Review: Deadman Wonderland

There’s been a number of shows that I’ve heard generally positive things about, but yet, I’ve never taken the time to sit down and watch. This is certainly one of them, although there are others that are mentioned more around me than this one. Within the past few months, I finally got the chance to sit down and watch the series, and I wrote this review then. Today, though, I had a conversation with a new friend about this series that brought it back into my attention. So, why not post my review for it while it’s still on my mind?

An Introduction

Our main character is named Ganta. When we first meet him, he seems like your stereotypical high school boy: more of a pushover, generally nice to everyone, becomes the butt of a couple of jokes but somehow keeps himself happy. However, this doesn’t last long, as before the first episode is halfway over, a mysterious (floating?) person appears outside his classroom’s window, and murderizes them all! (with impressive efficiency and destruction) Ganta, somehow the only one in his entire classroom to not have died, finds himself the prime suspect for this mass killing.

After being declared guilty, Ganta is shipped off to Japan’s only privately-owned prison, Deadman Wonderland. Angry and confused about being in this position for a crime he didn’t commit, Ganta tries to acclimate himself to the unusual way this prison works, with only moderate success. Here, he also makes two “new friends”, Yo and Shiro. Yo isn’t so much a friend as someone who’s paid to keep an eye on him and go along for the ride. Shiro, who always wears an outfit consisting of white head-to-toe cloth with random red circles, proclaims herself as Ganta’s closest childhood friend, and while she has an extremely innocent way of thinking, she is unbelievably strong and powerful.

This prison is efficient in killing its inmates, scarily so; there’s really no winning formula to survive. It subjects them to perform in spectacle events for the entertainment of crowds, such as theatrical performances, endurance challenges, obstacle courses, and so on and so forth. But each of these events are modified to allow a systematic murdering of the inmates that participate in them. The obstacle course, for example, has archers shooting at the runners, deadly acid pools, and falling platforms that lead to a spiky demise.

However, this prison has something even more insidious: an underground (literally) fighting ring. The fighters consist of inmates that have a special blood-based power called “Branch of Sin”. These fighters are constantly pit in battle after battle, with the loser being subjected to a “penalty event”, where they lose a randomly selected body part (arm, foot, eye, kidney, voice box, etc.), and are never given the chance to see the light of the sun. Ganta finds himself thrown into this ring, only quickly after learning that he himself has a Branch of Sin power, and meets up with other fighters who are beyond disgruntled with the position they are all in.

The Plot and Characters

It is the fourth episode when Ganta begins to get himself involved with this underground fighting ring. The anime doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s dragging before it gets to this point (as some animes do before they reveal the real meat of their plots), but all the same, I failed to get hooked by this plot. This anime seems to just keep continuing with no sense of purpose, no matter how far I got into the series.

In fact, one of the biggest questions I had about Deadman Wonderland was “What was it trying to show us here?” Was it trying to show us a prison more focused on deadly spectacles than correctional practices? Or was it trying to show us the struggles of being a fighter in this underground ring? Or was it trying to show us the Branch of Sin, what it is, and what it means for humanity? The show ended without developing enough of anything for me to feel like the story had any sort of focal point, or end goal in mind. It was similar to a bus tour: it was going in a set direction, but it felt like we just saw the pretty pictures and people just go by us as we drive on, rather than stopping at any point and letting us sink our teeth into what we saw there.

However, the smaller details kept me from dropping the show. While the overarching plot walked towards some unknown destination, the small scenes and interactions were where I got most of my enjoyment out of this show. Hummingbird quickly became my favorite supporting character, along with Seiji and Karako (all three being fellow Branch of Sin fighters), and Ganta’s interactions with other characters in general were just fun to watch. My most favorite character of the entire show, though, was of course Shiro, with her child-like temperament and weird outfit. There was not a moment when she was on-screen that I didn’t enjoy.

While I first saw Ganta’s reactions to him being suddenly thrust into this prison environment rather realistic, his personality and whiny-ness began to grate on me a little bit by the end of the entire series. He never crossed that threshold from being “just a character” to becoming like an actual person to me. The anime attempted, with little success, to show us some of Shiro’s backstory and give her more character, but in general, she’s basically just like a child in a teenager’s body, in mind and spirit, and she just happens to be at the right place at the right time for her super-powered abilities to come into play.

For pretty nearly all of the supporting cast that receive a decent amount of screentime, each one of these characters act or appear differently enough that none of them can really be confused for one another. Some of them have some interesting gimmicks to them, and any time spent on any of them is generally not any time wasted. The ones we spend more time with definitely get to be fleshed out, to my enjoyment. Archetypes are present in this show, but they’re not anything we see that often. Overall, I have no major complaints about the supporting characters, beyond simply not being able to see them more.

I’ve heard people complain about the ending because it left them with questions unanswered. I was fairly satisfied with the ending, as it was about as deep as the rest of the show: not very deep at all. It does, of course, feel like this anime really only scratched the surface of what the original material may or may not get into, but this show has not left me compelled to seek out and read the original material.

The Atmosphere

Frankly, I don’t have much to really talk about, visuals wise. When an action series doesn’t leave me with anything I wished it had improved upon, that’s pretty good. But as well, this show doesn’t really have anything that blows me away in terms of quality, nothing that makes me say “whoa, now that was cool looking”, which isn’t as positive a thing. The only exception may be the very final scenes of the anime, with Shiro and Ganta sitting together, which I was impressed by. The color scheme was generally a bit darker than I would’ve appreciated, but at the same time, it’s not out of place.

Of course, there is the gore and such in this show. Things can sometimes get a bit violent, and the show is selective about its censoring. Even with the amount of blood and gore you get shown though, you’ve become adjusted to it by the time you reach the ending, and it doesn’t really affect you that much anymore. There’s not really anything past episode 5 that really stands out as worth mentioning, blood and gore wise (and things in episode 5 that I would mention may count as spoilers).

For the voices, I watched the show in English, with Funimation’s dubbing continuing to be of decent-to-great quality here. Monica Rial’s performance as Shiro deserves special attention, with her voice really making the character sound great. The performances of Aaron Dismuke as Yo and David Trosko as Rokuro also warrant a mention here too. Any issues I have with the dub is not so much the sound of the voices, as much as it is the script itself. Whether it’s something I didn’t notice as much starting off, or they changed the style of the script partway through, I don’t know, but in the second half of the show, the words/phrases being said just seemed quite cheesy to me, and it was just the slightest bit off-putting.

I really enjoyed the opening song and animation, although I probably wouldn’t listen to the song much on its own. The ending animation, I appreciated a lot more than the song; I really liked the choice of showing pictures of Ganta with his high school friends, all smiling, while there is a giant ferris wheel in the background. It reminds us of a simpler time.

The background music of the show, though, was impressive to say the least. They did more than just fit the scenes they were placed in; they sounded awesome and got me pumped. The music tracks sound like they came from an instrumental music album (rather than that of a TV show soundtrack), and I would be the first in line to buy this album.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

I can’t really consider this show exceptionally good or exceptionally bad; like most shows, this one has its positive qualities, and its negative ones. However, the always-moving but purposeless plot and good-but-unremarkable visual quality kept me from really seeing the greatness of this show, despite its good characters and great music. Overall, this show doesn’t get much above a “meh” from me.

This show has its fans, that is for sure. Me not being a fan makes this whole “who would I recommend this to” part a bit harder though. Lovers of action series will probably get quite a bit of enjoyment out of tthis, especially if you like a bit of blood mixed in there. Its plot issues continue to irk me though, so for those looking to get a great story out of a show, I would suggest you look elsewhere.

Rating: Average
Recommendation: If You Like This Genre
+++ great background music, fun character interactions, Shiro
— plot has no real purpose, somewhat cheesy script, Ganta is a bit annoying at times