It looked like it would be a normal day for Ganta Igarashi and his classmates—they were preparing to go on a class field trip to a certain prison amusement park called Deadman Wonderland, where the convicts perform dangerous acts for the onlookers' amusement. However, Ganta's life is quickly turned upside down when his whole class gets massacred by a mysterious man in red. Framed for the incident and sentenced to death, Ganta is sent to the very jail he was supposed to visit.
But Ganta's nightmare is only just beginning.
The young protagonist is thrown into a world of sadistic inmates and enigmatic powers, to live in constant fear of the lethal collar placed around his neck that is slowed only by winning in the prison's deathly games. Ganta must bet his life to survive in a ruthless place where it isn't always easy to tell friend from foe, all while trying to find the mysterious "Red Man" and clear his name, in Deadman Wonderland.
Strange things can happen to a person when they're in prison so the general rules of thumb are to keep a low profile, stay out of the way of other people, and avoid dropping the soap in the shower. For the inmates of Japan's only privately owned prison (which for some reason is run as a theme park and is built on Ground Zero of the Great Tokyo Earthquake), the ablutive antics of their fellow "guests" are the least of their worries, especially when the warden takes the term "punishment game" to a whole new level. The stage is set. The "Running Man" style collars
are on. The next event is a lethal variation of Takeshi's Castle.
Welcome to Deadman Wonderland.
Based on the manga by Kataoka Jinsei (story), and Kondou Kazuma (art), the story begins with middle school student Igarashi Ganta, a fairly normal teenager with a reasonably mundane life - going to school, hanging out with friends, etc. All of that changes when his entire class are slaughtered while still in school, and as the only survivor he is found guilty of mass murder and sentenced to death. He is sent to Deadman Wonderland to wait out the time before his execution, but the powers that be in the prison have their eyes on Ganta so he must now navigate a labyrinth of conspiracies, greed, betrayal, murder, revolution, gladiatorial combat, and enough blood to make a clan of vampires drool.
Which immediately brings up the first problem with this series.
At its heart Deadman Wonderland is nothing more than a bloodier version of the common or garden shounen tale, but bolted onto the framework concept is a plot that has been worked over far too many times, so much so that it's highly predictable and almost barren of any original thought. Far too much importance has been placed on making the content "cool" in an effort to appeal to viewers who just want violence, blood and explosions, and with the added yet pointless melodramatic scenes designed to elicit audience sympathy, the storyline never really picks up enough narrative pace to maintain the viewer's interest. There are also a few critical errors that anyone with a basic understanding of investigative techniques would immediately spot and question, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Now this may confuse some people because Deadman Wonderland does have a lot going on in each episode, so an explanation is probably in order. This anime uses an event driven plot rather than a character driven one, and because of that the protagonist and his fellow inmates are simply along for the ride. They become nothing more than reactionary elements in the storyline, and in an effort to compensate for that the author and his adaptation colleagues have thrown as many different ideas at the series as they could. In truth, the only thing holding the entire narrative together so that it could be considered a story instead of a collection of random events, is Ganta, which gives an idea of the scale of the problem.
That said, Ganta isn't really terrible, but the nature of the plot ensures that his characterisation remains linear and one dimensional, and while it may appear to some that he matures as an individual, this is actually a forced measure that serves only one purpose - to make his win against the next big bad opponent a bit more believable. Unfortunately, Deadman Wonderland isn't really about developing the characters in any meaningful way, and this is borne out by the fact that the supporting cast only get a few paltry flashbacks even though some of them have a lasting effect on the storyline. The oddity is that probably the most intriguing character is Ganta's childhood friend Shiro, a resident of Deadman Wonderland who isn't a prisoner. She is an anomaly who appears to have a childlike personality, but her very presence in the storyline, together with her looks, is enough to set alarm bells ringing for anyone who knows the trope about mysterious white haired characters.
Given that this is an adaptation of a manga there's automatically a severe limitation placed on design, but Manglobe have done their best with what has been given to them, and the results are actually pretty good. The animation is smooth and there are some nice visual effects scattered throughout the series, the character movements are fluid and have a natural feel, and the action set pieces have a visceral edge to them that the manga lacks. There are a few issues though, but these lie in the smaller details as there are some design influences from other works (Ganta's likeness to Renton Thurston from Eureka 7, which is also a work by the Kataoka and Kondou). In addition to this, there's a tendency to fall back on certain stereotypes (the rather obvious musclebound oaf who likes nothing more than fighting strong opponents), which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can get tedious to see certain character archetypes all the time. Thankfully these niggles aren't really enough to prevent viewers from enjoying the series, especially if one is able to move past the rather slapdash storyline.
Seriously, would it kill anyone to use some real world stereotypes, maybe something like the bad tempered little guy who doesn't know how to fight properly but makes up for it in sheer ferocity?
Deadman Wonderland has a rather eclectic variety of background music on offer that ranges from dramatic heavy metal blended with techno, to a few simple notes played on a piano. The quality of the audio, both the music and the effects, is surprisingly good, and the choreography shows that some thought has gone into the implementation and timing of each track. The opening theme is a heavy metal piece called One Reason by DWB (featuring Fade), that has been set to a well designed sequence that utilises a three colour base, in this case red, white and black. The end credits feature a slow moving ferris wheel accompanied by images of many of the characters from their lives before they became inmates of Deadman Wonderland, all set to the tune of Shiny Shiny by NIRGILIS.
To be perfectly honest, this anime doesn't really test the abilities of Paku Romi (Ganta), Hanazawa Kana (Shiro), or any of the other cast members to any great degree, but part of that is due to a relatively lackadaisical script. The dialogue lacks a degree of intuitiveness that can make conversations seem forced, and while the cast are capable seiyuu in their own right, they seem to struggle with several scenes in an effort to get the emotion across to the viewer. It's never a good thing when an actor or actress tries too hard, and this fact is borne out during a number of conversations in the series.
But then, that's pretty much the story of Deadman Wonderland - it tries too hard.
On the surface this appears to be a rather slick production with some high quality audio and visuals, but no amount of beautification can hide a plot that is more focused on currying favour with audiences than it is with actually telling a story. The narrative can often seem like a train wreck (i.e. bits flying off everywhere, people screaming and running for cover, etc), as many of the plot elements have simply been attached without any real thought given to integrating them into the story proper, and this is why many events can feel like they're nothing more than fillers. In addition to this, the idea of weaponizing blood isn't actually new as Wei Zhijun from Darker Than Black can blow things up using his blood, while Saya from Blood + must use hers to kill Chiropterans.
That said, one has to remember that the story itself is incomplete as this is only an adaptation of the manga up to a point, and this is one of the reasons why there are inherent issues that have yet to be resolved. Unfortunately that excuse cannot cover certain flaws that really do stand out, the chief among them being Ganta's conviction. The series makes a point of showing a confession by him and this is given as proof of his guilt, but what happened to all the witness statements? What about the forensic evidence like the direction in which the windows exploded, or the angle of the attacks on the classroom? While the viewer clearly knows that Ganta is innocent, the apparent ease of his conviction is dependent on his confession, but nothing is mentioned about the physical evidence from the scene of the crime.
Deadman Wonderland looks and sounds great, and if all you're after is a series that has lots of violence, blood, weird characters and a storyline that requires you disengage your brain, then this may be for you. The series may have it's problems, but the concept is interesting even if the implementation leaves a lot to be desired, and it does retain a degree of entertainment value for its action set pieces.
In essence though, Deadman Wonderland is nothing more than a potato that has been painted by Michaelangelo - it looks stunning, but it's still just a potato.
Hold up your hand if you've heard this story premise before.
Naive, innocent and painfully average teenage boy is thrown into a violent game of life-or-death, having no choice in the matter. He is forced to fight, and discovers he has a mysterious, hidden power. Over the course of the show, he learns to control that power.
You can put your hand down now.
While the story to Deadman Wonderland is, of course, not going to be winning any awards, it still does make an attempt at telling it. The entirety of the plot revolves around the many characters in the infamous Deadman Wonderland prison, a place where
you can trust no-one, where death roams around every corner and ironically, where the people are very boring. If I had a dollar for every character in this show with a tacked-on, forced, and extremely underdeveloped back-story, I would have enough cash to supply the pen and paper to write better ones. Even Senji Kiyomasa (The Crow), a character that got an entire OVA post-season, feels underdeveloped. I do not care for any of these people, and most importantly, don't like these people. It's amazing that a series like this with such a long list of characters manages to fail to capture my interest. I recommend that you tune in for the fights and the plot developments, and tune out during the back-story segments.
The first episode starts off like an episode of the 1990's American television show, Goosebumps. A generic high school boy named Ganta is thrown into an absurd, nightmare-esque situation where every person in his class is killed violently in a mass murder by a figure affectionately nicknamed by him as ''The Red Man''. Being the only survivor, the police officers and detectives put their brilliant minds together to come to the conclusion that Ganta killed everyone, based on the evidence of being the only person found alive. Terrific. The only apparent evidence suggesting he did it is a 30 second recording of him laughing off the murders as nothing. This hardly believable work of CGI is the only piece linking him to the murderer, and suddenly, it's off to prison, on a death sentence. Super.
Once there, he learns of the dark secret behind the prison. Morals go out the window as Ganta is forced to participate in childish games to survive. Apparently this is still an episode of Goosebumps. He forms a close friendship with a creepy, pale girl named Rei, uh, I mean Shiro. Stuff happens. People die. Shinji, no... Ganta does a complete 180° in character development, and by the finale of the season, he is back to a snivelling, pathetic mess. We are introduced to characters who get killed off episodes later, with no back-story. At all. The show is an under-cooked mess, and as for the ending, disappointing.
The art was handled by Manglobe, the animators for The World God Only Knows, and Samurai Champloo. The art style is very reminiscent of their work on Ergo Proxy. Nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done. The animation in the opening, especially some of Shiro's segments, is pretty neat. The art is uncomfortably inconsistent, often very lazy during the dialogue and slower scenes, and well done during the action scenes. At least it's not the other way around.
The sound is nothing special. Overused, cliché blood splatters and other shock-value sound effects are rife throughout the season. The opening song is a very cheesy and teenage hard rock number, which ultimately got on my nerves on the mere second viewing. The closing however, is something else. A gorgeous song that invokes some powerful and melancholy emotions about life before Ganta was forced into the prison. The background music throughout the series is fairly forgettable, excepting a bittersweet piano melody that I heard often during the slower scenes. Regardless of that, nothing outstanding.
Overall, if you desire to watch it, watch it. It's an incredibly average story, with many flat, bland characters (excluding Shiro, the only character in the entire season who I was genuinely infatuated with. She is very reminiscent of Lucy from Elfen Lied). Don't take this show seriously. It's zany, heavily-stylised, nonsensical and very gory. It relies on basic shock-value and gross-out moments to capture the audience's attention, but ultimately, comes across as childish and edgy. They are a few moments that made me smile, though. Just know, if you're not planning to watch it, you're not missing out on anything special. If you did enjoy it, hope you like waiting for season two. It's either that or the manga.
There was a trend back in the Good Old Days of anime (as in you only thought they were Good because you weren't Old enough to know any better) of hyper violent OVAs. Deadman Wonderland feels like a tread back to those days. It has the over-exaggerated violence, the ridiculous amounts of blood, the awkwardly crowbarred in sexiness and, most noticeably of all, it’s utterly shit.
Time has changed a few little aspects though. The OVA market of old has turned into the late night 12 episode anime series of today. This means it has more space to tell a coherent and fulfilling story, a capability
which Deadman Wonderland approaches by totally ignoring it. 12 episodes are enough to tell a neat story with a beginning, middle and end. It gets the beginning right, tossing our protagonist into a scenario in which society have become so totally ignorant of the prison sector, so that even when hell is being created right in front of their eyes, they think it’s an elaborate piece of CGI.
However, upon reaching the 'middle' segment, Deadman Wonderland tosses that whole story aside and becomes about super powers. Instead of developing the characters introduced in the beginning, it decides to quadruple the size of the cast, each and every single one having a hastily constructed backstory introduced right in the middle of a fight to the death that ends up having either little or no relevance to the actual battle happening in the present day. Neither does Deadman Wonderland get the 'end' part right either. This is partly due to the fact this is an ongoing manga, but plenty of other adaptations of ongoing manga have managed to construct some sort of conclusion in their respective stories. Usually this is in the form of the main character growing and learning something (see Arakawa, Spice and Wolf or Genshiken), which Deadman Wonderland tries to do, but royally cocks up because the main character has fuck all personality.
Yes, this is something else that comes with modernity. Instead of the macho men that spout 'witty' quips like they're in an American first person shooter game (that is, when they ever talk at all), Deadman Wonderland sports a bland spineless teenage boy as its main character. To be fair to Ganta, he does actually do something other than make reaction noises while other characters monologue exposition at him, as is the trend in certain other modern day anime. He reacts to situations by either whining, crying or sobbing. It really isn't much of a personality, as any bland male would react to the cartoonish level of hell that exists in that prison in a similar fashion, and he really has nothing beyond that. There is chance for him to grow into a hero, and Deadman Wonderland tried to do that. Other characters would spout lines as to how much he's grown a spine and standing up for himself, but I failed to see that myself. He started off as a crybaby who could shoot off magical blood bullets when he felt threatened. By the end, he was a crybaby who shot off magical blood bullets when he felt threatened, except this time he could shoot off his magical blood bullets even faster than before. That's not character development! That's like saying a character has developed because he is now slightly better at picking his nose.
Another thing the late night 12 episode anime has changed from the hyper violent OVAs of old is, now that they're on TV, they need to be censored. I can't really criticise Deadman Wonderland for this though, which is a shame because it's a really easy target. The gun that shot black balls of censorship through people’s chests was one of the most unintentionally hilarious things I've seen all year. But if you were to watch the dvd release, the censorship would (presumably) be removed. It would be like criticising it for the screen being upside down because you watched it while standing on your head. It's not the anime's fault you watched it that way. But the fact that it needed the level of censorship it has tells us how much blood and gore there is. Often the gore has no point other than to show how sadistic the anime is. It's really just repulsive and juvenile, like a child who tries to show everyone what a big man he is by killing the class rabbit.
Deadman Wonderland is like a modern day MD Geist. It's aggressively stupid and only appeals to those teenagers and manchildren who think sheer bloody mindedness is what is required to make something cool. People might defend this by saying a hyper violent anime is preferable to the insipid harem moe nonsense of the modern era, which is a load of cowpat. They are both as brainless as each other, just appealing to different sorts of immature mindsets. If you gave me a choice between Deadman Wonderland or, say, Fortune Arterial, I'd instead choose repeatedly slamming my fingers in a car door.
I'm writing this review because a lot of the current reviews are complaining about the story being to short and some characters not getting enough screen time. Obviously, not everything is going to be resolved at the end of the anime because the manga has 45 chapters and the anime is only 12 episodes. That being said, I think the anime did a pretty good job in adapting the manga and you should read the manga after (or before) watching the anime.
Story - (8)
As you know, Deadman Wonderland is about Ganta, a boy who is framed for the murder of his friends and sent
to a privately owned prison. Shortly after arriving in Deadman Wonderland, Ganta discovers he can use his blood as a weapon. He is then sent to G-Block (where all the other Deadmen are) and the story begins.
Since the anime is only 12 episodes, we only get to see the first arc, which is fine. In terms of plot, we don't get to see the start of the main storyline. The first half of the anime is getting introduced to Deadman Wonderland and the second half Ganta teams up with Owl. Most of the questions that are introduced such as the Mother Goose System, the Red Man, and Makina (lady in charge of the prison guard) trying to discover what's going on, while explored, aren't resolved. This leaves people with the sense that the plot was cheap and incomplete, but there are 45 manga chapters and the anime only got to chapter 20.
note: if you want to read the manga, don't start on chapter 20 because the anime left out a chunk of main characters and some events happen in a different order.
Characters - (7)
Character wise, Deadman Wonderland was just okay. 12 epiosdes wasn't enough time to introduce everyone, so they left out some pretty important characters. I don't really mind that because we are already introduced to a lot of characters and more would just give less screen time all around (and they were irrelevant to the Owl arc). Even though they left out some characters, the only two characters to receive a decent amount of screen time are Ganta and Shiro. If you want more info on Crow, Hummingbird, etc. read the manga, they get a lot more development. The other problem people have with the characters is that a lot of them are introduced, then die in an episode or two, which leaves no impact on the audience. While this is somewhat true, it shouldn't stop you from enjoying the main cast.
Ganta → after 12 episodes, he showed a little bit of growth. He starts off as shy and wimpy. He needs Shiro to protect him in the prison. He's just average intelligence, overall a pretty normal character. He does notice how weak he is and tries to get stronger, so he's not useless the entire time. He cares for Shiro and hates the Red Man.
Shiro → She's lived at Deadman Wonderland Prison her whole life and she's shrouded in mystery as to why. She is pretty dumb, but saves Ganta a lot. We get to know more about her past and why she's in DW and can basically do whatever she wants, but I'll let you watch that.
Art / Animation - (8)
It's pretty dark in the depths of the prison and the scenes that are mysterious. The prison itself is very bright and shiny, which fits the show because Deadman Wonderland Prison needs to give the appearance of being a nice prison. The character designs were faithful to the manga and looked good, with the exception of Crow, I thought Crow looked better in the manga, might just be me though. Animation wise, everything seemed pretty fluid, I didn't notice any poor animation.
Sound - (8)
The opening and ending were pretty good, but I don't really listen to them (sorry). Background music was also fitting. Acting wise, I thought Ganta and Shiro's voices were perfect and really fit them. Everyone else didn't really have a whole lot of lines, but they did a good job. The only voice I didn't like was Toto Sakigami's voice...he sounded kinda like a woman, but he's really only introduced so I don't really care.
Overall - (8)
It's does a good job of introducing us to the manga, even though some characters were ignored and events were re-ordered. The door is still open for a second season, which I hope it gets because the real story was just beginning. If you want a gory show with plenty of death, Deadman Wonderland is for you. After you finish the anime (or before if you want) you should also go read the manga. In my opinion, it's better, but the anime version is worth a try.