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Ryōko Otonashi is a student attending Hope's Peak Academyan elite private school in Japan that only accepts "Super High-School Level" students: the best of the best of the best, regardless of niche. Unfortunately, she suffers from anterograde amnesia and forgets things mere minutes after they occur. To function in day-to-day life, she carries around a memory notebook filled with information written by herself about events and people in her past.
Thanks to her disorder, Ryōko has only managed to retain one memory: that of her doctor and (implied) childhood friend, the "Super High-School Level Neurologist" Yasuke Matsuda, who is studying her amnesia in the hope of helping her recover.
Meanwhile, a sinister plot takes shape in the shadows of Hope's Peak Academy. Junko Enoshima is laying the groundwork for her plan to send the world spiraling into despair, and the scheme is linked to "The Tragedy of Hope's Peak Academy." As a few students attempt to uncover the truth, they face not only the culprits behind that tragic event, but also a cover-up being arranged by the highest officials of Hope's Peak Academythe Steering Committee. In the middle of all this is Ryōko, who is dragged into the conspirators' plans by forces beyond her understanding or control.
Another, complete full translation of both volumes can be viewed here.
In 2018, a fan game of the novel began production. The demo can be viewed here.
Danganronpa Zero provides examples of:
- Amnesiac Hero: Ryoko can't remember her past or form new long-term memories, requiring her to keep a memory notebook.
- Anyone Can Die: As in the games, perhaps even more so.
- As You Know: Played with. As Yasuke keeps reminding Ryoko, she should already know about how things work at Hope's Peak, and he doesn't appreciate having to explain to her constantly.
- Backup Twin: As it turns out, Mukuro isn't the only one running around. The Super High-School Level Bodyguard doubles as the Super High-School Level Octuplets.
- Big Bad: Once again, Junko Enoshima is the mastermind behind everything that goes wrong. This means it technically applies to Ryoko, who is Junko's amnesiac self.
- Black Blood: The blood is red in the descriptions, but it's still pink in any actual images we see of it.
- Brand Names Are Better: To fund their talent research and pay for the scholarships of "Super High-School Level" students, Hope's Peak opens up an expensive second campus specifically for non-Super High-School Level students who wish to exploit the academy's reputation. This idea is particularly common in Japan, where the name of the university you graduate from is said to carry more weight than the qualification gained.
- Break Her Heart to Save Her: Near the end of the novel, Headmaster Jin Kirigiri does this by threatening Kyokoinforming her that if she continues investigating the Tragedy of Hope's Peak Academy, breaks any rules, or steps the least bit out of line, she'll be expelled.
- Call-Forward: Yasuke references the various uses of controlling, compiling, or completely erasing people's memories, which is a major plot point in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. There's hints he may already be capable of doing this when the Hope's Peak staff try to blackmail him into tampering with the memory of any student who knows about the Tragedy of Hope's Peak Academy... and then it transpires that he erased Junko's memories.
- The Cameo: Quite a handful of characters featured in Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair appear.
- Chihiro Fujisaki. Yuto mentioned getting help from an underclassman who was also a programmer.
- Teruteru Hanamura. The Super High-School Level Cook who worked at the academy's café, it's said he made food so good that someone would swear it was drugged.
- Makoto Naegi, Kyoko Kirigiri, and Mukuro Ikusaba are present as well. However, not only are they important to the novel's plot, but their names are also given, so they might not count.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Junko and Yasuke are a rather depressing example.
- Create Your Own Villain: The conditions at Hope's Peak help foster the creation of Super High-School Level Despair, giving them plenty of disaffected students to work with.
- Darker and Edgier: While the first volume is fairly moderate in tone, the second volume descends headfirst into this territory as Ryoko gets closer to the truth. There's much more graphic violence, much more suffering, and an absolutely brutal Downer Ending.
- Death of Personality: Ryoko's fate.
- Decoy Damsel: Junko pulls this off.
- Deuteragonist: Both Ryoko and Yasuke are this to each other, with the story more or less focusing on the two equally.
- Downer Ending: Nothing ends well here. Everything goes according to Junko's plan... and she gets plenty of despair out of it.
- Dr. Jerk: Yasuke.
- Elaborate University High: Hope's Peak Academy. Yasuke explains more about how it operates to Ryoko.
- The Ending Changes Everything: Rereading both volumes with the Tomato Surprise in mind makes much of it come off very differently...
- Fan Disservice: At one point, Ryoko goes to a Maid Cafe, only to find out it's a Monokuma maid café. Yeah...
- Fantastic Caste System: The student body of Hope's Peak Academy is divided into two levels. You have the Super High-School Level Talents, who were handpicked so their special skills can be studied and amplified by getting the best schooling possible... and the Reserve Course, made up of Ordinary High School Students who are paying for the privilege of attending. Their campus functions as a completely ordinary school, without any access to the perks Super High-School Level Talents enjoy. The students are largely segregated from each other, with little interaction between levels.
- Foregone Conclusion: As a prequel to Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, those familiar will know which of the cameo characters are Doomed by Canon and who has Plot Armor.
- The Hero Dies: Granted, neither are precisely heroes, but Yasuke dies... as does Ryoko in a way.
- The Ghost: Izuru Kamukura is referred to several times, but never makes an appearance. He appears to at one point, but it's not him.
- Gone Horribly Right/Wrong: The Super High-School Level Hope Project. Right in the sense that Izuru is quite an ace but wrong in how he fell into despair.
- Gorn: The book can get very descriptive in terms of describing dead corpses. Even then, Yasuke's death is especially brutal.
- Hard Work Hardly Works: While it's technically possible that a student from the Reserve Course could excel at their studies and earn their way into the "true Hope's Peak," Yasuke scorns the ideadescribing it as just a way to keep stringing them along.
- HeelFace Door-Slam: Yasuke's realization that his girlfriend was using him as an Unwitting Pawn happens shortly before she brutally stabs him to death and kicks his corpse repeatedly until it's unrecognizable.
- He Knows Too Much:
- Ryoko is accused of this despite her memory problems.
- Soshun and Yuto are murdered for this reason.
- Kill 'Em All: Pretty much everyone who didn't appear in the first two games is doomed to die.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: It's no secret that Junko will end up orchestrating the Tragedy and the "School Life of Mutual Killing."
- Mind Screwdriver: A lot of backstory to the games is revealed here. Readers finally learn how the students' memories were erased, as well as some of what led up to the Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History.
- Memory Gambit: Played with. Yasuke Matsuda erased Junko's memories when Hope's Peak Academy asked him to interrogate her via mind scan about orchestrating the deaths of the academy's student council. However, Yasuke keeps Junko amnesiac to protect her and keep her from spreading more despair. Even so, it turns out Junko knew he would do this since she has Super High-School Level Analytical Prowess and let it happen so she could experience the despair of murdering her boyfriend.
- Neck Snap: The fate of Yuto at the hands of Yasuke.
- Note to Self: The purpose of Ryoko's memory notebook.
- Palatial Sandcastle: In an anecdote by Matsuda we find out, that as a child, Ryoko spent a full month building an intricate sandcastle replica of the Sagrada Família in the park... only for her to destroy it when no one was looking.
- The Resenter: As it turns out, the Monokuma maid cafés are being used to foster resentment among the Reserve Course students.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Sōshun Murasame, the only student council member to survive the Tragedy of Hope's Peak Academy, to the point where he was practically insane for a while.
- Surprisingly Sudden Death: Late in the second volume, Ryoko is startled when she discovers Yuto with his head twisted around wrong.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Ryoko is just a false identity created to protect Junko.
- Tomato Surprise: The fact that Ryoko is Junko's amnesiac identity and Yasuke's girlfriend are no secret to Yasuke himself, with about half of the novel taking place from his perspective.
- Twin Switch: Mukuro acts as a Body Double for her younger sister.
- Two Aliases, One Character: Ryoko Otonashi is Junko Enoshima after getting amnesia.
- Unreliable Narrator:
- Deliberately played with Ryoko, mostly due to her memory problems. It's actually much stronger than that, with the chapters from Yasuke and "Junko's" perspectives reeking of the narration lying to the reader.
- In a strange example, the novel makes it out like Yasuke doesn't know who Izuru is. Later supplementary material implies that Yasuke was employed by the academy as Izuru's creator.
- Unusual Euphemism: The Steering Committee insists on referring to the Reserve Course's protest as "The Parade."
- Unwitting Pawn: Yasuke. He doesn't take realizing that well.
- Villain Protagonist: Both Ryoko and Yasuke are technically this, with the former being the amnesiac Junko and the latter being her partially unwitting accomplice.
- The Watson: Ryoko functions as this. Not only does Yasuke explain to her things she should have known already, but she also catches a lot of exposition from other people.