a formal term or trope, but something that I came up with while watching The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s so egregious because, diegetically, there is no reason for these to happen. June is a known Troublemaker, she can and will do whatever possible to destroy Gilead and help other women escape. She isn’t killed because her fertility makes her too valuable to lose, fair, and it makes sense in the world of the story. But she is also imprisoned several times because of her actions. Yet later she gets to meet important people and go to serious events, just for the audience to see it.
People mention “plot armor,” where a character doesn’t die because they are too important to the plot. But June doesn’t need plot armor, since Gilead needs her alive, but they don’t need her running around free to cause problems. They don’t have to let her learn important facts to hate them even more and allow her to enact her plans. But the only explanation for her being at these events are exdiegetic ones, which annoys me to no end.
So, diegetically, Hajime does have a reason to see various events and conversations, because he is everyone’s friend (theoretically). Exdiegetically, he is there as the audience surrogate, he is the sole POV character. But, truly, why is it this way? See below:
Chapter 1: Hajime says hi to everyone (while active, is just “tutorial” content), Byakuya Twogami declares himself the leader and that there will be a party and everyone must go. Nagito gets picked to do the cleaning. Hajime goes to the party, as ordered, looks around, then Byakuya tells him (no choice)to help him with weapons collection. He joins him by looking at things in the kitchen, but Byakuya does all the judging of items as weapons and the collecting. Hajime goes back to the party, then the murder happens.
Chapter 2: Hajime goes to explore the new island with everyone else (again, while active, is “tutorial” content to introduce the new area), he looks at things and has some conversations. Someone else has the idea to capture Nagito, which someone else does. Everyone gets the motive to kill, which is a video game you can play. Mahiru tells Hajime to feed Nagito, which he doesn’t even do, just talks to him. Hajime attempts to play the game but can’t make heads or tails of it, so nothing changes. Kazuichi invites Hajime to sit in a location and wait for other people to show up. They see another character acting weird, so Kazuichi goes to investigate. Then there’s a body discovery announcement, so Hajime goes over to see what that’s all about.
This is how the whole game goes. Someone else has an idea and makes a decision to move the plot forward. Hajime might tag along. Hajime looks at new things on a new island but doesn’t do anything of his own volition. The one exception I can think of is when he wanted to go to the Saw trap, so he could find a way out of the Strawberry and/or Grape Houses. But he’s stopped from doing so. So, again, nothing in the plot changes.
After the last real trial, Hajime just lays in bed depressed for a few days until the timer is up and the next stage of the game happens, by force. He could have chosen to talk to others or find a solution, but doesn’t. He does choose hope and to keep fighting at the very, very end of the game, during the final trial. But, up until then, everyone else is taking action to move the plot forward.
One can argue that, by being trapped in the killing game, that the characters have little agency in the plot. But that’s simply not true. Byakuya chooses to host a party, both for morale and to prevent a murder. Fuyuhiko chooses to play the game and obtain a motive to kill someone (which he then goes through the effort of making happen). In DR1, Chihiro chooses to come out, Toko chooses to tell Byakuya about her plurality, and Sakura chooses to tell everyone she’s the traitor.
On the flip side, Maki doesn’t have a choice about her true talent coming out, and Gonta doesn’t have a choice in committing murder. But their agency is revoked, not by the mechanics of the game or for a metafictional reason, but because Kokichi chooses to do these things, to these characters. He chooses to cause problems and generate more conflict. Someone’s active actions always create passive actions for someone else. And, more importantly, neither Maki nor Gonta are the player character.
So, characters absolutely have agency and the ability to move the plot forward. Hajime, though, never does this. The only decisive actions he takes are in the trials, where he is leading everything because he is the protagonist. But why him? Why not the princess, an actual leader? Or the team coach? Or someone with a strong personality, like Akane or Ibuki? The answer, of course, is because Hajime is the player character, so of course he’s gotta be in charge!
Izuru Kamukura, or: The Twist That I Always Forget Ever Happened
I love Danganronpa, this accursed piece of media has not left my brain since first getting into it. I know way too much about it. I remember Toko’s pet stinkbug, and Celeste’s cat, and Mondo’s dog that was only in the manga. And the Killer Killer manga, and how it wasn’t actually told to anyone for the first few chapters that it was a Danganronpa manga. Or Byakuya’s canonical name if he were a trans woman.
And yet I, very frequently, totally forget about Izuru Kamukura. And it’s for one simple reason: the game forgot about him, too.
One of the things Danganronpa excels at is including details from the beginning. The first time you meet “Junko,” something is off, and she throws you a reasonable-enough diegetic reason for it. The very first second of Dangaronpa 2 is a clue to the grand secret of the game, and this is the case with v3 as well. But the big secret that there is a second guy inside Hajime, and that he has ALL the talents, AND he’s evil and has been working with Junko this whole time, is not at the start.
It only shows up for the first time at Grape and or Strawberry house, which is chapter 4 of 6. You see a photo of an old guy with the name Izuru Kamukura. Huh, that’s weird! And that’s it. When Nagito gets the dossiers of everyone, he doesn’t seem to know about Izuru. Or, if he does, he still acts like Hajime is a nobody. He doesn’t even taunt him about how “The talent is truly inside of you! haha” or anything. Which he absolutely would have done.
So, gathering all the clues in the final chapter, to determine the truth of the killing game, is when you get anything of note with regards to Izuru, such as the program to manufacture “Ultimate Hope.” Izuru!Hajime has one sprite, and is only in one scene. Izuru!Hajime never interacts with anyone else. His onscreen time is a few minutes, maybe, and his existence in the story is only in the last hour.
Technically, he is the “mastermind” of Danganronpa 2, because, presumably, he used his having all the talents power to make Alter Ego!Junko and hack into the program. Perhaps he even had Junko inside himself, which is why he allowed himself to be caught and put in the program. But his actual involvement is nothing, and highly speculative. He’s a surprise villain, but one that was never hinted at. You see him at the very, very end of UDG, but you don’t learn anything new.
The first boat conversation with Nagito could serve as a hint that Izuru is in Hajime. But that would require you to assume that, since this is from that character’s POV, and that the game’s POV is Hajime’s, then, exegetically, it must still be Hajime! Somehow. But we have a POV shift to Nagito in the Saw trap room, so why couldn’t the boat conversation be from someone else’s POV? When you do see Izuru on the boat, he looks so different from Hajime, there is no way to know that it’s actually Hajime.
One can argue that Hajime’s lack of talent is a clue for Izuru, but that’s not true. Hajime had no talent from the start, which is why he chose to become Izuru. So even if Hajime were a singlet, he would still be in the game without a talent. He might even still have the same amount of amnesia! Nothing would change.
When it was revealed he was a nobody and paid his way into Hope’s Peak, there was no additional information that challenged this notion or implied it wasn’t the full truth. Zero Escape is very good at hiding villains in plain sight, and, even with the bullshit that happened in Zero Time Dilemma, there were clues for that twist, but very minor. A tiny bit more than “Mondo called Chihiro a dude” but less than “Actually, it was you! in v3.
But there are no such clues for Izuru. He feels like he was pulled out at the last minute to make Junko not the mastermind at a very technically true level and they forgot to go back and put in the clues. There are a ton of clues as to who is the traitor and the grand truth of the world all over the place, sprinkled throughout the game. If you complete all the free time events with Sonia, she mentions she had a nightmare where her parents were dead and her kingdom was destroyed. That sure does hit different once you know the ending of the game!
The interesting-ness of Izuru only exists within the DR3 anime, and it only makes him (and Hajime) worse, which is why I’m not using it for my main arguments, but I feel it is worthwhile to note here. Hajime is in the reserve course, and Chiaki, as class rep for the ultimate, chooses to hang out with him. Why? Because he’s the protagonist, of course! Hajime never has a breakdown over imposter syndrome, he just says “gee I really wish I could be an ultimate!” and signs up for the psychosurgery, which also included hair extensions, for some reason. He becomes Izuru because he has to, because the script demanded it, not because he’s desperate to be special. All Izuru does, though, is stand around near Junko and watch Chiaki die. It’s implied with the camerawork that, perhaps, Hajime is inside, saw all this, and is very sad about it, but that is all speculation and me trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.
So, within the higher canonicity of DR2 itself, Izuru is a whole lot of nothing. His existence is the only shred of backstory or motivation Hajime has, which is too little, too late. The only benefit he has is it allows me to headcanon that the only reason Hajime agreed to All That was because he was going to get free top surgery, too. But this essay is about Hajime as presented, in canon, and not what’s in fix-it fics or headcanons. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be the next point.
And, Finally, Nagito…What In The World Are People On?
Here is the soundtrack to this section, if you’d like to play it:
Nagito is one of the most interesting characters in all of Danganronpa. As the anti-Makoto (or, the Bizarro Makoto, to use Seinfeld terms), he is a normal guy that has lived through extraordinary circumstances, which has led him to have very unordinary thoughts and worldviews. He serves as “hope” from the very beginning and does so in such a way that makes hope revulsive.
Nagito, as Hajime’s narrative foil, is in a unique literary relationship with him. But, as a regular character, his relationship is very much not there. Hajime is creeped out by Nagito, at best, and despises him at worse. Nagito treats him horribly as well, bullying him for not having a talent (despite him always self-deprecatingly comparing himself to the “true” ultimates) and, you know, wanting to kill him at the end.
Another aside: a character that is a “foil” exists to make another character shine, in some way. By contrasting the two, or having them interact, you make the primary character deeper and more complex. When you have a gemstone, like a diamond, what makes it sparkle are imperfections–either chemical or structural–within the crystal matrix, as light reflects off those. To amplify that, you need more light to shine through, but most gems, once in jewelry, are against skin. So, the jewelry maker puts a piece of foil on the back of the gemstone in its setting, so light bounces off it and makes the gem shine brighter. A narrative foil exists for the same purpose.
See my above point about the liar’s disease. If Hajime, truly, cared for Nagito, he would have taken half a second to be hurt by what Nagito said to him, which would be time enough to realize what he really meant.
The basis of their relationship within fandom seems to be because of the final free time event between the two…in the Japanese language version. Nagito says he loves Hajime, using the word that means romantic love, not between-friends love. But they very clearly do not like each other for the entire rest of the game.
It’s entirely possible that Nagito does truly, honestly love Hajime in a more-than-platonic sort of way, but his actions don’t show that. Toko, Kyoko, Tenko, Shuichi, Kaito, and Maki all go out of their way to say or do things for the people they love. And look at all of UDG. Toko/Genocide Jack is throwing herself onto Lord of the Flies island to save Byakuya. Komaru, despite being scared out of her mind, is doing this to see her family again. And they both (thrith? How do I include Jack in this) stay together to support each other and make the world a better place, and also because they are in love with each other. It is the cannonest romantic relationship in all of Dagnanronpa, besides maybe Kaede and Shuichi, but we didn’t have an entire game to see that develop as we did with UDG.
Nagito is neurodivergent, to put it nicely. His brain cancer and or dementia don’t help him at all, but he probably wouldn’t have been normal considering all the trauma he went through. He is very nice and polite to Hajime, and everyone else, at the start of the game, but really only starts turning “evil” once he finds out this is a killing game. His true colors shine through during the first trial, so he sets himself as an antagonist to everyone. Compare this to DR1, where no one particular classmate is “the enemy,” so murder can come from anywhere. DRv3 has Kokichi and Kiyo, who seem off, but they do not exude the same malice and danger as Nagito does. Or Fuyuhiko, for that matter. Hiyoko is pretty malicious, too, but she weighs 20 lbs sopping wet, so she’s not much of a threat.
Makoto does his best to befriend everyone, even the serial killer. Even Byakuya, despite him risking everyone’s lives because he wanted to pretend to be NBC Hannibal for a bit. Makoto doesn’t hate Kyoko for getting him “executed.” He doesn’t hate the remnants of despair despite All Of That, he risks everything to save them. The hope he has is in other people, which is what they needed to beat Junko and to heal the world. He brings everyone together! That is his true talent.
Kaede, as Team Mom (spiritually)(Kirumi is the literal mom), befriends everyone. When she passes the mantle of protagonist-ism to Shuichi, that also includes being everyone’s friend. Shuichi is not an outgoing person, he has to try really hard to try new things and connect with others. But his faith and trust in everyone is why he seeks the truth so thoroughly. He doesn’t want them to be the killer, so he has to find the truth, whatever it is. However hard that is.
Hajime is told something similar by Chiaki. She is the Team Mom, the Bonzi Buddy who dispenses helpful truths to keep Hajime going. Nagito does, too, like making him think about octagons or “does the 3 people finding a body rule include the killer?” But in a not-actually-kindhearted way, like when Twitter scolds you for retweeting an article before reading it.
Hajime does overcome his inner demon(s)(which is shadow clone jutsu Izuru) in the final case…which is also where the inner demon(s) is first introduced. Then he decides he’s going to beat Junko, then he tells everyone else to do it, and they agree with him. They all had someone else they wanted to live for, someone who’s gone and would feel bad if they gave up. Except for Kazuichi, who has nobody, which is a funny way to whiff his character arc by not giving him any arc at all.
Shuichi lives for Kaede for the whole game. Hajime has only the one chapter to live for Chiaki, and he gives up before being forced into the next stage of the game. And he sure as hell is not living for Nagito. I doubt anyone was thinking of seeing Nagito again when they pushed the buttons. Perhaps they forgot that, uh oh, they would have to see Nagito again, and have to deal with all those memories they had together. Awkward!
A large part of the fandom loves “komahina,” and they have the right to like whatever ships they want. But I’ve also seen a lot of people saying Hajime is a good character because of his complex, more-than-platonic relationship with Nagito…which is not there. The only person he has a deep relationship with is Chiaki, everyone else is pretty whatever.
What makes Danganronpa shine is its characters, especially the interactions between characters…but Hajime is dull, he has none of that. And if I put a piece of foil under a Cheeto, the foil would turn bright orange, which is pretty and all, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cheeto is still a Cheeto. Light really can’t shine through it, so all the attention is on the foil. The foil would work with all sorts of other objects! But it’s paired with the Cheeto since the Cheeto is the protagonist, for whatever reason.
Hajime is not a good protagonist. He is not a good character. He is bland, too bland. He feels like an attempt to do Makoto again, but somehow more ordinary than “I like Marvel movies and I buy Funko Pops” than Makoto was. Hajime is the guy who only plays Call of Duty on his Playstation and will never get over that he peaked in high school. He could drop out in the middle of the school year and no one would notice he was gone, because he wasn’t embedded into any peer groups or took part in any clubs or organizations. The world just…exists around him. But, he is the main character, so the world revolves around him, despite everything else operating by its own devices. He is simply a gravity well, serving a mechanical purpose, but not a literary one. It cannot move or act on its own, it only is.
Chiaki would have been a much better main character. Hell, Kazuichi, even. There is personality! Desires! They take action! But Hajime, somehow, is an entirely passive, bland character yet is, by design, the most active, by being the player character. Which leaves me bewildered, why do things this way?
Bonus Thing: If This Were A Query Letter
For the non-writers out there: a query letter is like a cover letter, which you send to literary agents so they’ll represent you and sell your book to publishers. There is a formula they follow, which is:
[MC] WANTS [thing], BUT [obstacle], and IF they fail, THEN [stakes]. BUT THEN [inciting incident/twist]. SO NOW [MC] NEEDS [thing], BUT [obstacle], and IF they fail, THEN [stakes].
The main character has to want something, they have to react to something that is happening in the story, and they have to take action. They can’t just have the plot happen to them or go through the motions, because they are in a story, and that’s what a story requires. The above is boiling down a story to its most basic and can help show serious structural flaws in your story.
Let’s look at Kazuichi first
Kazuichi WANTS to build a rocket ship, BUT his family is poor af and IF he fails, THEN he will be sad and feel unfulfilled. BUT he’s found himself stuck on this tropical island with 15 other students. Kill, or be killed. SO NOW he must survive this killing game, OR ELSE he will be dead, and that is a pretty universal human want.
Build a rocket ship! Or get a girlfriend. Still, there are things he wants to do.
Chiaki WANTS to help all of her friends not be evil anymore, BUT an evil AI has taken over the system, and IF she fails, THEN they will be killed and/or stay evil forever, which are both bad. BUT she’s found herself stuck on this tropical island with 15 other students. Kill, or be killed. SO NOW she needs to find a way to end this killing game. Does she fight Junko herself? Or does she work her ass off making everyone be friends with each other? And how will she cope when she sees the evil within her friends come back to light?
Damn, that is pretty good! Of course, it shows your hand from the beginning of the twist of the world, and that Chiaki is “the traitor.” But this is what she’s thinking and going through the entire game. She has a different need than everyone else, and her original want is radically different as well.
Hajime WANTS…something, BUT he can’t remember what. Stakes? Probably, no idea what! BUT he’s found himself stuck on this tropical island with 15 other students. Kill, or be killed. SO NOW he must survive this killing game, OR ELSE he will be dead, and also never figure out what his wants are.
So what does Hajime want? He can’t recall, doesn’t seem too bothered about it, though. And his need is the same as everyone else, so that isn’t very special. Presumably, he has a family at home that would miss him if he died, but we never hear about that. Novoselic would be in a bad place without Sonia, Akane’s 80something siblings would go hungry, and the Cubs will never go to the Super Bowl without Nekomaru’s help! But Hajime has no stakes, no unique desires, no wants. He would be perfect for a character to die ASAP.
Bonus Thing 2: Rewriting This Game From Chiaki’s POV
Inspired by the “query letter” above, I wanted to see what that would look like. Just a very rough synopsis!
Chikai goes to her first day of school at Hope’s Peak. She is the Ultimate Gamer, which the players will love because they, too, are gamers. A girl! Who plays games! What an awesome protagonist. When she steps onto the campus, things get fuzzy. She wakes up in a classroom. She has no memories of anything. Hey, why does this talking rabbit seem to know me?
Then everything goes exactly the same until chapter 5. Except:
She wants to play the motive video game, and almost does, but forces herself not to. She doesn’t trust herself to not be convinced to kill by a game. I mean, if Usami turned a chicken into a cow, a mind-controlling video game could be possible. She only plays it once the murder happens.
Same deal with the Saw room, she would see it as an escape game and she KNOWS can do it. But Hajime stops her, because there is a chance she might die, and he wouldn’t want her to die. So she is grateful for his friendship.
The big problem here is WHO would kill Nagito? Because Chiaki would need to make it to the end of the game for this to work. Or maybe we pull a v3 and she dies and THEN Hajime is the main character. And he has to work very hard to internalize everything Chiaki said to him, instead of lying in bed for a couple of days, having given up playing the game at all. Chiaki would never quit a game, no matter how hard it was!
Though if Chiaki does make it to the end, the UI would shift so SHE is seeing the “court vision” from her perspective, and she has to do whatever to do the “hey Hajime this is a trap don’t fall for it” bit. And she can die as part of the deal to allow them to survive in real life. And then Hajime can only be the POV in the epilogue, and that would be really impactful.
I guess Kazuichi can kill Nagito in this version since he had no one to “live” for at the end. And also, in the Summer Camp game, he works with Chihiro to make the NeoWorld program, so maybe he was good-ified first and was the traitor, too. Maybe Chiaki dropped one of the bottles and he picked it up and threw it, so Nagito made him do the murder. And then Monokuma can make a snide little comment about how there’s still one traitor left…and then that can feed into some stuff implying Izuru exists, and that The Cooler Hajime is the traitor, so the Izuru reveal can have that extra layer to it.
Queer Buddhist bird.
Formally trained in print/web journalism, my passions are animals, science, speculative fiction, food and plastic models. I write weird stuff and have terrible taste in both media and characters. My favorite stories have memorable twists and premises. Examples include: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Danganronpa, Zero Escape, Ace Attorney, and nonfiction books about spicy incidents.
My writing interests skew on the longer side and include novels and video games/interactive fiction. I am physically incapable of writing something simple or normal. I'm also a strong believer that you can learn from any piece of media, no matter how bad it is or how much it isn't a book.
He/him or they/them.