Middle school student Ganta Igarashi witnessed the slaughter of his entire class by the mysterious 'Red Man', and as the only survivor, he was labeled a mass murderer and sentenced to death. Now an inmate at the privately-owned prison and ‘amusement park' known as Deadman Wonderland, Ganta must try to survive in a place where inmates are the main attraction in brutal gladiator-style games. At the same time, he must attempt to uncover the truth behind the ‘Red Man', his mysterious childhood friend Shiro, and why he was the only survivor that bloody day.
Story: As the years have rolled on, I have been ever vigilant to find just that one shounen capable of letting me say, “Okay, Fate/Stay Night, you are officially free from having the worst shounen lead in all of anime.’” Deadman Wonderland, in all its clownish glory, is that anime. The show starts simple enough, with our ordinary protagonist living an ordinary life, only to soon be gifted with the arrival of the “Red Man” who massacres everyone around him in an ocean of gore. Shock value, check. Gungho Ganta, the lone survivor, is quickly shipped off to a rigged trial and is convicted of their murders despite it being beyond anything a human could do. Spastic story transition, check. Come the end of the episode, random girl in overly revealing bodysuit is introduced whom he vows to protect within minutes of meeting, unleashing his newfound superpower in the process. Fanservice, weakling with superpower, and melodrama – check, check, and check. Over the next twelve episodes, perhaps the only thing that kept me awake was ticking off boxes of every shounen cliché the story had to offer and then rating it on a scale of one to ten. Even with a handicap granted to Ganta (who clearly has some sort of mental deficiency) I cannot think of a single category which I would rate anything above a meager five. Most prominently defunct in this series is any semblance of a “story” – the viewer gets moved from school to messed-up-prison to clown prison to high-stakes deathmatch to friendship festivities to cursed inevitable betrayal before finally getting back to clown prison to cap it all off. Much like the previous run-on sentence, the frenetic transition of one setting to the next creates a near-incoherent jumble of scenes that are barely be fit to be called a story, all the while Gungho Ganta screams about the power of friendship while managing to be less useful than Fate/Stay Night’s accursed Shiro. Speaking of Shiro, the only hook that keeps Deadman Wonderland watchable is its own Shiro – this time in the form of an erratic, happy-go-lucky female in place of a mentally-impaired male dung beetle. Random nipple and camel toe fanservice aside, Deadman Wonderland’s Shiro is fairly interesting – largely due to the show’s dropping of several important hints as to her backstory and true role in the overall “plot.” Jumbled and befuddled as the story is, however, she never actually does anything, as this twelve-episode anime adaptation apparently leaves off at some random point in the manga which lacks any semblance of closure. I will admit, however, that the story did have a few twists and turns that I did not see coming. Most surprising among these piqued curiosities was that there is no actual “deathmatch” theme to the show despite this being hyped fairly religiously as its central selling point. Of the two “deathmatch” fight scenes that are present, the first is almost exclusively dialogue consisting of Gungho Ganta’s opponent standing and asking why, in a fight to the death, nothing is actually happening…as if breaking the fourth wall into the viewer’s own inquiries. The second is a weird three-way chat fest with a girl making ahegao faces and performing some weird dominatrix play instead of trying to actually harm Ganta. Just as quickly as the deathmatch gig comes, it is almost immediately tossed away to highlight the journey of the Wheelchair Brigade who are rebelling against the deathmatches which were actually anything but. While all the members are supposedly blessed with killer superpowers, it’s hard to take a malcontented gladiatorial 102-year-old-grandma, paraplegic used car salesman, and PTA soccer mom even remotely seriously. Random side characters are flung across the screen like debris out of a pipe bomb, many to serve only as random pawns for shock value and gore that has zero emotional impact. Most curiously it that the whole deathmatch gig is supposed to be “mass profiteering off human suffering” and yet the establishment is all too happy to off the Wheelchair Brigade who are their supposed lifeline to untold billions. In the end, all the story sells is shock value and nipples-through-shirts. While it ends abruptly, for once I did not mind because this offers definitive closure with the justified heaping of the title into the “never again” bin. Animation: Successful shounen anime necessitate selling themselves on a “cool” factor with their action sequences, as there is often minimal budget to do anything extravagant. Dragon Ball Z earned its notoriety almost exclusively on this factor alone – yes it took 35 episodes to get to a fight, but I can still remember twelve year old me running home from school to watch the “cool factor” of Goku powering up and knocking around some bad guys. Naruto, though helped along by a legitimately interesting story for much of its early run, offered similar charm with a huge cast of characters with unique and interesting jutsus that offset what might otherwise be a bunch of bland and boring shoutfests. Deadman Wonderland’s unique cool factor is watching nothing happen while telling yourself “wow, that was cool, I did not think a shounen show could be this uneventful!” Outside the final episode, there is minimal actual fighting – just random gore scenes where one person or another is killed or tortured in a low-frame-count manner followed by a lot of stills. Were one to consider Dragonball, Naruto, or Bleach to be to “normal” or “cool kids” of the shounen genre, this show would be the edgy emo kid in the corner slitting his wrists in a desperate bid for attention. Sound: The opening theme is catchy, but that is about the extent to which I even noticed the music. Most notably is that Gungho Ganta is voiced by the same seiyuu who did Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, which leaves one with this odd feeling that they should actually be watching said series instead of this tripe. Characters: Holy side characters, batman. Deadman Wonderland has so many one-off characters that it is impossible to really pick any particular one to comment on. Gungho Ganta and Shiro are the only real “regulars” that one might rightfully deem main characters, as the rest of the cast is populated by characters who show up for maybe half an episode before disappearing, only to show up in the final episode for some sort of cameo had they not been killed off prior. As mentioned previously, Shiro is at least interesting due to the story dropping several interesting tidbits about her fairly early on. There exists a sense early on that, eventually, her role may shift drastically and create some interesting transformations in the other characters. This never comes to pass because, to quote one of the side characters who dislikes him for much the same reason as I, Ganta’s “virginal white knighting gets real old.” Weak, pacifist male leads make for awful shounen leads in general. Sometimes the dolt factor is forgivable if there is a legitimate transformation in a reasonable timeframe, but Ganta is as stagnant in episode one as he is in episode twelve. The best part is, the final episode implies – for all the massive power of friendship speeches – that a total of eleven whole days have passed since Ganta’s trial, three of which did not even involve anyone but Ganta and Shiro. Staleness is what ultimately defines the show’s entire characterization. Putting a character in a situation with random gore and shock value is not character development by default. Unless there is a legitimate story reason for said events within a greater story (as in, say, Shiki), it ends up simply as a cheap gimmick to grab attention. Unfortunately for Deadman Wonderland there is no story, and watching the characters stumble around onscreen is a yawn-inducing mess which can only be summarized as awful. Overall: While I finished watching all twelve monotonous, dragging episodes of Deadman Wonderland, it was not an experience free of mental pain, anguish, and a great desire to rather be curled up in bed on a cold winter night drowned in tears to dull the suffering. There are certain flavors of shounen series, like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, that I dislike simply out of their presentation and not necessarily their lack of merit; this particular show, however, lacks any sort of coherency to make it salvageable. While die-hard fans of the genre may find it palatable, much of its appeal comes from the hints and promises of a good story early on, and that all fundamentally fails to come to fruition in every conceivable way. Find something else to watch.
So I just finished watching the available episodes of Deadman Wonderland. I have not read the manga, and I am aware that the show stopped early because it wasn't faithful enough to the manga, and that caused some issues. So, before you even consider watching Deadman Wonderland, know that if you want something fulfilling with unraveling mysteries and a good conclusion, you won't find it in the show alone. I guess if this show really interests you, then either read the manga before you watch it or after you watch it. But anyway, let's talk about how the show holds up on its own. Story: 6.5/10 From the beginning, Deadman Wonderland sets up a cool premise. From the very first episode, the show doesn't hold back on its dark themes, showing an entire class of students brutally murdered, and having our young protagonist, Ganta, accused of committing the crime. If you're looking for something dark and gory, then you might enjoy this show. Without spoiling anything, it has a lot of interesting and creative elements in its plot. I would've liked to see the story actually completed in animated form. Although it may seem a bit unfair, I'm going to fault the writers of this show for trapping themselves in a corner, and leaving the story unfinished. Some people have criticized the story structure of Deadman Wonderland for being repetitive and cliche. Although there are some shounen cliches in there---the typical underdog narrative, the protagonist's powers emerging when in a sticky situation, the flashy attacks with long names---I didn't find them to be that awful. However, as the episodes increased, the story became quite rushed. Not enough time was given to develop all of the new characters that they kept introducing. Animation: 8.5/10 I actually thought the animation in this show was done very well. The expressions of the characters, the movements, the backgrounds, the action scenes---I couldn't find flaws in any of them. One thing I liked a lot was how well the characters were integrated into the backgrounds. It felt like they were really there. And of course, the blood and gore was great. Let's be honest---if you aren't watching this show for the violence and gore, you really won't enjoy yourself much. One nitpick I have is that some scenes were too poorly lit, making it difficult to see who was there, and what they were doing. I understand that there'd be little lighting in top-secret underground facilities and the likes, but they could've at least added a couple lightbulbs! Another problem I have is the blatant and distracting sexualization of all of the female characters. Yeah, this anime is meant for sexually frustrated 13-year-olds. I get it. But defying the laws of gravity and physics to make a woman's clothes conform perfectly to her G-cup sized boobs is just...really dumb. And you can bet that in almost every scene with a girl, there's at least one shot of her boobs or ass. I'm not against fanservice, but I really hate when it's there, and it doesn't need to be there. Sound: 8/10 One thing I noticed was a tendency to repeat certain background tracks, like the obligatpory uplifting orchestral song that plays everytime Ganta gets off the ground and overcomes his foe. The music wasn't bad or anything, but the repetition kind of takes away from the emotion of those scenes. I'm not a fan of hard rock, so the opening theme wasn't really for me, but it wasn't bad (and I have to admit that the chorus is pretty catchy). I much prefer the ending theme, which is catchy and upbeat, but also very ethereal and mysterious. The snapshots of the characters' backstories was also nice. The voice-acting was fine, for the most part. The only performance that stood out much was Shiro. They picked a very good voice actress for her---she sounds cute and happy, but can also be indignant and emotional. Ganta's voice sounds like every other prepubescent anime protagonist in existence, but the voice actress does a fairly good job at conveying the emotion. One issue I had is that the effects on some voices seemed to be lacking. Like with a certain character that's meant to have a mechanical voice, the voice didn't sound mechanical at all. Characters: 6/10 The problem with the characters in Deadman Wonderland is that the ones introduced early on are well-developed and interesting, but at a certain point, they keep introducing characters that are pretty much pointless, get rushed development, and distract from the main characters. Ganta, Shiro, Tamaki, Senji, You, and Minatsuki and Makina are great as main characters and villains. They're developed, their motivations make sense, and you can root for them/hate them. They didn't need to keep introducing new main characters and try to get you attached to them. I'm sure these characters were handled a lot better in the manga. The thing is, if the producers realized that Deadman Wonderland the anime would not be able to catch up to Deadman Wonderland the manga, then they should've just taken the story a different direction, and given it a satisfying conlusion with the characters introduced. I think all of this is just a mess of miscommunication. Also, some of the character designs of the newer characters just get kind of ridiculous---enough to break the suspension of disbelief (Seriously? An electric guitar that turns into a gun? You've got to be kidding me). But anyway, Shiro is great, and probably the highlight of the show. They nailed everything about her design and character, making her cute and likable, but also weird and mysterious. Overall: 7.5/10 I did enjoy the premise, characters, and animation of Deadman Wonderland. I wish that this show could've been handled better, so that it could continue and conclude properly. Because of the miscommunication, the story and characters in this show don't work a lot of the time, especially later on. But if you're looking for something fun and action-packed to breeze through and scratch your violence/gore itch, then watch Deadman Wonderland. Or just read the manga.
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