Deadman Wonderland Complete Series (Cert 18)
3 Discs DVD / 2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 283 minutes approx.
In 2023, after an earthquake known as Red Hole devastated Japan, fourteen year-old school boy Ganta Igarashi finds himself to be the lone survivor of a mindless massacre of his class by a mysterious figure called the Red Man. Upon awaking to find a red jewel planted into his chest, Ganta is summarily arrested and sentenced to death based on some doctored video evidence in which he appears to gleefully boast about his crime. For his punishment Ganta is sent to Deadman Wonderland, the only publicly funded but privately run prison in Japan which also doubles as an amusement park – ironically it was the destination of his class’s next school trip. Under the watchful eye of the ruthless Warden Makina, Ganta learns that the prisoners are to provide the entertainment for the public in a series of vicious high spectacle games in which avoiding a grisly death is a paramount concern for the participants.
Take one part Battle Royale, one part Akira and one part King Of Thorn – or indeed any other anime you care to mention – and you have Deadman Wonderland. The creation of Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou, who also gave us Eureka Seven – which explains some familiar character designs and later plot developments – this is a violent but colourful take on the fertile concept on the punitive system being used as entertainment, taking it a step further by suffusing it with some supernatural-esque facets, such as the Branch Of Sin, the ability by a select few called Deadmen, to use their own blood as a weapon – the very reason young Ganta was singled out by the Red Man.
To keep the inmates on their toes, they each wear a bracelet which slowly injects prison into their bodies. The antidote is Candy, foul tasting sweets that also double as food and must be taken every three days. To earn Candy one needs Cast Points and to get those one needs to be successful in the various deadly games, the most brutal of which is Carnival Corpse, a one on one fight using their Branch of Sin. The loser has to forfeit a part of their body which is decided by a one armed bandit, with the options ranging from their hair to their brains!
The puny Ganta only discovers his nascent power when he finds himself in dire need to protect himself, catching the eye of Warden Makina and the mastermind behind the prison known as the Promoter. Luckily he finds allies early on in the form of sympathetic fellow inmate Yuu Takami, and a perky white haired girl called Shiro (“shiro” being Japanese for “white”) who doesn’t appear to be a prisoner at all. Through flashbacks we learn that Ganta and Shiro have a past which Ganta struggles to recall with clarity, which may offer a clue to why she is so protective of Ganta. Along the line Ganta meets a small resistance group called Scar Chain, lead by Nagi Kengamine, who are intent on destroying the prison. Their major opposition are the Promoters own assassins, Undertakers one of whom has infiltrated the ranks of Scar Chain.
With so much going on and so many different personalities to cater for, twelve episodes don’t seem enough to fully realise its potential and character developments and sadly this proves to be the case. The first few chapters move along at a brisk pace but not too fast as not to lose the viewer. Once the Scar Chain individuals appear, the tempo is somewhat erratic slowing down to make way for exposition and flashbacks into Ganta and Shiro’s past, then picking up as anew member of Scar Chain seems to appear from the woodwork at every turn. Then it is a made dash for the finish line with a cast of many all vying for glory as we head to the climax. At least for one character, Seji Kiyomasa, he gets an OVA episode (included in the extras) to tell his backstory.
It’s no secret that this show is unapologetically violent. To that end some of you may not appreciate the fact that the TV censorship of some of the more graphic moments (one in particular is pretty vile) is carried over onto this DVD release. Also, there are parts of the Japanese dialogue which are bleeped out and left blank in the subtitles while the English dub inserts its own profane suggestion of the missing words.
The open ending suggests that a second series is a possibility although one wonders if this would be necessary had a full twenty four episode run had been commissioned instead. That is not to say it doesn’t deliver on its initial promise of an engaging emotional journey story that offers more than its violent premise alludes to; it does, but one can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the time it is over, recognising some overly familiar shortcuts and plot developments employed which dilute the vibrancy of the opening episodes.
Along with the last minute cramming of material, the quality of the animation takes a noticeable drop too, starting off superbly detailed and nuanced to match the impressive backgrounds and artwork, and ending up with hurried sketches of the characters’ faces. A shame as this is a series in which relies on its visuals as much as the complex story developments to engage the audience and both are let down by not being fully realised for its entire run.
Deadman Wonderland is ultimately good for what it is but not as great as it could have been, and can hold its head higher than many other shows that suffer from similar flaws. One’s enjoyment or disappointment of this show will be commensurate to how high you set your expectations.
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 2.0
DVD Disc 2 only:
Episode 6 Commentary
The Red Knife Wielder OVA
US Video Commentary
DVD Disc 3 only:
Episode 6 Commentary
Rating – *** ½
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