ANIME & MANGA - Review
10:04 - 5th November 2013, by David West

Deadman Wonderland - The Complete Series

You know the school day is off to a bad start when a figure clad in red bursts through the classroom window and slaughters all your friends, decorating the walls with their bodily fluids. But for the sole survivor of the attack, Ganta Igarashi, his misfortunes have just begun. Before they depart the scene of the crime, the murderous intruder embeds a glowing red crystal in Ganta's chest. In the media frenzy that follows the massacre, Ganta is framed for the crime and dispatched to Deadman Wonderland, Japan's only privately-run prison, where inmates earn their keep and repay their debt to society by performing in the grotesque funfair that gives the facility its name.
Inside the prison, Ganta meets a strange girl called Shiro, who insists they are old friends, and discovers that the gem in his chest has transformed him into a Deadman, someone who possesses the Blood Of Sin that allows them to use their own blood as a lethal weapon. Unfortunately, this makes the lad a prime candidate for the Carnival Corpse, a brutal competition where Deadmen are forced to do battle with their grotesque powers.

If Roger Corman made an anime, it would probably look a lot like Deadman Wonderland. Directed by Koichi Hatsumi and adapted from the manga by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou, the story adds horror to a gladiatorial-prison premise. The series is full of violence and profanity and is squarely aimed at a teenage male demographic, yet despite all the bloodshed in the fight scenes, it is not actually terribly gory. There are no detailed shots of gaping, wounds and the nastiest moments typically occur off-camera.

While Ganta is obviously having a terrible time, what with being framed for killing all his friends, he is often prone to whining. Fortunately he gradually becomes more assertive over the course of the story as he starts to get more confident in his new abilities, but he is not exactly Ken from Fist Of The North Star. Shiro, the albino girl who lives inside Deadman Wonderland, is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a mystery wearing mittens. Basically, it's not very clear who she is or what she is doing in the prison. But we do know she likes her grub. So there's that.

This release collects the entire series, plus the OVA (more on that in a mo), but the screenplay raises a host of questions while answering precious few of them. The plot bops along at a merry pace and introduces a large cast of supporting characters, but with the focus squarely on the fighting, there is not much time left for meaningful character development or exploring the mysteries that underpin Ganta's predicament. The prisoners all wear collars that monitor their movements and steadily release poison into their bodies. The antidote is called Candy, which the prisoners can buy using Cast Points which they earn by participating in the funfair to entertain tourists. If a prisoner doesn't ingest Candy at least once every three days, the poison will kill them. But it does beg the question of why the Deadmen don't simply use their superpowers to cut their collars off...

There are some inconsistencies in the plotting which can rely on coincidence to move the story forwards. At several key points, supporting characters pop up long enough to help Ganta out of a tight spot before just as quickly disappearing, which is awfully convenient. Then there are other characters that the script simply seems to forget about, notably Ganta's cellmate Yo Takami who barely registers at all in the second half. Similarly, the screenplay sets up a conflict between Makina, the dominatrix-like Chief Warden, and Tamaki, The Promoter who runs the events inside the prison. Yet Makina's story is sidelined in favour of fight scenes between the Deadmen.

The quality of the animation is good in the series, although the design work is varied. As director, Koichi Hatsumi is not one for hints or subtlety. Whenever a character is being evil, their features become distorted into a grotesque caricature just so you know they are up to no good. But if they stop being evil for whatever reason, they instantly look normal once again. Shiro is visually striking with her white skin and strange red markings, but one of the key bad guys, a monk called Azuma Genkaku, looks awfully goofy carrying around a guitar. Genkaku is one of The Undertakers, who are Deadman that work as enforcers inside the prison to keep the other super-powered inmates in line. Their opposite number is the Scar Chain, a squad of prisoners led by Nagi Kengamine, who are rebelling against the regime that runs Deadman Wonderland. The Undertakers can neutralise the powers of other Deadmen, but the screenplay is inconsistent about the extent of their abilities. There is a battle between an Undertaker and Nagi wherein the conclusion of their fight happens off screen, conveniently sidestepping the question of how Nagi could take on someone capable of nullifying his attacks.

The OVA is a prequel of sorts concerning one of the Deadmen, Senji, and his life before he wound up in prison. The production values are noticeably lower than in the main series, with a heavy reliance on still frames in both action and dialogue scenes. The script is a collection of shonen anime clichés and most of the characters don't even have names. Senji is a cop and his boss is just referred to as 'Old Man'. Now, that's the height of lazy writing and, sadly, the by-the-numbers plot is entirely predictable.

A visit to Deadman Wonderland is sure to satisfy the cravings of anyone out for blood and action, but the plot has a tendency to unravel rather than unfold. Too many key story points are left unresolved - which is frustrating - but fortunately many of the individual set pieces are visually impressive. Give blood. You could help end a life.
SCORE: 3/5
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