Deadman Wonderland

This is a post-apocalyptic series, at least as far as Japan is concerned, representing a future where most of the country has been destroyed by an earthquake. Ten years after that we are shown a dystopia, although the action is almost all confined to a prison, so we never get a particularly clear impression of the wider world, but things have got to be pretty bad for an organisation like Deadman Wonderland to exist, a combined theme park and prison, where people fight to the death in an elaborate arena… and that’s far from being the most horrifying thing about the prison.

In case the 18 certificate on the box didn’t give you a clue, this is an extremely violent series, which revels in injuring or killing off characters in the most imaginative way possible. It is not a show for those of a nervous disposition. Blood is even weaponised, so you are going to see a lot of it, even when somebody is not being maimed or killed. In contrast there is very little fanservice, beyond an absurdly tight fitting catsuit for the main female character.

I wasn’t quite sure what to think about the way this show is written. It lurches from one dangerous scenario to another at such a breakneck speed that you certainly never get time to get bored of anyone or anything, but there are a lot of interesting ideas and characters that get lost in the mix, introduced and dispensed with far too rapidly. Over the course of 12 episodes, we go from a boy named Ganta getting wrongly convicted for a massacre of his classmates, trying to find the real killer while sent to Deadman Wonderland, learning how the system there works, taking part in the deadly games, meeting a lot of strange people with mysterious pasts and motivations, some of whom turn traitor, and getting involved in a grand escape plot. That’s a lot to pack in. There’s much to be said for a series that keeps moving things along, never giving us a moment to stop and think about the silliness of it all, but I would have liked a bit more of a focus on some of the more interesting characters, and a more detailed look at their motivations and pasts. You get the impression that telling the story always slightly plays second fiddle to the blood and gore quota, which will please fans of that kind of thing, but there’s not enough to engage the brain. The writer does a very good job of making us care for the characters in a very efficient, shorthand way, as many of them get very little screen time, but the misery heaped upon the few who survive for more than a couple of episodes, and the grim deaths met by the others, does become relentless and tiring, so there’s a point at which you sort of stop caring about who lives or dies… with one notable exception.

That exception is not, surprisingly, the main character. Ganta is a whiny, weak thing, who has moments of brilliance and super powers which make him a sort of accidental focal character for a brave group of resistance fighters, but I never liked him. It didn’t help that I was watching the dub version (my wife doesn’t like subs), and Ganta is voiced by the over-used Greg Ayres. His voice is instantly recognisable and instantly annoying, and he seems to specialise in whinging, tortured teenage boys. I was supposed to care about the fate of Ganta, but really didn’t, although his backstory is interesting, but the best character is his love interest Shiro, she of the aforementioned catsuit. She is a walking, talking mystery, with a connection to Ganta’s past that he can’t quite remember, with some kind of special powers and insider knowledge that makes her unique within the prison. It makes some sense of how a girl can go around near-naked in a prison full of hardened male criminals and be left alone… just about.

In the end, though, the problem is that whatever bit of this sprawling story interests you, it isn’t explored for long before the writer moves on to something different, and then the series ends very abruptly, with the usual problem of an ongoing manga, although there is at least some attempt at an ending that represents a moment of calm contentment for those who survive. For a blood-thirsty, prisoner exploitation series, a surprising amount of care and attention obviously went into Deadman Wonderland, with an excellent standard of animation, and the memorable character designs go a long way towards making up for the overwhelming quantity of characters. A good example of the thought that went into this is the closing title sequence, which is a montage of images of characters enjoying happy moments together. At the start, those people are mysterious, meaning nothing to the viewer, but as the series progresses we are gradually introduced to them and realise that those images represent the past moments of happiness for the sad souls that populate this show. As we approach the end of the series, and increasingly learn the fate of those seemingly normal humans sharing moments of joy, the montage of images becomes more and more poignant. It’s a clever thing to do, because we might be numbed by the relentless horrors we are shown, but we never stop caring about the happy faces we see at the end of each episode. As a show that keeps us emotionally invested, this manages to stand bloodied-head and bruised-shoulders above most examples of its genre.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to Deadman Wonderland

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Post-apocalyptic sci-fi resulting from natural disasters may be easier to contemplate with all of the natural disasters that Earth has been recently facing, most recently Hurricane Ian. How this could harshly shape our sense of law and order continues to make good storytelling which Anime’s style can most uniquely build on. With the disturbing issues of prisoner exploitations, with classics like The Shawshank Redemption to raise our awareness, imagining how such issues may progress into our future shows how the post-apocalyptic genre can have the most to say about us as a species. A lot has been said about this in the Junkyard with Anime’s Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind and Girl’s Last Tour. So it’s good that we can explore more. Thank you, RP.

    Liked by 2 people

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