Synopsis: The story centers on Ganta, a student who is about to go on a class field trip to Deadman Wonderland, a prison/theme park which funds itself by putting the prisoners through deadly sporting events for the enjoyment of the paying public. Hey, it worked for Rome, didn’t it? The problem with such a system is that it eventually takes on a life of its own, and needs to be fed. Soon, the need to replace prisoners who die in the games causes every little offense, such as j-walking and spitting on the sidewalk to become capital offenses. Fortunately, it hasn’t come to that yet. The prison has found a way to ensure a steady stream of new inmates… Framing high school kids for murder!
Unfortunately, before the class can go on the trip, a mysterious, super powerful, Red Man kills everyone in Ganta’s class, except him. The Red Man also gives Ganta a red crystal in his chest which gives him the power to manipulate his own blood as a weapon.
Since Ganta didn’t die in the attack, he is immediately prosecuted as the obvious perpetrator. His lawyer is also the guy who runs the prison, so there can’t be any conflict of interest here. An apparently fake video of Ganta confessing to his lawyer surfaces (apparently they don’t have any Lawyer/Client confidentiality rules in future Japan), and he finds himself as an inmate at the Deadman Wonderland prison. He quickly learns how prisoners are kept under control. They wear collars which inject poison, which will kill them unless they regularly eat nasty tasting candy. The candy must be earned, and so the prisoners do what they are told.
In his quest to discover who the Red Man is, and who framed him for the murders, Ganta discovers a secret area of the prison, G Block, where others with the same blood based powers are kept and forced to fight gladiator style battles in a giant birdcage. There is also an albino girl who can kick giant robots and jump out of tall buildings and land on angry dogs.
Let’s break it down:
Animation: 8 The use of color is done quite well. In the prison, many of the other colors are washed out, or subdued, in order to bring out the color red. It also adds a kind of depressed feel to the prison. Additionally, the opening credit sequence is entirely in red, black and white. The more I watched the opening credits, the more I liked them. Fight scenes are well choreographed, and the blood effects are well done. The character designs will immediately remind you of Eureka Seven. This is because the manga for both Deadman and Eureka were illustrated by Kazuma Kondou.
Sound: 7.0 The music was adequate and fit what was going on in each scene. The opening and closing songs were the highlight of the show. The opening song, “One Reason,” is a high energy rock piece, with an almost grunge sound to it, which fit well with the feel of the show. The end credit song, “Shiny Shiny,” is the best in the show, and doesn’t fit at all with the feel of the series, but it plays over pictures of the characters before they came to Deadman Wonderland, and has an appropriate retrospective/nostalgic feel to it. The voice acting in the dub is done by many familiar names. Ganta is voiced by Greg Ayres, the warden Makina is voiced by Colleen Clinkinbeard, and Shiro (Ganta’s albino girlfriend) is voiced by Monica Rial. All the voices are well done, although Ganta’s constant whining is a bit hard to take. Monica Rial is really the highlight here. The youthful and innocent voice she lends to Shiro is at times adorable, and at other comedic, and it’s exactly what is needed to balance the seriousness of the rest of the show. It’s no exaggeration to say Monica Rial, steals the show. I have read other reviews which had a negative reaction to Kana Hanazawa’s (normally critically acclaimed) voice for Shiro. She sounds good to me, but I have to admit she comes across a bit normal (if not serious), where Shiro should really sound a bit quirky, which is why Rial gets so much praise for her version.
Story: 6.5 A disastrous cataclysm happens in Tokyo, destroying much of the city and leaving behind people with unprecedented powers, kinda like in Witchblade, or Akira. And they are kept in a prison, where they compete in deadly games as part of their sentence, like in The Running Man, or Deathrace. Unfortunately, the basic premise lacks a bit of originality. There are also some other problems with the plot, but I can’t really get into them without major spoilers. Still, it’s a lot better than your average shounen plot which only serves to get the characters from one fight to the next.
The story basically follows two arcs. First is when Ganta arrives at the prison and wants to discover who the Red Man is, and who framed him. He hopes to clear his name and get revenge for the deaths of his classmates. Eventually, Ganta falls in with a resistance, and works to help them escape and get word out about the horrors going on inside the prison. It’s a fairly logical progression, but it would have been good to get some resolution on the first part before we got too deep into the second part. The show does let the viewer in on what’s going on, but poor Ganta never figures it out. That brings me to the ending. If you are looking for any resolution, you aren’t going to find it here. The show stops, not ends, abruptly, without any conclusion. It’s one of those ‘read the manga’ endings, because the series only covers about half of the story laid out in the manga.
Characters: 6.0 They do take the time to give backgrounds to most of the characters in the show, but unfortunately, I never really got too attached to any of them. The real exception here is Shiro. I watched this show with, and at the request of, my (old enough to watch this) daughter. During one scene featuring Shiro, she said, “You love her don’t you? You can’t not love her!,” to which I had to reply, “Yeah, she’s awesome!” Shiro is more than comic relief. She is genuinely likable, cute, powerful, and mysterious. Without her, the series would be fairly forgettable, but her innocence and cuteness effectively create a counterbalance to the ultra-violence of the series, and the mystery of who and what she is keeps you interested.
Overall: 6.9 Unfortunately, the show tries really hard to be dark, with the death games, gladiator combat, and the penalty phase where a slot machine decides which body part the losers will have cut off. I don’t mind violent anime, but this was a little over the top. I mean, why would the security robots spew acid? Couldn’t they just shoot, electrocute, or laser the inmates? I guess because acid is more gruesome, and that’s what the show is going for. The language was a bit of a shock too. I have never heard so many F-bombs dropped in an anime before. But hey, if that’s what you are looking for, then this is your anime. I think I would have liked it a lot more if it had answered its own questions, but unfortunately, we are left with a story with no ending (unless you read the manga, and I’m reviewing the anime, not the manga). Still, it has a good side too, so if you aren’t turned off by the above, watch it for the fight scenes, the animation (especially the use of color), and most of all, for Shiro!
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