Deadman Wonderland Review (A Bloody Mess of a Missed Opportunity)

Plot: Ten years ago, a weird red explosion wiped out much of Tokyo and devastated Japan as a whole. After this event, Japan’s first publicly run prison, Deadman Wonderland, was created. Prisoners partake in sick games where many of them are lead to their untimely demise, but the audience takes it all as a bunch of theatrics. Deadman Wonderland’s games eventually catch the interest of Ganta, a relatively normal teenage boy about to visit Deadman Wonderland on a class trip. But his life is completely destroyed when a mysterious being in red slaughters his entire class before his eyes. The odd being spares his life and places a glowing red crystal inside of his body before leaving the scene.

Instead of being viewed as a victim himself, Ganta is charged and convicted of the murders of his classmates and is sent to Deadman Wonderland under a death sentence. Ganta is horrified by his situation, but is fueled with rage and determination to clear his name and find the Red Man to kill him and avenge his friends. While he believes he has no more friends left, he’s soon met by an odd girl in white who is eager to befriend him. Not only that, but Ganta finds that he has obtained the power to manipulate his own blood – a skill called the Branch of Sin. Those with this ability are called Deadmen, and they’re Deadman Wonderland’s most interesting, yet secret, attractions.


Oh what became of you Deadman Wonderland?

Let me start by explaining what I do like about this series. The story is pretty solid. Revenge stories aren’t new, neither are frame jobs, but this one does a good job at shocking you with the crime, making you feel anger towards the culprit and wishing greatly that Ganta clears his name and gets revenge.

Ganta is likable enough, even if he sometimes does seem whiny. Though, to be completely honest, he has every right to whine. He’s on death row in a crazy prison where you get maimed for minor violations such as stealing and you partake in death games for points, the prison’s currency, and candy that keeps you from dying of the poison that is being pumped through your veins through a collar. Not only that, but he’s later pitted against other Deadmen in arena-style death matches and constantly comes across pitfall after pitfall, betrayals, death and just nonstop despair for the poor kid.

The prison itself is a pretty unique setup for an anime. While the prison is huge, it does a fairly good job at making you feel truly trapped. Despite the happy-go-lucky theme park outside, the inside is always reminding the characters of their place in this whole screwed up world that Tamaki, one of the founders of Deadman Wonderland, created. Granted, they do have quite a bit of freedom in there. They are unsupervised a frightening amount of the time, and they can go buy things, get ice cream, play games etc. Just the fact that you can be horribly wounded or killed for even slightly stepping out of line makes the contrast all the more uncomfortable.

The Branches of Sin, as a power, are a pretty cool concept. Despite the Branches of Sin all having the same base function, which is manipulating blood, each Deadman has a specific way that they are able to hone this power as a weapon. For example, Ganta’s ability is to concentrate his blood into a bullet and shoot it at people. Though, the obvious weakness here is Ganta losing blood consistently the more he uses this ability. If he uses it too much in a match, he could die. Another character, Senji, can makes blades with it. Another can make armor out of it and easily patch up her own wounds, another can make bombs out of it, so it’s pretty versatile. It also makes the death matches between Deadmen, known as Carnival Corpses, pretty intense and interesting.

The games of Deadman Wonderland are exciting, but sadly we only see one game the entire series. Odd, considering the whole place is built around the concept of these death games between prisoners. We get several Carnival Corpses and only one of these regular prison games.

The audience seriously believes that all of these people who are now the janitor’s problem are not really dying? I mean, I guess that’s a logical approach because this is a crazy setup and no one would want to believe such a thing, but why has no serious investigation occurred in here? Does Tamaki have that much power or money? Surely many people have sent out death inquiries to Deadman Wonderland for lost loved ones. Tons of prisoners died simply in that one match. Even the worst criminals have loved ones who are concerned about them.

Plus, how long can they reasonably keep this up? If the games happen regularly and tons of inmates die as a result, surely they’d start running out eventually.

The overarching story as a whole is a bit disjointed. The main focus of the show is to find the Red Man and kill him or otherwise out him as the perpetrator in the slaughter of Ganta’s classmates to clear his name. Despite not knowing quite how to achieve this, this plotline is the focal part of much of the first half, along with Ganta discovering his Branch of Sin and entering into Carnival Corpses against his will.

While Ganta does find some clues as to the Red Man’s location within the prison and other important information on his goal, this entire plot is sidelined in the second half.

Before I get into the plot of the second half, I need a minute to vent about the final Carnival Corpse of the series between Ganta and a girl named Minatsuki. In episode six, Ganta’s abilities as a Deadman have been revealed and he’s now being held in a part of the prison that is seemingly secret except to other Deadmen and the higher ups. He meets a cutesy girl named Minatsuki who has pigtails, flowers, a pretty dress, the whole shebang. He instantly believes she’s just an innocent girl and that he needs to run away with her.

Now, this isn’t entirely farfetched because, given Ganta’s situation, it’s possible that many people in Deadman Wonderland, especially the Deadmen themselves, were framed for their crimes. But the whole time I was watching this, I was just muttering to myself “Come on, Ganta. Really? You’re that gullible?”

Lo and behold, of course, she turns out to be a bad guy, a Deadman, and Ganta’s next Carnival Corpse opponent. But hoo boy did I underestimate how ridiculously crazy they’d make this chick. She’s a ‘Genha from BALDR.EXE‘ level of over-the-top ridiculous villain. Complete with distorted face and sticking out her tongue all the time as well as swearing like a sailor who became a super villain.

What’s worse? Her mother died in the event with the red light, and she had an opportunity to save Minatsuki, but decided to save a pot of flowers instead…..Like… really? The silliness of that moment kinda taints her much darker and serious tragic backstory. Her dad was a horribly abusive pedo rapist that she eventually murdered.

Somehow, You, one of Ganta’s only allies at this point and Minatsuki’s brother, ended up with a perfectly normal childhood yet Minatsuki ended up crazy and abused. A huge factor in this part of the story is learning why You is in Deadman Wonderland, and it’s a bittersweet reason to say the least.

After this, the second plot starts up which is the introduction of the Undertakers and Ganta joining up with a Deadman rebellion group called Scar Chain.

The Undertakers are essentially anti-Deadmen. They have special abilities within their bodies, but their main point of focus is their special weapons which have materials within them that neutralize the Branch of Sin virus, making the Deadmen abilities completely useless, to a degree. Only two of these Undertakers are introduced and they’re varying levels of ridiculous. Okay, that’s not really true; two other Undertakers are introduced but they’re quite literally cut from the show mere minutes after they’re given a lengthy intro. One of them is an Uber Monk (legit title) who uses an ultrasonic guitar as a weapon, another is a little girl with squeaking shoes who uses a gigantic sword whip thing that is broken up into several segments when whipped.

The Uber Monk, Genkaku, is a crazy psychopath who believes that killing people is the ultimate freedom. The little girl, Hibana, is a less crazy psychopath who believes that she must punish people IE, kill them in order to be a good girl and a proper lady. While these two do have legit reasons, both psychologically and physically, as to why they’re so crazy, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re usually so over the top that you’d never be able to sympathize with them anyway. The fact that Genkaku’s backstory is shoehorned into the final episode does not really help matters as I felt it really got in the way of the finale.

The Undertakers combat Scar Chain as they plan an escape from Deadman Wonderland with proof of their corrupt and inhuman practices. They’re lead by Nagi, who lost his voice box as a penalty for losing a Carnival Corpse and also lost his wife and child to Deadman Wonderland, and Karako, his right-hand woman and love interest. While Ganta is initially reluctant to join them, he eventually becomes fairly good friends with the bunch and agrees to join their cause. So the entire plot shifts entirely away from the Red Man and moves to escaping from the prison.

I didn’t necessarily mind this because focusing entirely on revenge would get mighty boring, plus it was nice to see Ganta have some legitimate friends for a change and even smile and laugh after so much crap has happened to him.

Well, we can’t have nice things.

Yeah, this turns out to be an extremely depressing arc that leaves Ganta almost even worse off than he was before. There’s another reason this arc brings a big problem to the table, but let’s address some more earlier concerns first.

There’s a point in episode ten where things really went off the rails for a minute. Shiro rushes in and takes a very important data chip from Ganta and throws it into a fire. It explodes, mushrooming out the door and burning Shiro in the process. She says Ganta’s too weak to be carrying such a thing and that his little escape plan doesn’t matter. Ganta freaks out since people died to ensure that he kept that data chip safe, and he punches Shiro in the face and tells her he’s sick of her crap.

People in the discussion for this episode were saying that Ganta deserved to DIE for doing that to Shiro, and, worse still, people were agreeing. He deserves to die for punching Shiro?….Was it right to hit her at all? No. Understandable, yeah. Right? No. But, really, people think he deserves death over that? Even considering how resilient and strong Shiro has proven herself to be? Calm the hell down, people.

She took something people died to protect and destroyed it then the only thing she says to defend her actions is that Ganta’s weak and his “little friends’” sacrifices and their stupid plan don’t matter. And no, I’m not really exaggerating at all on the word choices. Considering how few friends and allies Ganta has at this point, it’s a shock he didn’t flip out and set his Branch of Sin after her. A punch and an emotional outburst are understandable for something like that.

Here’s the thing, though – it’s also stupid that Ganta and the others completely overlooked that the damn thing EXPLODED. There were no combustible materials in the area of the fire that Shiro threw the chip into, yet when she throws the chip into the fire it’s like a damn grenade went off yet no one seems to notice this. Even though Shiro has a bunch of burns afterward too.

A smart person would’ve been ‘Holy shit, that chip was a bomb!? Thanks for saving our lives, Shiro!’ but no, since we needed drama, I guess, Ganta and the others completely ignore that the chip was obviously a bomb and Rokuro needs to flat out expositiony explain that he betrayed them and that the chip was a bomb. Even if they did get the chip to where it needed to be, it wouldn’t work because it’s a bomb, and it would explode because it’s a bomb.

While we’re ranting, Nagi, for serious, you thought there was a perfectly innocent little girl wandering around the control room of Deadman Wonderland? Don’t even think twice until she’s uncovered her weapon? The gigantic backpack no child her size should be able to carry wasn’t a clue? I let you get away with not seeing Rokuro was a traitor but come on. You can’t be Ganta in regards to Minatsuki levels of dumb.

While we’re on the topic of Rokuro, what an over-the-top bad guy. He monologues, laughs maniacally, gloats and mocks all the while looking like a cartoon villain and cracking his neck every goddamn second that he talks.

We reach the finale, which is the biggest problem in the entire series. The final episode is merely the finale of the Scar Chain arc, leaving the actual main plot of the entire series up in the air to say the least. The studio that produced Deadman Wonderland, Manglobe, went bankrupt in 2015. In addition, there was talk that they supposedly wouldn’t get a second season anyway because the show started straying too much from the manga. I don’t know if that’s true. I think they were still seeing good numbers with the series even if it wasn’t loyal to the manga after a while, but I also heard that it wasn’t nearly as popular in Japan as it was stateside, so I don’t know for certain.

The point is that the entire series ends on a huge cliffhanger. We never know who the Red Man is, though it’s suggested it’s Shiro (?), we never learn of Shiro’s Branch of Sin, Senji’s last shot is of him on the floor seemingly dead (?), Ganta never faces the Red Man, and the last remaining rebels all leave the prison without Ganta because I guess he still wants to stay behind to fight the Red Man even though that goes against everything he preached in that episode. He says he wants to stay with Shiro, but why can’t she leave too?

Who is the Mockingbird really? Did he actually kill the little girl undertaker? Who thought we’d care about the Uber Monk’s backstory in the finale? Not saying his backstory isn’t sad, though how much of that makes up for how he is now, I don’t know, but it had horrible placement.

How are Karako and the others escaping anyway? Don’t their collars prevent such a thing? Wouldn’t they be tracked or at least die of poison from the collar after three days? I’m sure the outside world doesn’t have those medicine candies. Why does Shiro have dual personalities? Why is she at Deadman Wonderland? Has she been there her whole life? Why did Ganta forget her? What was the place she and Ganta stayed at when they were kids and why were they separated?

I was seriously under the impression that there were 13 episodes, which is why I was shocked that this ending was the actual ending. Throughout the entire episode I was thinking how they’d rush the finale of the main plot in just one episode and then I noticed there was no episode 13 and had a major brain crash. Our main character has not gotten revenge, he’s still in prison for something he didn’t do, he must still partake in Carnival Corpses and prison games, most of his allies are either dead, incapacitated, seemingly dead or escaped and absolutely no hope looms over the horizon. One of the most frustrating and depressing endings in recent memory.

Art and Animation: The art is fairly stylized and detailed, but can seem ugly in various spots, especially with how jagged some of the details are. The animation is pretty good, but some shots look really awkward.

Music: The music is fantastic, and I especially enjoyed the OP and ED, even if the ED might seem slightly too happy for the tone of this series.

Voice Acting: English – The voice acting was very well done and most of the actors seemed very fitting for their roles, even if some of them seemed like they were hamming it up, it’s understandable considering how hammy some of these characters are.

Additional Information and Notes: Deadman Wonderland was based on a manga written by Jinsei Kataoka and illustrated by Kazuma Kondou. The anime was directed by Koichiro Hatsumi and was written by Yasuyuki Muto. It was produced by Manglobe, and is currently licensed in the US by Crunchyroll.

Year: 2011

Episodes: 12 (13 counting the OVA)

Bottom Line: I enjoyed the series for what it was. The concept is pretty good, a decent chunk of the characters are likable, the stories we’re presented with are solid enough, and the fights and powers are unique and exciting. However, Ganta is really put through the wringer throughout this entire series. He does learn and grow, but dammit this kid has been through some shit that he in no way deserves. Just the massacre of his classmates and being framed for the crime is bad enough, but this kid just keeps running into tragedy, death and betrayal around every corner.

You want to see good things happen to Ganta, and they do, but then they get ripped from him in the worst ways. It eventually reaches a point where you don’t want to see good things happen to him because it’s like the good things are just taunting him. They’re like preludes to things that are 100x worse than anything he’s experienced up until that point. And then he gets no happy ending whatsoever. It’s awful.

Nearly every bad guy is ridiculously, almost completely unrealistically, evil and crazy, and it’s hard to tell who is truly an ally, which is usually a good thing but it doesn’t usually feel like it here. So much about this series just makes you feel down. It’s hard to get excited for it a lot of the time.

The ending really makes me reluctant to tell people to give it a go. If there was a confirmed season two coming out, then I’d feel more comfortable doing so. However, there isn’t one, and I doubt there will ever be one. The best we can hope for is that it gets a full reboot, but I don’t know how likely that seems. Maybe more likely now than ever considering so many properties are getting reboots lately. If the fact that any sort of serious development or climax is nonexistent in the main plot doesn’t bother you, then the Scar Chain arc and the mini-stories throughout are worth a try at least. If it does, then I’d suggest reading the manga.

Recommended Audience: I’m not sure if just the copy I watched was kinda censored with blurring and light or if the raw footage is censored this way, but censored or not the series has all sorts of maiming, murder, gore, some of it pretty damn hard to watch, and more. Low on fanservice, if you can believe that, though there is a near gang rape scene (no nudity or sexual acts at all, though) and Shiro’s outfit is so skin tight I really questioned numerous times if it was an outfit or body paint. Swearing is pretty high here, especially when you get to Potty Mouth Minatsuki. 16+

Final Notes: In Scar Chain, there’s an old lady Deadman with a katana. We never see her Branch of Sin, learn of her story nor why she carries a katana and how good she is with it. Disappointment. 😦

Also, there is a one-episode OVA that focuses on the backstory of Senji, which is cool, but doesn’t help the whole amputated ending thing.

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