Ten years have passed since the Great Tokyo Earthquake, and the people’s memories of the disaster have faded. Ganta Igarashi, a middle school evacuee, has finally begun to live a normal life, making friends and getting back into a school routine now that everything has gone back to normal. That is, until the day the ‘Red Man’ appears at his school and Ganta’s fate is changed forever. His entire class is brutally murdered before his eyes and, although he is innocent of the crime, Ganta is tried and sentenced – ultimately given the death penalty. This means that he is sent to the bizarre and sadistic prison known as Deadman Wonderland. Ganta’s story begins as he makes his debut in this insane and brutal game of prison survival.
Written by Jinsei Kataoka and illustrated by Kazuma Kondou, the artist behind hit anime series Eureka Seven, Deadman Wonderland follows Ganta as he tries to survive in the hellish Wonderland prison, whilst he tries desperately to find a way to clear his name and eventually track down the murderous ‘Red Man’ whilst aided by Shiro, a mysterious girl who seems to know Ganta. Whilst in the prison, he learns that he has mysterious powers that use blood manipulation as a way to attack and this means that he is entered in the prison’s most notorious gladitorial game – Carnival Corpse. This is where two Deadman effectively go up against each other in one-on-one battles and each fight with their powers. And for the loser waits a terrible forfeit…
In his long struggle to survive he manages to befriend some of those he fought off in the fighting arena and with their help, Ganta continues his quest to uncover the identity of the ‘Red Man’, why he turned into a Deadman, and the dark secrets the prison authorities are hiding.
In the same vein of similar stories such as Battle Royale, I find myself drawn to these types of dystopic, science fiction/horror titles that I just can’t seem to get enough of. In many ways, Deadman Wonderland was right up my street.
As a main character, Ganta isn’t really anything special. In fact he’s quite dull compared to everyone else. He reminds me of one of those protagonists that often acts as a vehicle to move a plot along as well as being a mirror that reflects the big personalities of all the other characters around him. And to be fair, he does a good job.
The supporting cast of Deadman Wonderland is one of my favourite things about this manga. Senji, Minatsuki and the rest of the G-Block gang are all in this circus prison for very different reasons and all have their own motivations, survival skills and varying powers stemming from the Branch of Sin. A fair bit of time is dedicated to each of them and we see all of their flaws and strengths in a way that feels oddly natural in this extreme and eccentric environment. No character emerges at the end the same person they were at the beginning of it all and nothing about their development seems particularly forced – they are just normal people dealing with some very bizarre situations and bad choices. Even Ganta, who started out in the prison as a cowering, helpless young boy finds his own strength as the truth behind the Deadman Wonderland prison and the Red Man reveals itself.
As you would imagine, the story behind Deadman Wonderland is rather dark and gory, but there is the odd bit of black humour that gives readers some relief from all the mystery, intrigue and blood. It’s essentially a story of survival against all the odds whilst maintaining the ability to be a human and be able to show mercy and trust when surrounded by primitivity and monstrosity. Ganta’s relationship with Shiro is what keeps him interesting and learning about their past and how it resulted in their present was very fascinating to discover.
The art was also very impressive and it was one of the reasons that made me start to read this series. There was a cover that featured Ganta and Shiro in full colour that was wonderfully detailed. This ran through the entire manga to the point where I can quite vividly recall some of the larger and memorable drawings – most of which are usually of the graphic scenes during and after a bout of Carnival Corpse or the bloody aftermath of Ganta’s classroom. The facial expressions of the characters are also a major focus and drawing them in ways that suit their various personalities. A good job is done when reflecting the two different sides of Shiro’s personality – she sometimes almost looks like a completely different person and it’s jarring in a way that suits the overall theme of the manga.
I would recommend this title, especially because I’ve been warned off the anime for skirting over some of the more violent scenes and not really seeing the entire storyline through which makes for some truly unsatisfying viewing. Though I don’t agree that the manga is always better than the anime – in Deadman Wonderland‘s case, it definitely is!