The average student would tell you that school isn’t much fun. Boring lessons, bullies and detention for not doing your homework. What’s to like? Those tribulations however pale into insignificance when you compare them to the plight of Deadman Wonderland’s protagonist Ganta Igarashi. One day a crazed masked man, adorned in red rags, decided to pay Ganta’s school a visit. Said lunatic decapitated Ganta’s best friend and then proceeded to slaughter the rest of his classmates before flying away from a nearby window. Inexplicably Ganta is spared from the carnage, so when the authorities arrive they assume he is responsible for the mass murders and immediately arrest him.
One farce of a trial later and Ganta finds himself sentenced to death row in the aptly named Deadman Wonderland – a prison masquerading as a theme park were inmates are forced to perform in twisted games for the amusement of spectators (think of the Running Man for a general idea.) The first trial Ganta faces is an obstacle course, littered with deadly booby traps, which he survives only thanks to the aid of a fellow prisoner named Shiro who professes to be a forgotten childhood friend of his. Physically speaking she’s blessed with exceptional strength and agility, but her quirky demeanour reveals that she isn’t so gifted in the mental department.
It doesn’t take long for the authorities to discover that Ganta has been infected with the Blood of Sin (a parting gift from the masked killer who decimated his school.) Blood of Sin is a mysterious affliction that allows humans to turn their blood into unorthodox weapons. Ganta for example utilises Sin to turn blood droplets into plasma bullets whilst others, with the same condition, prefer to fashion bladed weapons, whips or protective barriers out of the liquid oozing through their veins. Although Blood of Sin isn’t terminal, the metal collar around Ganta’s neck is. It excretes a fatal poison that will kill him if he doesn’t ingest a candy shaped antidote every three days. Unfortunately for him the only way of acquiring said candy is to earn credits by battling fellow Blood of Sin endowed inmates in “Carnival Corpse” bouts organised by the prison warden. Gripes, this theme park sucks. Ganta must wish that he would have been locked away in Alton Towers instead.
Having watched the entire twelve episodes of Deadman Wonderland, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the series. Although it seldom aspires to be more than a prison based Dragonball, revolving around super powered scrapping, I found the experience to be far more entertaining than Akira Toriyama’s tales of Super Saiyans. The low episode count ensures that superfluous filler doesn’t divert the story towards pointless subplots whilst regular surprises should maintain the viewer’s interest in the narrative. Whether it’s discovering the gruesome penalty for losing a Carnival Corpse match, revelations about a character’s backstory or introducing the Undertaker group that can negate Blood of Sin powers, there’s always something happening to save the show from settling down into a bog standard routine of constant fighting.
In terms of characters Ganta isn’t the typical muscle bound beefcake you find fronting an action show, given that he’s a scrawny middle-schooler. For the first half of the series he spends his time moping about the injustice of being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, but as the story progresses he gradually begins to man up. This may be the series commenting on how prison life makes criminals aggressive as opposed to rehabilitating them or it could just be the director sparing the audience from a Shinji like whiney main character. Either way, it was good to see Ganta’s growth throughout the series along with the relationship he has with Shiro, who starts out as goofy comic relief before turning into an integral component of the story.
For any fans of anime and action I can highly recommend Deadman Wonderland thanks to its gripping story and impressive visuals. Despite some foul language the series is suitable for older teens. Although the subject matter skirts on being disturbing the violence itself isn’t especially gory, resulting in the DVD receiving a fifteen age rating. Overall I would give the series four stars out of five as, despite enjoying it, the final episode ends very suddenly with a lot of things left unresolved. Hopefully a second season will be forthcoming in the future, which animates the latter half of the manga it is based off. I would buy a second season DVD set in a heartbeat as I had a “bloody” good time watching what has been released thus far.