Deadman Wonderland – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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A massive earthquake ravaged Japan’s mainland and destroyed most of Tokyo, sinking three-quarters of it into the ocean. Ten years later, the story shifts to Igarashi Ganta, a seemingly ordinary student attending Nagano Prefecture’s middle school. An escapee, a survivor of the great earthquake, Ganta has no memories of the tragedy and has lived a normal life. This all changes when a strange man covered in blood and crimson armour floats through his classroom windows. Grinning madly, the Red Man massacres Ganta’s entire class but instead of killing him, embeds a red crystal shard in Ganta’s chest. Within days of the massacre, Ganta is declared the sole suspect and, following a quick trial, is sentenced to life imprisonment in Deadman Wonderland, a massive theme park like prison.

Stemming from the manga series of the same name by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou, Deadman Wonderland offers a look into a merciless future where murderous impulse, sadistic pleasures and destructive mayhem pass as entertainment to the ailing public masses. It’s through this madness that Deadman Wonderland works effectively well as a portaitof a society that has certainly decayed to the point of moral detachment, let alone being removed from subscribing to actions of moral obedience completely. The series also look at the corporatization of the prison-industrial complex—in this case, to the point of monopolization—where profiteering from the misfortunes of its prisoners is deemed as a way to improve the progress of a nation’s recovery effort. Offering social satire on the inevitable corruption and immorality that stem from unchecked systems of authoritative power within this environment, the series looks at just how perverse a society can become given the right motivations and propaganda behind it. Perhaps more appropriately noticeable is the clear use of a Darwinist model to convey the dire consequences of the situation elaborated upon in the series. Given that setting of Deadman Wonderland taking place within a prison, a certain subculture arises where the strong truly do dominant over the weak and how external forces manipulate this model for their own advances. This can certainly be seen within the likes of the protagonist Ganta—a young boy wrongly accused of mass murder and essentially made to defend himself against the onslaught of the other prisoners and prison staff. Perhaps more akin to Japanese author Koushun Takami’s 1999 novel Battle Royale, Deadman Wonderland looks at the depravity of social order in order to teach people how to behave properly.

But what starts out as keen social satire though ultimately diminishes into the area of the supernatural as the series progresses. While this certainly was expected given the nature of the beginning of the series—in which Ganta’s classmates are brutally murdered by a being known only as “Red Man”—once increased elements of the supernatural are introduced into the plot, they essentially overcome and end any sense of satire that was initially present in the series. What once provided a strikingly dark, realistic and in many cases plausible tone to the narrative is sorely missed as the series re-establishes itself on fierce and violent confrontations with individuals who showcase unnatural abilities and strengths. This might be fine for some viewers, but given the premise established in the beginning of the series—where we find Ganta just struggling to survive against crushing odds and somehow prove his innocence in an setting quite foreign to him—to see that aspect of the series be diminished was rather disheartening to say the least. I wanted to learn more about the world of Deadman Wonderland—its history, its characters and even the Deadman Wonderland prison itself. While the world of Deadman Wonderland does indeed begin to grow throughout the series, especially with its sizable amount of characters steadily being introduced throughout, one begins to ponder if the series will end well considering the ever-expansive narrative. This is exactly where the main problem of Deadman Wonderland lies—at a mere twelve episodes in length, the series never truly gains any significant closure.

Given the nature of the manga releases—which at the conclusion of the anime series has yet to be completed—Deadman Wonderland feels entirely too truncated for its own good. With the manga series not even completed, the anime series leaves a lot to be desired and its conclusion does not effectively resolve many issues that were made out to be of considerable importance during the series. While key elements were established throughout the course of the twelve episodes, it never fully feels resolves them considering the allotted time to elaborate on its story. This severely underplays the scope established by the series early on, instead resorting to leaving the viewer constantly out in the dark if they’re not familiar within the original manga in any capacity. Proposing the standpoint of a viewer who hasn’t read the manga series up to this point, character development will seem extremely lacking within the anime series whereas in the manga it’s plentiful. This is simply one of those unfortunate circumstances where an animation company has a great—albeit unfinished—source to work with but can’t successfully figure out a way to draw it to a fulfilling end that doesn’t solely rely on the original source material for inspiration. Many anime series have fallen into this dilemma before, so it would appear to be a rather normal occurrence when dealing with anime series derived from manga, but its rather discouraging to see such a fantastic premise gone to the wayside. Not to say all anime series originating from unfinished manga turn out to be disappointing—the anime Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) proves otherwise—but the potential for Deadman Wonderland to be a truly extraordinary series is rather diminished because of these directorial choices.

Of course, all these problems could easily be redeemable if the series is given a second season. From where it currently stands, Deadman Wonderland is a series that has a very interesting and creative premise not often seen in other anime series. With the showcasing of absolute brutality and bloodshed consistently throughout the series, Deadman Wonderland is not for the faint of heart, which may turn off some viewers but elicit praise from others. It’s most certainly one of the most violent and controversial series to come along in awhile, but acting as a spectacle of death, carnage and torture can only get you so far. While the satire may not be as prevalent as one would hope for, it’s still visible in segments throughout the series. I was certainly hoping for the series to continue along this direction, but implementing elements of the supernatural does indeed make for some imaginative albeit hollow action sequences. With ferocious battles and villainous characters, the series is most certainly an exhibition of a cruel world where survival of the fittest is not simply an understatement—it’s the absolute truth. Ultimately, Deadman Wonderland is a series that had all the right components to make a successful transfer from the pages of manga to the animated screen, but sadly stumbles in attempting to reach its full potential. Regardless of these setbacks, Deadman Wonderland does remain an adequate companion piece to its manga counterpart—hopefully a second season can come in the near future to fulfill the scope offered by its source material.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • yassin

    just finished watching this anime, not bad but could of been better

  • alex hunter

    Great anime. I just can’t wait for the second season to start…

  • CatFish

    A Great anime if you like twists violence and just plain crude gore than this anime is definitely for you! Even though their is an english version as usually i recommend the japanese or subbed version mainly because in translating for american television like toonami many words are “changed” to make it seem less vulgar witch gravely takes away from the anime i personally could not stand to watch even half an episode of the dubbed counterpart in my opinion the anime is one of the best iv seen but only in the original language!

  • Edward Buchanan

    I’m also hoping/waiting for a second season!

    There’s another great post about Deadman Wonderland here: