PROPER MINDSET Recipe: Take a third of Battle Royale, a third of Prison Break, and a third of Akira. Stir them in a bawl until the flavor is all gone and add lots of bad storytelling around the plate it is served upon. The result is Deadman Wonderland. Or as I prefer to call it, BrainDeadman COCOland; a completely unrealistic and chaotic show, with lots of gore thrown in to attract the casual viewers with superficial entertainment. It attempts to look special with nothing more than overblown violence and forced drama. It will definitely work if you shut your brain off and expect to see nothing more than gore and unexpected plot twists that jump at you from the ass of its completely chaotic and unreasonable storytelling. Needleless to say, if you were looking for consistency, originality, reasoning, and other elite / snobby / culturist stuff, you found something that was better off hidden.
SCRIPT DW is the story of a boy being accused wrongfully to be a mass murderer and being sentenced to prison. Albeit not any prison but an amusement park where the inmates fight in various death games for the entertainment of the populace and where everybody is dressed as a silly plushy animal. The boy needs to find a way to survive the games as well as discover the real murderer, who seems to be an inmate in the same prison. He gains psionic powers (queue for the typical hidden dark superpower of every shonen lead) and needs to train in order to survive in prison, avenge the death of his friends, and prove his innocence.
Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Well, the premise sounds a lot better than the actual plot, which is not taking itself seriously in the least. Instead of an interesting action/survival/mystery we get a braindead action shounen that aims to be just coo-coo entertainment. The plot is random, as elements are introduced without any sort of foreshadowing and are thrown to the side just as easily.
Unlike most anime, the pacing is fine since each episode provides lots of progress and revelations. Of course this also means not much time is invested in any event, so everything feels rushed and superficial. If a major character dies for example, everybody will be sad for a few minutes before forgetting him and moving to the next event. It also doesn’t end since it is an incomplete adaptation of the manga, which to no surprise keep going without making any sense as always.
PRODUCTION VALUES Animated by Manglobe, a studio with many nice looking (but almost never too good quality-wise) titles in its roster. The opening song kicks ass and the prison/amusement park is quite memorable as a setting. It’s otherwise not something that makes sense in the way it is supposed to function; you are not supposed to think about it and accept it as a magical thing.
The gore is the main spectacle and even that is not that extreme as the OVAs of the 80s I grew up with. Furthermore the tv version censored with darkness all the juicy parts so you will need to get the DVDs if you want the full course. Anyways, past the gore the battles are fun to watch even if they lack good choreography and are full of lazy motions and frozen panels.
CAST All the characters are either stupid or crazy and use some really insane powers. And if you think that makes them interesting or memorable, then you are wrong, since as I mentioned there is very little time invested in anything that happens and nothing makes sense for you to give a damn after awhile. Their looks are fairly typical for shounen standarts and even the superpowers feel generic after awhile since despite the blood bending motif they all follow, they fail to give the show any real identity or purpose outside braindead entertainment. There is no philosophy or concept behind characters and superpowers besides juvenile attempts at themes such as survival, teamwork, and the bonding of bloodlines. All that are there without ever going anywhere. Some may claim that all the crazy stuff that happen to them are more than enough to make them dramatic, but in reality you don’t care about them as you do for the gore that they experience. Meaning, you will only remember a lot of bloody stuff happening to people whose face, names, and most likely storylines will have been erased from memory.
But even if we assume you have all the good intentions to remember them, a close inspection to the major ones is more than enough to drive most fans away.
For example, let’s take Ganta the lead boy. He is the average low intelligence, high ideals shonen lead. There is absolutely nothing special about him and he could have easily been replaced with any other protagonist from any other shonen show. Not only he is as generic as it gets but ends up being obnoxious as well. His voice is so lame like his balls didn’t drop yet; you hate him just for hearing him talk. He is so stupid; he falls for the simplest tricks. You can say it’s because he is like a fish out of water but then you see how he performs the most impossible comebacks, such as mastering superattacks in a few seconds or surviving lethal injuries with nothing else than willpower. He is never hacked to pieces with attacks that turn other minor characters to beef jerky. Veteran inmates stand no chance to this rookie’s plot armor, plus all his plans never go any further than simplistic straightforward attacks. Basically he is the constant winner only because the scriptwriter feels like it.
Then there is his best friend Shiro, the super positive girl with an IQ of a monkey. Her behavior makes no sense; too genki and stupid for the setting she is in. Yeah, ok, you can say that is done just so we can have a contrast to the really grim atmosphere of the prison. That still doesn’t change the fact that she is also a plot armored character that acts completely inappropriate for the setting she is in and yet wins all the time because the writer feels like it. To the most part she is there only to eat bread and act like another Potato Girl from Attack on Titan, before helping Ganta with her antiques. Why? Because she really likes him stupid! All generic and obnoxious protagonists have stupid girls who love them. Anyways, she has a multitude of roles in the story, from Deus ex Machina, to comic relief, to fan service thanks to that really skin-tight uniform of hers. The biggest offender though is how everybody just accepts her presence like it’s something normal, even when it’s definitely not. She appears and disappears anytime she feels like it and nobody questions how easily she enters dangerous places or why she even popped out of nowhere exactly next to them in the first place.
The warden is above the law no matter how far fetched his actions are. He is a generic power crazy maniac who organizes death games for the people outside the prison and even conducts inhuman experiments in order to harness some weird psionic powers for his evil world domination plans. He is just there as an untouchable asshole and nothing more; he completely lacks depth or sympathy from the viewer.
As for the rest of the characters; they are all following their own shounen stereotypes, crazy and stupid, with hardly enough immersion to care about them. And guess what, all development the secondary cast receives, is to begin as adversaries to Ganta and as soon as he defeats them, they immediately become his buddies. Well, that was easy to overcome decades of bloodlust and murder intent in just 5 minutes of sparring. And I love how they never use their ultimate attack right away and just waste time in gloating. Later on they use those very same ultimate attacks to save Ganta and claim they always were far more powerful than him. Plain ass-pulling!
LEGACY After the fuzz from the initial shock of you being thrown in a setting where people go to watch inmates being dissected in an amusement park goes away, chances are you are left with nothing else to care about. It is nothing but retarded violence, forced drama and random script, around people you don’t give a damn about.
I really can’t find anything good in it besides the crazy looking setting. The gore is not as bold as in the retro anime I grew up with, the battles are more silly than exciting, the plot is always about the generic shounen fuss regarding the hero losing badly, getting up full of resolve and performing a move that gives him the upper hand, followed by some lame morality monologue around friendship and justice. Not even the finale is rewarding since it is rushed and left open, in an almost anti-climactic way. Not recommended as anything past a time waster.