Thursday 28 June 2012

Anime REVIEW: Deadman Wonderland

Based on the manga series by Jinsei Kataoka, Deadman Wonderland is a science-fiction/horror drama with a particularly interesting premise. Taking content from the first 21 chapters of the manga, it ran for 12 episode (with one side OVA) between April and July 2011.

Ganta Igarashi is the sole survivor of a mass murder by the "red man", who burst into his school one day and violently murdered all of his classmates. Instead of killing Ganta, the red man thrusts a red crystal into his chest, knocking him unconscious in the process. When he awakens in hospital, Ganta finds he is the sole suspect of the murder. Set up by his own defence lawyer, he is sentenced to death and incarcerated at Deadman Wonderland, a massive prison set up like a theme park.

Ganta Igarashi is blamed for a crime he didn't commit

Inmates of Deadman Wonderland are fitted with a special collar, which monitors their life signs and kills them in three days unless they eat a special piece of candy. To get this candy, the inmates must take part in various events which are put on as shows for the theme park visitors, winning cast points which can also be used on food, clothing and more. However these events are extremely dangerous and many inmates don't survive.

Meeting his long-forgotten childhood friend, the mysterious Shiro, Ganta struggles to accept life in prison. But when he discovers he possesses the power to turn his own blood into a projectile weapon, he's thrust into the world of the Deadmen. Here he partakes in even more brutal events, and becomes part of a larger scheme to escape the prison and bring down both its promoter and the red man himself.

I didn't know quite what to expect going into Deadman Wonderland, so to be treated with a twisted-fun fair prison drama came as a pleasant surprise. While it does tend to lose this focus as it progresses (as the prison enters "inspection" in the latter half, the theme park element seems dropped entirely), it keeps up a relatively fast pace so nothing ever seems to drag. There's a lot of terminology in Deadman Wonderland, some of which gets more explanation than others. Terms like "Red Hole", "Wretched Egg" and "Worm Eater" are thrown around constantly, and you really have to keep a keen eye on the dialogue to keep up with what they all mean.

The mystery of Shiro is largely unanswered one

Ganta is a reasonably likeable protagonist, but too often swings between strength and weakness. Shiro seems like an odd character in a realm of insanity, always cheerful and constantly talking about racing or snacking. However the level of mystery to her (her appearance and lack of prison ID number) keep Shiro interesting. Tsunenaga Tamaki, the promoter and later director of Deadman Wonderland, is a villain through and through - setting up Ganta as a guilty man, keeping secrets from the people around him and showing no remorse for human life, taking sick pleasure in everything he does. There is a good variety of characters - some likeable, some hateable and others who swing between the two.  The problem is that it uses a considerably wide cast in such a short span of time, meaning characters are shoved aside midway through to make room for the new ones. Yoh, an inmate searching for his Deadman sister, starts out as a main character, but is quickly thrown aside when the Scar Chain group is introduced. The standout character in Deadman Wonderland is without a doubt Senji (aka Crow), a Deadman with the ability to turn is blood into knives who revels in fighting and bloodshed. As a character who goes from an initial antagonist to eventual hero and mentor to Ganta, it's a crime that the show doesn't focus more on him.

Why oh why isn't this show more about him?

Tamaki, as his role suggests, is more of a behind the scenes villain, and so in terms of action there are also the Undertakers as primary antagonists. The two the series mainly focuses on are Azuma, a self proclaimed "Super Monk" who uses and electric guitar-gun as a weapon, and Hibana - a young girl who wields a massive sectioned sword. Both characters have pretty traumatic backgrounds to explain their lust for killing, but ultimately feel hollow with very little real relevance to the plot.

The powers the Deadmen have - the ability to mould their blood into different weapons and/or abilities is a focal point of the show and seems to have taken much visual inspiration from Carnage of Spider-Man fame. With plenty of cage fights and twisted races for the prison inmates to take part in, the show also has a particularly high gore level. Perhaps the most unsettling part is the "sore loser" game, in which losing a Deadman is forced to use a slot machine to determine what body part they'll lose.

About as twisted as they come

While Deadman Wonderland's biggest flaw is one that affects most anime series based on ongoing manga series, here it is especially prevalent. Already steeped in its own complex mythology, 12 episodes simply isn't enough to get any sort of story across. New characters are introduced in the final few episodes which have little relevance other than to foreshadow future events (that will never come), and main characters that were present the entire time (such as the prison's chief guard Makina) have roles that lead to nowhere because its all build up. The final episode feels more like a mid-series fight than a series finale, and the final line of show leaves things on a pretty major cliffhanger. If, like me, you aren't a huge manga reader and have little intention of reading the source material at a later date, then this series is going to only leave you wanting more.

If Akuma taught us anything, its that more guitars should be modified into guns

Deadman Wonderland is an excellent series, but at the same time merely a fraction of what it should be. Far too much is left open-ended, and unfortunately unless the series can muster higher DVD sales or pull a "Big O" in America (since its part of the new Toonami block) it's probably going to stay that way. A perfect companion piece to the manga, but an incomplete show to anyone who's watching the anime and the anime alone.


Tom Badguy said...

Awesome review, I really enjoyed it.

Alex said...

Thanks dude!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great review Alex. I just started watching Deadman Wonderland since the Cartoon Network brought back Toonami. Sadly, I work late Saturday nights at DISH and I end up missing the show. Thankfully, I have been able to stay current at While the overall Toonami lineup left a lot to be desired, Deadman Wonderland really caught my interest. I am glad I am not the only one who sees a distinct correlation in style to Carnage (a personal favorite). I am sad to learn that there were only 12 episodes made; I hope there will be more. While some people and set pieces are pushed aside, I find the story to be very compelling and I am excited to find out more. I find pacing to be an issue in most “battle royal” animes but I think the pacing in Deadman Wonderland is actually helped by the way they push past old characters and introduce new ones. It seems I only have a handful of episodes to go and I still have a few questions. I know I will be left hanging on some of them but I look forward to finding out more about Shiro specifically.

Edward said...

This is a fantastic review! I love Deadman Wonderland, and there are so many great concepts which are animated beautifully. Really hope there will be a second series!