There is such a thing as obsession with death. I hope none of you have ever encountered it, and I hope you never will. The mentality that imagined and created Deadman Wonderland cannot be a happy one. What unhappy view of reality could envision such a horrorscape? 

Deadman Wonderland is full of the worst displays humanity has to offer. While there are good characters and good plot elements (as opposed to evil, not good quality), most of the characters and their motives are desperately evil, caring nothing for their fellow man. Perversion is layered on perversion just as the prison these unhappy people find themselves in spans deeper into the earth. You’ll regularly hear me say that simply including large doses of the worst of human behaviors in a show without a good reason is a negative for any show. Deadman Wonderland is a good example of that. Everything else gets lost in it, and everything but the displays of depravity become unmemorable.

On top of that, everything taken together is a mess. The characters are predictable. The artwork is ordinary. The story is incomprehensible. And where it is comprehensible, it doesn’t tie together well with other parts of the story. This show feels like it was made as a gore/shock show, but at the same time tries to be a “normal” anime. And when you overdo anything as much as this show overdoes the monstrosity, you’re going to end up sacrificing a lot. This show sacrifices everything, and nothing of interest remains.

Some images and text are disturbing. Proceed at your own risk.

Rating: 0 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 3

I like one thing about Ganta Igarashi: Romi Park. This VA hasn’t done a ton of roles, but almost everyone in animedom has probably seen at least one of her famous roles: Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist, Zoe Hange in Attack on Titan, Ragyo Kiryuin in Kill la Kill, Temari in Naruto, Theresa in Claymore, etc. So tough girls or shounen protags. I like her a lot.

Otherwise, Ganta is one of those frustrating shounen main character types that I can’t stand. He’s small. He’s weak. He whines that he’s not small and weak (essentially). He get’s the hell beat out of him over and over, but he keeps trying. He possesses a fantastical power but has no idea of its potential or how to use it. His character evolves into places we never could’ve imagined. He has zero idea what he’s involved in, or what to do about it now that he’s there. All very stereotypical of this type of character.

One might look at me and say “Hawk, he’s a kid. Put a kid in a weird ass prison like this and of course he might behave like this.” Okay…and that’s the basis for a main character? Oh, but there’s more to him, you say? He’s related to the automaton-like Shiro and the people behind this whole prison project monstrosity and so somehow he’s ended here by design?

Maybe all that’s true, but it doesn’t make me dislike this type of character any less. It’s easier to misuse an overused stereotype than to create high quality characters from it. Stereotypes take a lot of work out of character creation and development in the first place. From Ganta’s first tears, I knew what kind of character he was, and it never improved.

Overused stereotypes in a character have the effect of lessening any emotional attachment we could have to a character. They become blah, and I’d rather see less of them than more. So even though Ganta goes though a major miscarriage of justice, the murder of his friends, imprisonment, physical beatdowns, betrayals, life-or-death fights, and the desperate situation he finds himself in overall, I never feel much emotion towards him. I find him annoying, wallowing in his weakness, with a predictable ganbatte attitude bubbling to the surface periodically. It’s a pretty big failure when a character spends most of his time crying yet the viewer feels little sympathy towards him.

Wasted.

Another predictable part of this shounen protagonist type? Some girl, conveniently his age, conveniently in his environment, conveniently useful to him, is falling all over him, like she was made just for him. Such is the role Shiro finds herself in. I’m not saying this can’t be a useful character trope in anime. I’m saying that it’s stereotypical and predictable, and therefore, in this case, boring. Shiro is an innocently girlish character, attaching herself to Ganta as his “friend” as soon as he enters the prison. She adds some mystery initially, but in time we come to learn that she and Ganta share a past, which he has forgotten (another convenient stereotype). But this character has lots of issues.

Initially I found Shiro very intriguing. Even if she was going to be the stereotypical girl, sitting up on the top of a water tower wistfully singing to the wind, her white hair, white body suit with red target-like symbols on it, and her unusual speech make Shiro interesting and mysterious. Once she attached herself to Ganta and her character type became pretty clear, I was mostly disappointed thereafter. Much of her mystery is explained. She’s some kind of dual-personality experimental human, the result of one of the demented experiments being conducted in connection with this horrid place. The personality we see is very girlish, very childlike, very good, and very weak. She can take lots of damage, and shows hints of physical strength, but doesn’t utilize it consistently. Inconsistency in a character smells of convenience and lack of effort on the writers’ part. 

Much of her mystery is explained, but not all. We know her second personality is that of the Wretched Egg, the creature that murders all of Ganta’s classmates in a furor. That’s not clearly expressed ever in the story, nor does Ganta ever become aware of it. That much we know. What we don’t know is why she becomes that way, or what role that plays in this story. I’ll get to that more later in the story section.

So ultimately there’s more questions than answers surrounding Shiro. A lot of the issues I have with this show are probably the result of this just being a poor adaptation of the manga, something I’ll get to more later. I feel Shiro is probably the biggest victim of this circumstance.

A little light in the darkness.

Another effect of the poor adaptation is the introduction of multiple new characters at the end of this series. Most of them aren’t introduced until after episode 6 or 7, halfway through the season. The Scar Chain characters are key to the story, but appear very late and fulfill their roles in a very few episodes. I can’t go on without noting Karako Koshio, the female second-in-command in Scar Chain. She’s gorgeous, strong, full of human light and power. She’s very prominent in all her scenes. Although, if I wanted to take a negative view of this series again, I could say that even though she’s a very interesting character, this show lets her take that control of her scenes. I usually object when I feel like a story or character has gotten out of the author’s control, and this does happen from time to time. The author should be able to direct their characters without them evolving into prominence if they weren’t meant to.

Anyway, I like Karako, but again, she and her band are introduced very late. We aren’t even clear who they are, or why no one is monitoring their seditious acts inside the prison. Another issue with the story. The last set of late introductions are the Undertakers. Of course they’re named Undertakers. Why? I don’t know. Neither do the authors. These guys represent another action anime trope I dislike: the ever increasing strength of antagonists. This is another area where authors can lose control of a story, occurring often in poorly executed stories. I find the role of the Undertakers predictable and frustrating, simply serving to provide ordinary antagonists that put a new stumbling block in the path of the main character and his friends.

Speaking of appearing late in the series: Miyuki Sawashiro (Monogatari, Durarara!!, SAO), one of my favorite VAs all time, appears briefly as Toto Sakigami, the strongest Deadman in this weird prison. Supposedly a boy, he’s instantly mysterious and intriguing. But the series ends and he barely plays a role! I’m guessing the studio anticipated a second season, but still, introducing someone this late in a series in that role (strongest person there) seems a bit weird. It was disappointing, like most things about the characters in this show.

I’ll stop there about characters. This will overlap a little with the Story section again today, so we’ll cover characters a bit more there. Final thought on characters in one word: unimpressive and ordinary. That was two words. But it deserves both. Somebody had to be unpredictable.

Artwork

Rating: 6

If you’ve seen Parasyte, then you’ve seen this art style. Heavy dark lines, lots of shadows, lots of contrast (red on white on Shiro), and lots and lots of gray. 

I can’t say I like or dislike it. I know it has a lot of detail, and therefore it takes more effort to draw and maintain a consistent appearance, so I admire at as quality anime artwork for that. But otherwise I find it difficult to say much about this artwork. I have two reasons. One is an artwork-specific reason, the other is a general reason about this anime specifically. It sounds confusing but I promise it’s not.

The artwork reason is simply that it’s not remarkable by itself. The artwork is on the more realistic side of the anime spectrum, and while I don’t dislike that end of the spectrum (see Black Lagoon, Monster), it doesn’t do anything special for this show. The animation isn’t particularly interesting. The characters aren’t particularly visually interesting. Shiro’s white and red thing is interesting, but when it never really becomes anything more than an anomaly, you lose interest in it. Karako, who I mentioned above, is really pretty. The few girls we see are drawn in a fanservice-y way, which feels crass and out of place, particularly for Shiro, but I like it on Karako. She’s a boss and she wears it all over her appearance. She owns her look. The guys are typical, no one more remarkable in appearance than another. The scenery is all indoors, all sci-fi prison metallic, and just isn’t very interesting. Everything just feels very plain and ordinary.

The general reason is one of my biggest problems with this show: I can’t see past the egregious ugliness of this series. Not ugliness in the artwork, but in behavior, gore, and all those other base things this show includes. Those things can all have a role, but when overused, they distract from any artistry remaining in a show. It becomes a display of bloodlust and death, and this triteness frustrates me. I stop even thinking about the quality of the artwork, consciously or otherwise. It’s tiresome, boring, and predictable after a while, and I can’t focus on any of the art present in the series.

I think the artwork is well-drawn and is good quality, all other things being equal. But it doesn’t get my attention through all the other distractions in the show. If it were really great, I’d notice it even if a show was twelve straight episodes of injustice, theft, and murder. But when it isn’t, I barely notice it all. I feel like I’m not watching anime so much as I’m just seeing another piece of literary media filled with death. I can get that anywhere. The artwork doesn’t do enough to alter that perception and make this stand out.

Story

Rating: 0

So you like death, Deadman Wonderland? I’m about to deliver just that to this entire story.

What is a Deadman? Well Hawk, it’s a person who has the Branch of Sin inside of him or her. 

What’s a Branch of Sin? Can I whoop some ass with it? Well Hawk, it’s the thing that makes people control their blood and manifest it into weapons. It’s the thing.

Oh, it’s the thing, okay. Wait, why is this a thing? Hawk, don’t be dense. This power appeared after those earthquakes destroyed most of Japan and this red thingamajig appeared. 

It appeared and there was an earthquake and there was a thing, okay. So some people got infected by it and the new order put those people in jail? Hawk, what is it with you today? Of course that’s what happened.

Why?

Nobody has an answer. I’ll tell you why. Because the author just decided it was that way, that’s why. And that’s no reason at all. It never plays out. It’s just a framework and nothing more. A framework built on an obsession with death and the ugliest parts of humanity. It’s as blah as you would expect.

How come Shiro is the Wretched Egg? Maybe she’s the original person infected? Was she intentionally infected or the product of some experiment or what? Is she the thing that arrived with the thing in the first place? Is she the thing? What the hell is she? And why is the G Block kept so secure for all the other Deadmen, and all hell breaks loose and the Wretched Egg Containment Team or whoever the hell they are is unleashed when the Wretched Egg breaks free once, but at all other times the Wretched Egg’s alter ego, the maidenly Shiro, just gets to wander around the prison unmonitored? I’ll tell you why. Because the author just decided it was that way, that’s why.

What is “Deadman Wonderland,” the “amusement park?” What happened to humanity that it tolerates this situation? We know that part of Scar Chain’s plans are to leak information about the goings-ons in the prison to the public, so we know there must be some decent human sensibilities out there that will react in horror to this place. So why is it an amusement park? Hell, the original premise in the show is that Ganta’s class at school is going on an outing to visit this evil place the same day the Wretched Egg murders all of them. It’s a private prison run as an amusement park? Why this demented idea? Because the author just decided it was that way, that’s why.

This picture is why I even watched this show.

What the absolute f**k is Carnival Corpse? What possible role could this have in the story? Hawk, stop, please, it’s…no I don’t want to hear your explanation. This heinous gladiatorial display is held in the G Block on some regular basis for the viewing pleasure of some demented ruling elite in this world we find ourselves unhappily in. If the gladiatorial nature wasn’t bad enough already, here’s the real kicker: the loser either dies or is severely punished. Guess what ladies and gents? We see two fights and neither loser is killed! So we lucky bastards get to see the punishment instead. A slot machine type apparatus is rolled in front of the loser, who is bound to an operating table tilted up for better viewing purposes. The machine rolls its wheels and the loser has to tell it when to stop. But unlike a slot machine, all three wheels match each time. What are the matches? The part of you that will be surgically removed right there on camera. For Senji, the Crow, the first loser to Ganta, it’s one of his eyes. The creepy surgeon lady seems excited, happily declaring they don’t have to use anesthesia for this! So they rip his eye out. Yay, Ganta wins his next match against the maniacal Minatsuki, so she gets put on the operating table. She’s already missing a kidney and part of her liver or something. Yay, it stops on “Hair.” You’ll forgive me if, at this point in the series, I thought this meant her hair was going to be scalped off or ripped out, but fortunately this just meant a really short haircut.

Are you confused or vomiting yet? What the hell is this? Are the Deadmen being created and kept just as gladiators? Is there nothing more to this whole scientific endeavor than that? Why is this in this story? I’ll tell you why. Because the author just decided it was that way, that’s why.

This is my problem with this series, and others like it. The writers try to make a story, but it ends up being a mess. It becomes a collection of arbitrary plot threads that do nothing to aid or support any other part of the story. And the only criteria behind these plot elements is depravity and death. If the story wasn’t bad enough having random, unrelated plot elements all crushed together in an incongruous and unresolved tangle, having this evil aura impressed upon it kills it the rest of the way. The storyline is confusing, incongruous, incomplete, twisted, demented, and terrible. We don’t know why the Wretched Egg/Red Man/Shiro managed to get Ganta into the prison. We don’t know how the Branch of Sin emerged. We don’t know why Ganta and Shiro are related. We don’t know why the world has become so dark while yet possessing the sensibilities necessary to demand the shutdown of this monstrous place. We don’t know why the prisoners are being poisoned.

Maybe we do know why the prisoners are being poisoned. Maybe we do know why this place it exists. Because the evil doctor running it finds it entertaining. Just as the author apparently finds it entertaining. He and, mercifully, only a precious few others. It’s a terrible story no matter what definition of the word you use. 

Overall: 2

Having ripped this anime so hard for its massive negatives, let me ameliorate all of that just a tad here. First, only a small fraction of the manga made it into this anime (so far). This explains the incompleteness and the late introduction of certain characters, and gives a reason for the lack of explanation behind certain obvious mysteries. But second, I think this is just a really poor adaptation of a manga. Not knowing a lot about manga and therefore what makes for a good anime adaptation, I’m not fully qualified to judge this. But when I researched a bit more about this anime after I completed it, I found a ton of details that stem from the manga that make the whole thing seem a little more cohesive. For some reason, the anime thrashes about like a fish out of water where the manga seems to have some course to its direction. Having not read the manga, I can’t say that for certain. But I know that a lot was left out of the anime series, and what was included required a lot of what was left out to make sense.

But that doesn’t speak well of the anime either. The production studio should’ve done a better job. I’m guessing they planned a second season, therefore chose to approach this first season with the long view in mind. But it’s so poorly done, I can’t imagine it made much money, and therefore probably won’t ever get a second season. So we’re left with an incomplete, mind-numbingly dull display of stereotypes and gore and heinousness that the world would’ve been better off without in the first place.

Show of hands, how many of you are enthralled by the story in Ikkitousen? How many of you thought Monster Musume was a masterpiece? Do you remember anything about Future Diary other than Yuno Gasai? The point is this: if you overdo one aspect, often other aspects must disappear. Those shows focus so heavily on a single defining feature of their production that nothing else is remarkable. For the first two mentioned, that’s fanservice. For Future Diary, it’s the hyper-focus on a yandere character. 

But is it a bad thing to hyper-focus on a yandere character or overload people with fanservice/ecchi? Only if you don’t realize that everything else will be lost in that single aspect. Of course stories aren’t memorable in ecchi shows! Of course Future Diary is forgettable except for Yuno Gasai, who is herself unforgettable! Those shows are overshadowed by these prominent features, and the rest of the final artistic product is lost. On a certain level, you don’t mind that. Ikkitousen is about showcasing beautiful girls. Future Diary is about showcasing a yandere, and is probably the best example of such a character out there. They don’t try to be anything other than that.

Gore.

So if Deadman Wonderland had simply styled itself as a gory, dark show, I wouldn’t have such a problem with it. I dislike egregious gore and depravity just as I dislike egregious fanservice, but if it were used properly I’d have much less to object to artistically. Consider those examples above once again. Or consider something much more similar to Deadman Wonderland, the infamous Elfen Lied. That anime is memorable. Why? Because it’s a gore show and it acts like it. It doesn’t try to be a gore show with a stereotypical shounen protagonist with typical shounen protagonist traits and tons of confusing characters and intricate/ridiculous storyline. Characters, story, and artwork all work to showcase the spewing of blood and maiming of bodies. It’s gross, it’s overdone, but it doesn’t try to be anything other than that.

There’s something to be said for that, whether you like the content or not. And Deadman Wonderland fails in that regard. It’s a “normal” anime that’s excessively filled with a single aspect, human depravity, making it a mess that’s neither interesting for its shocking displays or its normality. The authors seem obsessed with depicting human suffering and death, but all the while they want to produce a major feature. So they overuse it and screw up the result.

So I don’t like this show. Not because it’s base and ugly and gory. Not because the story is handled poorly. Not because it’s a poor adaptation of the original manga. Not because the characters are ordinary or undeveloped. Not because it’s incomplete or poorly planned. Not even because a single aspect overwhelms the whole. But because it’s all of these things together. It’s a disaster styling itself as mainline anime. I do not like that at all. It’s an ordinary kind of terrible and a terrible kind of ordinary.

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