When I was recommended Deadman Wonderland I was told it was the next best thing to watching Elfen Lied and had a pretty nifty plot and some cool ideas. What I wasn’t told was that I would be subjected to another unlikeable protagonist and all the cool ideas seem to get thrown out the window halfway through this twelve episode romp and are replaced by a fairly uninventive, though still entertaining second act.
The reviews for this show are fairly mixed, and I can see where you can love it or you can hate it. First of all let’s look at the story. Ganta Igarashi is in middle school, has a bunch of friends, and is the only survivor when his whole classroom in brutally murdered by a person simply known as the Red Man. Ganta is framed for the murders and sent off to a prison called Deadman Wonderland, a privately owned facility that doubles as a kind of amusement park where the prisoners perform for the civilians. This idea is fairly cool and it gets even cooler when we learn that the prisoners also participate in death games such as obstacle courses full of guillotines, electrified water and snipers. There are also fights called the Carnival of Corpses that are one on one battles between the prisoners. This was awesome. Another plus were the Branches of Sin, something never explained in the anime where a prisoners blood can be used as a weapon. Ganta for instance can shoot blood bullets and Senji Kiyomasa can turn his blood into arm blades. The biggest part of the plot was some of the prisoner's ability to manipulate their blood and I found it to be pretty cool.
With that said, yes, this is a bloody and gory anime, though I can’t say it’s that bad. Elfen Lied is a lot worse in the gore department, though there are some cringe-worthy scenes scattered throughout Deadman Wonderland, especially at the beginning and toward the end. Personally, there was only one moment where I was kind of yucked out, and this involved an eye being ripped out of a head, but otherwise it seemed fairly tame, at least for something that touts itself as bloody and gory.
The series starts off strong and the story is really cool and the use of this carnival as a device for killing prisoners is both smart and entertaining, but after a second Carnival of Corpses fight, the series seems to taper off and it never uses the setting for anything exciting. The second half of the series never includes a portion such as a game or a Carnival of Corpses, it’s just this resistance attempting to escape. In a longer series, this may not have bothered me if the next story arc pertained to another obstacle game or something of the like, but in a twelve episode series, it is disappointing. And to add to that disappointment is the fact that the series does not have a conclusion. It ends one story arc, starts up another, but leaves it hanging. While I understand that twelve episode seasons are the norm for anime, I just wish that decent series would wrap up at least a little more soundly, or even forgo following the source material and try for something different. Elfen Lied strayed from the source material and it worked. I think it could have worked here too.
So the plot starts amazing, and flatlines toward the end with the same generic action and boring scenery I can get out of a long running Shonen title.
The animation is good, not great. The middle school kids looked weird. I mean, Ganta isn’t that great looking either, but I couldn’t get over how freaking scary Mimi looked. Backgrounds are…blah. The scenery during the first act and the games and fights is pretty cool, but the end of the series follows the characters through dull gray areas and bright white areas and boring brown areas. It’s all very unappealing.
The sound is pretty good. I really, really liked the opening. Not only was it a badass opening that really got you pumped for the anime (and fit the first act’s adrenaline pumping action much better than the second act’s dullness), the song was done by Japanese band Fade in English and it makes sense! For those who may not know, Japanese songs tend to intermix some English in the lyrics and it typically makes no sense whatsoever with lines like “Oh my God is Jesus Christ!” being sung. This song is perfect English and is also pretty catchy. I sat through the opening every episode because of it and the cool sequence. The ending is meh and doesn’t seem to fit the grittiness of the show that much. It’s like an upbeat pop song or something. Music during the show is fitting.
In the character department we have some flaws. As stated, Ganta Igarashi is not a fun character to watch. At first I liked him and felt sympathetic toward the fact that he was framed for a crime he didn’t commit. But later on you grow to just get sick of his constant crying and wimpyiness. Hell, even the other characters get sick of his being a total loser. He constantly screws up and is constantly talking about saving the bad guys and helping them escape and protecting his friends. He’s the classic teenage wuss found in anime such as Guilty Crown, and most notably, Neon Genesis Evangelion. How a kid who whines and bitches as much as he does survives a prison as hardcore as Deadman Wonderland is a mystery. I guess it’s something about friendship. But I don’t care because I didn’t watch this to learn life lessons. I watched this to see murder.
Shiro is cool. And not because she’s almost naked. She’s cool because I know nothing about her, the series doesn’t explain much about her and who or what she is, and she seems to be pretty smart because she calls Ganta a wuss. She’s kind of silly, kind of sweet, but also the only character who seems to have any sort of depth. Now, I could be wrong, but I felt like if the anime did continue she would be the character with the most depth.
Other notables are Minatsuki Takami, a teenage girl who acts all cute and adorable and turns out to be a crazy-freaking bitch. I knew she wasn’t all flowers and smiles, but holy cow did I not see how totally insane she would turn out to be. I loved her.
Nagi Kengamine is another pretty decent character. He has a bit of backstory and seems real calm under pressure. He was enjoyable to watch and I wish there were more scenes with him. Senji Kiyomasa is another cool character with very little backstory, but he’s a total badass.
Toto Sakagami shows up about two thirds of the way through Deadman, but he never gets much screen time and the time he does get makes me want to see more of him. Who is he, what is he? These things are never explained and apparently left to a second season.
And that’s where I shall start my conclusion: There will be no second season. Sales of the DVD and Blu-Ray were horrible in Japan, meaning this is another anime that just leaves off and is going to be the target of terrible fan fictions for years to come in an attempt to conclude it. Actually, the manga does continue the story and I believe I’ll be heading over there to see if it’s worth my time.
Otherwise, Deadman Wonderland is probably a 9 for the first act. But the second act is a 6. Which really sucks because I wanted to love this anime and be a raging fanboy about it, but I can’t because of it's many shortcomings. The plot, Ganta, some of the side characters being dull, the animation being dull and lifeless toward the end: they all detract from the experience.
Enjoyable, though flawed, Deadman Wonderland is a 5/10.