The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 160 – Deadman Wonderland

Deadman Wonderland 1

Last week the government announced prison reforms during the Queen’s Speech. Thus I feel like covering an anime that is set in the nick – albeit a very twisted one.

Deadman Wonderland is a sci-fi horror manga created by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou, which ran between 2007 and 2013. An anime version ran on TV for 12 episodes in 2011, with a bonus prequel episode released separately later that year. You could try and argue that the show is an argument against privatised prisons, but really it is all about the action and violence.

The series is set in the near-future, follow the events of the “Great Tokyo Earthquake”, in which three-quarters of the city is destroyed and is now underwater. Ganta Igarashi survived this earthquake as a child, and now a student 10 years later, is coping fine as he has little memory of the incident. But then, one day at school he finds a strange man, covered in blood, hovering outside the classroom window. This figure, who Ganta refers to as the “Red Man”, kills everyone in Ganta’s class, embeds a red crystal in Ganta’s chest, and vanishes. As the sole survivor, Ganta is assumed to be the murderer, is found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Ganta is made to serve his sentence in “Deadman Wonderland”, Japan’s only privately-run prison which is also operates as a theme park, in which the prisoners are made to perform to the public and funds raised go towards helping reconstruct Tokyo. Ganta and the other Death Row inmates are forced to wear collars that constantly inject poison. The only cure is to eat a form of disgusting “candy” once every three days, which they have to earn by entertaining the crowds. Ganta’s main objective is to clear his name and find out the identity of the Red Man while trying to survive this twisted world, something which becomes even worse when the red crystal starts giving him a strange power: he can turn his own blood into a weapon. This phenomenon, known as the “Branches of Sin”, results in Ganta being given special treatment as being one of the prison’s so-called “Deadmen”. He is therefore forced to take part in an event called “Carnival Corpse”, a gladiatorial battle with other Deadmen that people put huge bets on.

Ganta also has to deal with both his fellow prisoners and those running Deadman Wonderland, in particular Tsunenga Tamaki, who acted as Ganta’s lawyer during his trial, but is actually the prison governor and wants to gain total control of the Branches of Sin. There is also someone else in Deadman Wonderland, not an inmate, who appears to know Ganta. An albino girl named Shiro claims to know him from when Ganta was a child, before the earthquake, and wants to help him, but there appears to be more to her than that first seems.

If there is one thing this anime is not short on, it’s violence. There is blood by the bucket-load, and because of the Branches of Sin it also comes in a lot of shapes. The characters turn their blood into all kinds of weapons such as scythes and whips. In Ganta’s case he simply fires his blood out like bullets, leading to some characters nicknaming his weapon the “Ganta Gun”. Not only that, but those who survive but lose the Carnival Corpse battles have to take forfeits, which come in the form of losing a body part. There are characters for example who have an eye removed or lose their voice as a result of their defeat.

However, while there is plenty of action, there is very little else to recommend this series. The main problem with the show is that it was made before the manga had finished. This means that the anime’s storyline is never really concluded satisfactory, so by the time you get to the end it feels disappointing. While you do seem to find out who the Red Man is, in the anime how Ganta is able to solve these mysteries is never revealed. You can read the manga, which is in English however, so you can find out what happens. Also, while the British commercial release does feature plenty in the way of extras, the subtitling is a bit sloppy at times.

Therefore, Deadman Wonderland is not an anime I would recommend to watch. If you are interested in it, you are better off with the original comics.

Deadman Wonderland is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Manga Entertainment.