Ferocious. Cruel. Sadistic. These are some of the adjectives I could use to describe Deadman Wonderland, but I'll settle on just one for now. Awesome. Sure, blood, guts and gore as well as physical and psychological torture might not be everyone's cup of tea. Heck, I wasn't that interested in watching it myself.
However, the show's unrelenting pace combined with bang-on production value and deft direction made every episode strangely compelling. As each episode ends you're like "holy cow, I gotta' find out what happens next!" and so you start the next episode, only to have a bit more of the strange plotline revealed, a new character introduced, a new twist to the story, and a flashback revealing something that ties some of it all together. But never enough that you actually know exactly what's going on, or why.
But, it all ties together with a great earthquake about 10 years ago in Tokyo, and a strange red crystal that gives it's bearers the power to use their own blood as a weapon. Except that's not really important.
What's important is that Ganta, a normal everyday high-school student, finds himself framed for the brutal, grisly murder of his entire class, and is railroaded right into Deadman Wonderland, a privately-run detention facility that seems to specialize in the worst of the worst. And they finance themselves by making the prisoners perform in deadly carnival games, not that far removed from Roman Gladiatorial bouts, except that the cheering public thinks it's all faked.
Except that's not really important, either.
No sooner have we been introduced to the prison and it's sadistic director/promoter than we discover another, previously secret cell block where the people with that crystal in them fight each other one-on-one thunderdome-style for a secret cabal of internet viewers who I believe are wagering on the outcome.
If the plotline alone wasn't unrelentingly twisted and dark enough, then there's the characters. Each one hiding something, each one a potential betrayal, each one ready to stab you in the back.
At least the sadist running the show is honest about his intentions, everyone else is suspect, including Shiro, who initially seems like the only woman in the prison, which didn't make sense since, aside from being a walking advertisement for TARGET, has the body of a 17-yr old and the emotional maturity of a 3-yr old, making her either immediate rape-material for the rest of the inmates or some kind of fan-service throw-in, but she's neither of these things as her powers continue to grow and grow, turning her into the most dangerous thing out there.
It's all so over-the-top that you don't or can't take it seriously, but that doesn't change that way the brutality of it all, combined with just enough plot reveal per episode draw you further and further down the rabbit hole.
I didn't want to watch it, but I ended up watching it all.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, January 2013
What happens when a world falls apart and a young man is sentence to death? Wrongly accused of murdering his entire class and imprisoned, this is the reality of Ganta Igarashi. The world that Dead Man Wonderland takes place in is a post apocalyptic futuristic alternate world with Tokyo suffering after a world-altering earthquake.
From the beginning of the story, Deadman Wonderland, a prison/amusement park, has already been established, where prisoners are used as entertainment tools to the unknowing public. For the prisoners, this is a race against time for their survival. If they don't entertain, and earn enough cast points, a momentary currency in the prison, then their lives can easily perish, so either one way or another, Deadman Wonderland ensures that customers are entertained, and the performers won't be getting out of this place alive.
Ganta, a reluctant hero, thrown into this dangerous world, and he has to learn how to survive, and just who can he trust in this place? He meets Shiro, a mysterious girl who appears to know him, but he has absolutely no memory of. Now he must try to figure out who the Red Man is and try to get vengeance for his fallen classmates. Kataoka keeps readers guessing the motives behind each and every character.
Deadman Wonderland is a manga, that should appeal to fans of Air Gear for adventure aspects, but readers also should know that this manga has the violence level of Battle Royale, where battle melee frequently happens as nearly every contestant is out for themselves. Future Diary is also a good read-alike comparison for Deadman, based on how characters basically don't have control over what should happen.
Recently the second volume has just been released in English, and there are talks that this manga will be animated in the future. Just for fact that this is an entertaining read, please be sure to check out this graphic novel.
Reviewed by Linda Yau, September 2010
Below: Two double page spreads from the Deadman Wonderland manga (click on the image to view at full size).
Below: A panel from the Deadman Wonderland manga.