- ダンガンロンパ/ゼロ — Dangan Ronpa / Zero
- Author: Kazutaka Kodaka — Artist: Rui Komatsuzaki
- Volume 1: Amazon.jp — Books Kinokuniya — YesAsia
- Volume 2: Amazon.jp — Books Kinokuniya — YesAsia
- The fan translation (by steampunktietime and revolutionpotato): Tumblr link
- MAL Entry — Forum
(Note: This site’s central focus is on light novels officially translated and published in English, but at times I will post reviews for stories that have only been translated by fans. Please support the Japanese books that don’t get English releases.)
I’m going to go ahead and review both of these volumes together, because they’re just two halves of one story. I’ll also keep this review spoiler-free! No spoilers for anything Dangan Ronpa-related.
I’ve been a fan of Dangan Ronpa for some time… even before the first game was released in English. I enjoyed reading the “let’s play” fan translation of the first game, and I loved playing it as well as its sequel once they were brought over to the PS Vita in English (now available on Steam for PC too). For those unfamiliar with the franchise, these are basically visual novels that incorporate “adventure game” mystery-solving. The premise is a bunch of high school students with “ultimate” abilities are locked in a school by a robot bear, who will only grant a student freedom if she or he can kill a classmate and get away with it (i.e. not get outed during a “class trial” that follows a murder). Did you get all that? It’s all just wonderfully bizarre.
These light novels serve as a prequel to the first game. Because these books very quickly spoil some of the biggest plot twists of said game though, it is strongly recommended you play Dangan Ronpa first. And really, the light novels more or less assume you have done so, and half the fun is figuring out how the events of these novels connect to those of the first game (and then the second).
The story of Zero follows a girl named Ryouko Otonashi, one of the ultimate students at Hope’s Peak Academy. Unfortunately, she is suffering from a severe case of amnesia–she not only has forgotten her past, but continually forgets even what has happened only a few minutes ago. The only person she can remember is a boy named Yasuke Matsuda, the school’s ultimate neurologist. He is studying Ryouko’s condition in an effort to cure her, because they are childhood friends. Sounds like it could be the setup for a nice romcom, maybe? Too bad for our main characters, this is a Dangan Ronpa story. Ryouko is readily worrisome in her extraordinary fanatic love toward Yasuke, who in turn is anything but sweet to his supposed sweetheart. Rather than root for the two to smooth things over, you instead wish for the two to please get help. No time for that though, when people start getting killed on campus.
It’s a twisted setup that sounds right at home in the world of Danga Ronpa, but the execution(!) of these two light novels is sadly severely lacking. Our two main characters aren’t together for most of the story, and instead they each have to deal with a variety of boring side characters. I never thought I’d say that for a Dangan Ronpa story, but these new characters (an ultimate body guard, an ultimate spy, various other classmates and school officials) really are bland. Part of this may be due to the translation, but all the jokes fell flat for me, and all the plot twists lacked power. There are a few nice and violent horror moments, but most of the story consists of meandering and everyone wondering what’s going on. It felt like it could have just been a one-volume story with nothing of value lost.
All in all I don’t consider Zero an entertaining read (or at least, not nearly as entertaining as the games). However, if you are a big fan of the franchise in general, you will at least get some interesting insight on the primary antagonists and how they managed to set up their outlandish plans to plunge Hope’s Peak Academy into despair. As a fan I find the new information pretty neat, but as a reader I wished for much of the Japanese text to be trimmed down and for the translated English text to read more professionally.
Cho’s Rating: Maybe Recommended… for Dangan Ronpa fans