Anime: Deadman Wonderland
Original Run: Apr 17, 2011 to Jul 3, 2011
Genres: Action, Science-Fiction, Horror
Igarashi Ganta’s life is abruptly turned upside down when what started as a normal, innocuous day turns into a tragedy of blood-curdling horror. A masked, flying man attacks his class and kills everyone except Ganta, who’s then blamed for the crime. A ray of hope appears in the form of a kindly lawyer but even that is quickly snuffed out when false evidence that unquestionably incriminates Ganta surfaces.
Being sent to jail is not the worst of Ganta’s problems though.
The prison, Deadman Wonderland, turns out to be a hell unlike any Ganta’s ever seen. Death games and enthusiastic slaughter abound in the grim walls of Japan’s only privately owned prison, the lines between friend and foe is blurred, and Ganta’s wish to survive and prove his innocence may never come to fruition.
Deadman Wonderland is one of those shows that have amazing potential but the actual execution is thoroughly underwhelming. It’s not bad per se but it’s nowhere near as good as it could have been.
Let’s look at the positives first. This anime has a wonderful premise. The idea of a deadly prison that’s basically a front for forcibly housing people with supernatural abilities and making them battle each other while also doubling as a harmless theme park is pretty great. The deadmen are an eclectic bunch and most of them neatly reflect exactly what being stuck in such a place can do to one’s mind. Nine out of ten characters are batshit crazy but in interesting ways that makes you curious to find out why they are the way they are and how they will end up in the future. Thus we have interesting ideas and an interesting cast to carry those ideas. Logically, Deadman Wonderland should be a dark and messy fun.
It’s not. Despite the abundance of good material, nothing really clicks. A lot of things happen, from dramatic fights to daring escapes to stunning reveals, but all of it leaves you feeling superbly unmoved by the end. The way I see it, the reason for this is none other than the main character Igarashi Ganta. Deadman Wonderland is his story but the boy’s about as engaging as drying paint. Literally every other person is ten times more interesting than Ganta but while they do get a fair amount of attention, it’s Ganta’s experiences that take center stage and that just ruins the whole experience. It’s not even that he’s a particularly bad character. He’s an average kid stuck in an exceptional situation – hardly a new formula. But in this case, it really doesn’t work for the best.
The other thing that makes this anime unsatisfactory is the ending. Surprise, surprise. Quite a lot of cool ideas are introduced during Deadman Wonderland’s 12-episode run but then it ends without resolving most of them. Ganta’s search for his friends’ killer? Goes nowhere. His friend in the prison possibly being said killer? Unexplored. There’s more but basically, most of the story’s best threads remain incomplete and unresolved. Instead, we get some fun bits and a lot of Ganta wallowing.
I would still recommend giving this a shot. Despite my complaints, this show was worth the watch. It’s got a nice atmosphere and an amazing secondary cast.
In the above session, I more or less said that Ganta is the worst thing about this anime. Let me explain why I think so. It’s not that Ganta is badly written or unsympathetically portrayed. He’s a boy with a normal life whose whole existence is suddenly thrown into total chaos. His closest friends are dead, he’s framed for their deaths and even thrown into a prison that’s basically hell on earth. No one expects him to rally and adapt in a couple of days. He’s pathetic because most people would be pathetic in his situation. His terror and hesitance serve to make him a realistic character. Problem is that realistic is not synonymous to interesting or engaging. Ganta’s boring and this is not helped by the loud and colorful personalities of the other characters. So when the story tries to use the dullest tool in the box as its focus, it’s going to suffer for it. Even Ganta’s better moments, few as they are, don’t come close to being even half as impressive as the worst moments of the others.
Now onto the rest of the cast that I’ve praised so much. First up is Shiro, a really strange girl who latches on to Ganta soon after he sets foot in Deadman Wonderland. They used to be childhood friends but he doesn’t remember. It’s clear early on that Shiro’s not really your average human but for the most part, it’s hard to take her seriously due to her ditzy, childish nature. Things get more serious when it’s revealed that Shiro has another side that’s kinda prone to random mass-murdering but we never get to see if it’s an actual split personality or if her usual ditzy nature is just a front.
Then there’s Senji, the first deadman whom Ganta fights. Though he seems like a boring musclehead ‘first boss’ at the beginning, Senji soon proves to be the coolest character in the show. He has embraced the reality of his existence and seems to be making the best of it. He is screwed in the head but in a manageable way. Senji’s combination of bloodthirst, battle-savviness, sportsmanship (if borderline death matches can be considered sport) and occasional shyness all make for a good combination.
Other characters include Yo and Minatsuki, a pair of separated siblings who’re simultaneously despicable and sympathetic, Nagi, a resistance leader who seems good to be true until he proves that he is indeed too good to be true, Karako, a resistance fighter with nerves of steel and the skill to back it up, Genkaku, one of the villains who makes the evil and crazy combo work for him, and many others of varying entertainment value.
Art and Music:
I loved Deadman Wonderland’s art and music both. The art is nothing exceptional but it suits the story perfectly. Dark, muted colors dominate the palette and reflect the overall tone of the show very well. It is of good quality as well – off-model faces are rare and the animation is smooth.
This is yet another show that caught my eye because of the OP. I say that a lot, I know, but that’s a natural consequence of watching YouTube’s top lists. The opening theme, One Reason by Fade is tailored to fit the show and the lyrics alone are the best summary anyone could ask for. The music is great as well and its visuals complement it perfectly. The ending theme is Shiny, Shiny by NIRGILIS and is drastically different from the OP in terms of both tone and visuals. But that works in favor of the show as the point is to throw light on the characters’ peaceful lives before the series’ events screwed them up.
An okay show with many good elements that are sadly not presented in ways that make use of their full potential. Still a worthwhile watch.