To start things off, Anime Reporter delves into the depths of Deadman Wonderland, Koichi Hatsumi’s directorial maiden voyageand sinister adaptation of the first 21 chapters of Jinsei Kataoka’s manga series of the same name.
Falsely convicted of mass murder, middleschool student Ganta Igarashi (voiced by Romi Park (Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach) in Japanese, Greg Ayres (Gantz, Fairy Tail) in English) is set up and sentenced to imprisonment and death while he is haunted by the image of the real murderer, a supernatural figure he simply calls the “red man”. So far, the story may seem like a dark, but undeniably unoriginal premise, however, this all takes place less than halfway through the first episode and events soon escalate when Ganta is taken to hisnew home on Death Row.
Upon first glance, Deadman Wonderland, the prison for which the series is named, may seem like the setting for a children’s anime series, serving as a theme park for tourists with all the inmates performing for their entertainment. However, the series wastes very little time in proving worthy of its 18 rating with violence and profanity both plenty and intense but withoutcrossing the line into becoming gratuitous. Prisoners must perform regularly, often risking their lives, to earn both money and candy (an antidote to the toxin pumped constantly into their systems) in order to stand any chance at survival. Again, this seems like a very dark and interesting concept for a show, but at this stage things have barely begun to move forward. Each episode plunges further into the deranged workings of the prison and each revelation is only accompanied by more questions and intrigue.
The protagonist, Ganta, consistently feels less interesting than his environment and his English dubbed voice in particular sounds just a little bit more like an irritating younger sister than the teen protagonist of the series. However, the other characters and the events surrounding him are more than interesting enough to make up for Ganta’s shortcomings as a leading man. Shiro (voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Darker Than Black, Blue Exorcist) in Japanese, Monica Rial (Fullmetal Alchemist, Gantz) in English) in particular, a white haired girl who claims to be Ganta’s best friend, provides a healthy dose of light humour and innocence as needed, while also proving to be an intriguing and emotional character in her own right. The voice acting is, for the most part, excellent in both English and Japanese versions, displaying a great emotional range throughout the dark events of the series. Iori Nomizu (Maken-ki!) and Leah Clark (Darker Than Black, Black Blood Brothers) in particular deserve praise for their portrayals of Minatsuki Takami in Japanese and English respectively.
While the series is not unerringly faithful to the manga that spawned it, omitting some characters and splicing a couple of storylines here and there, it does touch quite effectively on the stories and backgrounds of many of the supporting characters, for the most part revealing something more sinister and twisted than at first glance. It’s also worth mentioning that this series has one of the catchiest opening theme songs of recent anime series’ (One Reason by Deadman Wonder Band featuring Japanese band Fade)
Hatsumi (key animator on shows such as Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell: SAC) premiers his directorial talents, giving the story some coherence and narrative that the early chapters of the manga may have lacked, without detracting from the tremendously dark humour of the series. Where Hatsumi’s influence can really be seen is in the visual aspects of each scene and particularly in some bizarrely beautiful moments of gore and violence. Characters are gorgeous, with impressive attention to detail and blood in particular (which comes to play a very disturbing but significant role throughout the series) is vividly and strikingly animated.
Included in the DVD and Blu-ray editions of the series are an OVA (in Japanese with English subtitles) and actor commentaries for episodes 6 and 12, all of which should be viewed after the episodes on the accompanying disc.
The most significant problem with the series is that it ends after 12 episodes, encompassing the first 21 chapters of the manga leaving 36 chapters still untouched and at the climax there is, as was present throughout the entire show, a feeling that the story has really only just begun. While the show’s ending may prove unsatisfying as a finale, the entire series is wildly gripping, on the edge of your electric chair, entertainment.
Deadman Wonderland is a sharp fall into dark, cold waters and not to be missed by those with the stomach for it.
Deadman Wonderland is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.