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DVD Review

DVD cover

Deadman Wonderland
The Complete Series


Starring (voice): Romi Park and Kana Hanazawa
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
RRP: £29.99
Certificate: 18
Release Date: 09 September 2013

There's carnage in the classroom and Ganta gets the blame. Found guilty of multiple murders, the middle schooler is shipped off to Deadman Wonderland, a brutal prison where the inmates battle each other for entertainment of tourists. If Ganta is going to survive his violent new home, he'll have to learn to fight... and fast! Crammed with visceral action scenes, pitch black humour and jaw-dropping animation, Deadman Wonderland is a blood-splattered rollercoaster ride of an anime...

It's not often that anime licensed for Western release shoots for and receives an 18 certificate – outside of the declining hentai market and the kind of fanservice-fests exemplified by the likes of Samurai Girls, the majority of shows eschew the kind of explicitly sexual and violent content that such series as Urotsukidoji made the medium unjustly notorious for in the late 1980s. While Deadman Wonderland doesn't have much in the way of sex, there's a fair helping of violence on offer in the goriest anime series since Blood-C.

Following the inexplicable massacre of an entire class of teenagers, sole survivor Ganta Igarashi is framed for the crime – despite his protestations that the mysterious floating 'Red Man' seen at the window just beforehand is to blame – and is quickly despatched to the titular privately-run prison, built in the ruins of a near-future Tokyo abandoned after a bizarre catastrophe. Deadman Wonderland is a perfect distillation of schlock dystopian fantasies, complete with sadistic chief warden, cruel and arbitrary punishments and an assortment of threateningly grotesque inmates, overseen by a faceless cartel of backers who gamble on the deadly survival games forced on the prisoners for their own amusement. Ironically – or perhaps out of the need to allow the characters to associate freely and propel the plot – Ganta later finds life on the inside to be relatively comfortable and unhindered, save for the requirement to take part in gladiatorial combat in order to obtain the antidote to the poison administered to all inmates.

As this is a series based on a shonen manga, however, the above scenario just isn't overcooked enough and Ganta soon learns that he and a select few other prisoners share an ability to transform their spilled blood into a weapon, dubbed the Branch of Sin. This strange power is the cue for numerous scenes of splashy violence as Ganta tries to master his power in combat without either losing or dying of blood loss, as well as the basis for the series' overarching plot, as the chief warden tries to uncover the Branch of Sin's secrets for his own ends. Through it all runs the aberrant figure of Shiro, a childlike girl in white who prances through the prison without anyone seemingly knowing who she is, and who has an unexplained fixation on Ganta that leads to unfortunate results for anyone who threatens him – as well as for Ganta himself.

Despite the promise of gleeful gore and the inventively nasty scenarios dreamt up by manga creators Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou, Deadman Wonderland still winds up feeling curiously underdone. Many of the more violent scenes are censored or obscured by pointless shadowing, as if the anime producers couldn't quite bring themselves to show the expected atrocities and mutilations front and centre, an inhibition not seen in the unabashedly vicious Blood-C. Worse yet, the decision to cram twenty-one chapters of an ongoing manga into just twelve episodes leads to some awkward storytelling, with the climax coming at an arbitrary point that likely leave fans of the original frustrated and others merely puzzled. A video-original episode included here, focusing on the brutal past of supporting character Crow, sheds some light on the world beyond Deadman Wonderland following the obliteration of Tokyo, yet still doesn't add much to the story. With the manga recently concluded it's possible that a revisitation a few years down the line, in the vein of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, might produce something more satisfying, but only a series as money-spinning as FMA can reasonably expect such treatment.

The production by studio Manglobe (Samurai Champloo, Ergo Proxy) is professional if unspectacular, save for some distinctive and arresting animation in the last two episodes that almost feels drawn from a different show. The voice cast perform with aplomb, notably cutie du jour Kana Hanazawa whose piping performance as the winsomely unhinged Shiro treads a fine line between sweetly disturbing and grating. Deadman Wonderland has its moments of black humour and odd emotional heft, yet its flaws and self-imposed limitations keep it from being genuinely gripping.


Richard Hunt

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