Review: Deadman Wonderland (Manga)

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Story By: Jinsei Kataoka

Art By: Kazuma Kondou

Published By: Viz Media

In a world where a private prison is allowed to do what it wants with the lives of its inmates, it isn’t too hard too believe that a place like Deadman Wonderland exists. In it, inmates work as entertainers to please onlooking crowds who don’t know about the prisons dark secrets. The blood and gore seen in a death race looks cheesy and fake to the audience, but for the inmates its all too real. For death row inmates your chances of survival are even lower, because if you don’t buy a special candy every 3 days a poison being injected into your bloodstream via your identification collar will end up killing you. Getting money to buy these candies in Deadman Wonderland is also no easy task.

Story

The story starts off with the framing of our main character, Ganta Igarashi, for the murder of his entire class. During a rather normal day at school, a mysterious man caped in red shows up with supernatural powers and absolutely decimates Ganta’s classroom, killing everyone but him. Instead of killing him, this mysterious red man plants a weird crystal into Ganta’s chest, and then leaves without a trace. Ganta is then sent to Deadman Wonderland, the prison I mentioned in the beginning that operates outside the law and does whatever it wants. Even though it was pretty clear that Ganta didn’t kill his classmates, a set up made by his own lawyer (who just so happens to be the director of Deadman Wonderland) leaves Ganta with a death row sentence to the worst place imaginable.

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Once Ganta arrives at Deadman Wonderland, he quickly realizes that this is no ordinary prison. Prisoners are only given the bare necessities to live, and must work or compete to make money in order to survive. Early on during a obstacle course, Ganta is shown the true colors of Deadman Wonderland, as participants are sliced in half, shot, electrocuted and impaled by the obstacles. The prison truly is hell on earth, with little to no regard for human rights.

As the story progresses, Ganta begins to use a strange power much like that of the mysterious red man who killed his classmates. It has massive destructive power and launches from his hands like a bullet, which catches the attention of a few people in Deadman Wonderland, namely the director who set him up. Everything starts to settle down until Ganta is chased down by a security robot and ends up in a hidden ward of the prison. There, he runs into someone else who has the same power as him, and the dark underbelly of Deadman Wonderland is revealed to Ganta. Not only is the prison a crazy death trap for inmates, but it is also a place where human experimentation and gladiator-like death matches take place under the public’s nose.

Characters

Ganta is your typical whiny male character, though when you look at the context of the story, its understandable why he acts this way. The poor kid witnessed the murder of his entire class and was blamed for it and was then sent to hell on earth to pay for a crime he didn’t commit. Even when he starts to get used to using his powers to fight other inmates (called the Deadmen) he often finds himself distressed over his circumstances and crying when something goes wrong. You would think the kid would eventually just get used to the twisted nature of his situation and suck it up, but that is probably easier said than done. He is in fact fighting for his life and witnessing countless deaths and tortures in Deadman Wonderland.

Our female lead for this series is Shiro, a strange girl who wears a white leotard and shows up randomly in Ganta’s cell one day. She has a very childlike personality, and it is revealed early on that she was once childhood friends with Ganta back before the great Tokyo earthquake had taken place. Shiro follows Ganta around for the most part in the beginning, eating snacks and protecting him during the first death race they enter in. Most of her background is hidden early on, but it is quite obvious that there is more to her than meets the eye. She shows up out of no where, doesn’t have a prisoner identification number, and her overall appearance just distinguishes her from all of the other characters. It doesn’t take too long for the story too reveal Shiro’s true character (which I had figured out pretty early on) but her complete backstory isn’t explored until the very end, during the last quarter of the manga. Her backstory is probably the most interesting thing about the manga, as it is shown through a series of flashbacks and journal entries in an old diary. During these chapters, we get to understand how Deadman Wonderland came to be, how the powers that Ganta and the other Deadman have were developed and how Ganta is intertwined in everything. It is a little bit sad and messed up at the same time, but it actually pulls a lot of loose ends together that I thought were just going to be ignored for the most part.

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Aside from Ganta and Shiro, the rest of the cast is made up of other inmates, the director of Deaman Wonderland, the warden, and other Deadmen like Ganta. There are quite a few characters that are shown throughout the story, which includes Senji Kiyomasa (“Crow”), Takami Minatsuki (“Hummingbird”), and Kengamine Nagi (“Owl’). Each character is given varying levels of development and backstory, with characters such as Senji and Kengamine getting flushed out backstories as they appear frequently early on in the story.

Art

If you are not that big of a fan of blood and gore, this is a series to stay away from for sure. People are sliced, diced and dismembered on a regular in Deadman Wonderland, and the art shows this horrible side to the prison with pretty good detail. It really makes the series feel a lot more mature despite how the character designs might come off as pretty Shonen (something that usually stays away from the intense blood and gore in its art). The art in this series can get pretty grotesque at times.

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Personal Enjoyment

Deadman Wonderland overall was a mediocre experience for me. The set-up to the story (with Ganta being framed for the murder of his classmates) was downright idiotic, and the pacing throughout the story was off. Each part felt rushed to get to the next story arc leaving me unsatisfied with each individual arc. I would have loved to see more of what the “regular” side of the prison was like and some of the other crazy activities the prisoners participate in other than the death race. The tournament style battles that occur in G-Ward were cut too short with us only able to see two different battles, meaning we don’t really get to see Ganta’s powers grow nor do we get to see all the other characters in action.

The ending fairly lackluster as well, with the final battle being quite anti-climatic. I as expecting an intense battle between two super powered individuals, but instead was given a short fight that failed to peak my interest at all.

That isn’t to say that I absolutely hated the series, as I did enjoy my time reading it. By the time I had finished the final chapter though, all  could think about was how “medium” I felt about the entire series. It ended up being a series with a cool premise that dissolves into a fairly mediocre affair.

Final Thoughts

Deadman Wonderland was a series that I thought I would enjoy, but sadly I just wasn’t very impressed with how everything turned out. Up until the inmates rioted and planned an escape from the hell that was G-Ward (the secret ward where they were forced to fight) I was really enjoying what was going on. Afterwards, the fights end up being pretty uninteresting. Even the final battle lacked impact.

Its an alright series for those looking for an action series with a bit of gore, but it isn’t something I would recommend to go out and buy. There are other series that you should definitely check out before diving into this one.

Final Score: 5/10

Recommendation: Skip It

If You Liked It, Also Try:

Berserk: If you liked the gory action of Deadman Wonderland, this should be right up your alley. Awesome fights and plenty of gore, and a top-notch story to go with it.