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September 20, 2010

Bento Bako Weekly: Deadman Wonderland 1&2

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Deadman Wonderland
Author: Jinsei Kataoka, with art by Kazuma Kondou
Publisher: TOKYOPOP
Volume: Volumes 1 and 2 (of 7), $10.99 each
Vintage: 2007 by Kadokawa Shoten in Japan, February 2010 and June 2010 (respectively) by TOKYOPOP
Genre: Horror, action, psychological thriller, science fiction

Deadman Wonderland is an amusement park.  But it’s not just any amusement park.  The park is actually a privately owned high security prison, and the prisoners often provide the entertainment, which runs from the carnival standards to the deadly.  Ganta Igarashi is just a typical junior high school student, trying to make his way in a world that was devastated ten years ago by a massive earthquake.  Everything is going fairly well for Ganta, until a strange masked man clothed all in red appears at his school and murders his entire class, leaving Ganta the only survivor…and the only suspect.  Unable to prove his innocence, Ganta is taken to Deadman Wonderland as a death row inmate.  Executions at Deadman Wonderland are far from normal.  Each inmate is given a tracking collar, and for those on death row, it serves a dangerous purpose – each day it injects wearers with poison, which will result in death after three days unless the inmate ingests special candy.  That candy runs about 1,000 bucks a piece, so staying alive another day doesn’t come cheap.  Add to that a seriously violent prison guard, a mentally unstable warden, rampaging robots, a fight-for-the-right-to-live atmosphere, deadly “games” to entertain guests, and a group of elite prisoners with mysterious powers, and it’s a feat just to keep one’s sanity in this prison, never mind just staying alive.

Volume one introduces us to Ganta and his unfortunate situation, innocent but locked away with thieves, murderers, and monsters, with no hope of getting out ever again.  Every day he must fight for his life in a very literal sense.  Right away he meets a strange girl named Shiro who claims to be his friend and starts following him around.  When part of a building collapses in a staged accident, an immense power awakens in Ganta and blows the building away, piquing the interest of the prison warden.  Later, Shiro and Ganta enter the Dog Race Show, a deadly obstacle course “staged” for park guests.  Ganta barely makes it out, relatively unscathed, and finally meets his roommate, Yo.  Of course, living in Deadman Wonderland is a day-to-day “out of the frying pan, into the fire” experience, as the Original Sin, the Red Man, escapes its prison and wreaks havoc, causing Ganta’s power to awaken once again.

If that sounded weird, get ready for volume 2 to take it up a notch.  Thinking the Red Man who killed his friends is locked up in Ward G, Ganta leads Yo and Shiro through the prison to find him.  To catch him, a massive, destructive robot is sent out.  Shiro displays incredible strength to aid their escape, and they eventually make it to Ward G…only to be saved by one of the Deadmen, Crow.  Crow wants a fight with Ganta, and explains to him how to use his power, the Branches of Sin.  Branches of Sin users manipulate their own blood to form powerful weapons.  Unfortunately, Crow is not the Red Man Ganta is searching for.  Nicknamed Woodpecker, Ganta is tossed into Ward G, and forced to fight in the Carnival of Corpses against Crow.  Stealing his resolve to overcome his fear, Ganta puts up quite a fight and learns to use his Branches of Sin.  It’s not long before Ganta meets the other Deadmen in Ward G, and discovers some unsettling truths about the Deadmen.  As Yo and Shiro try to make their way down to Ward G to rescue Ganta (though Yo clearly has some personal motivations), something goes horribly wrong.

This one is completely mental.  I love how totally warped all the characters are.  The Deadmen are particularly interesting.  Each of them has a pretty strong psychosis, though you get just the tiniest taste here.  They are all quite clearly mentally damaged in wonderful ways that make the story intriguing beyond its deadly premise.  And for good reason.  In the Deadmen battles, the loser plays a game of slots with a  twisted pay out – part of their body is removed for experimentation.  Remarkably, the title doesn’t feel as dark and sadistic as it should, which may be attributed to the artwork, which is solid, but doesn’t quite convey the desperation and horror that Ganta feels within the story.  The pacing and panel structure, however, work as they should; my adrenaline was certainly pumping at the right points in the story.  But it was still far from the intensity of emotion that Ganta was experiencing.  Although Ganta spends a lot of time in the series whining.  Fortunately, in the end, his will to survive and desire to see the true murderer brought to justice kicks his ass into gear.  He’s pretty realistic for a 14-year-old boy.  The series is mostly bloody mayhem, though there is a little down time for character exploration.  However, with the Deadmen it’s the deadly battles that draw out their true personalities.

Even with all that’s going on in this series, I’m just not feeling it.  If I could, I’d be sold on this series.  It’s enjoyable, but I’m not feeling the pull I feel when I find a title I just have to read.  As it is, I’m just thankful to the lovely Linda (animemiz) for sending it my way and giving me a chance to see something new.  It’s worth a look.




  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Comic Attack, Kristin Bomba. Kristin Bomba said: New #manga review: @tokyopop's Deadman Wonderland vols 1&2 https://comicattack.net/2010/09/bbwdeadmanwl1_2/ […]

  2. Jade

    That’s really strange, I just wasn’t feeling this either and have absolutely no idea why. From your review, it sounds like you loved it and I agree on all points, but in the end, there’s something imperceptibly wrong with it. I so, so totally do not care about the main character Ganta one bit, but I can usually get a lot more mileage out of series with MCs that I can’t stand, so I don’t think that’s it here. Maybe seeing him get anything but the OZ treatment is just too far beyond my willingness to suspend disbelief?

  3. You know…I didn’t care for Ganta either. It’s not that I disliked him. But I wasn’t attached to him, either. Yo I’m certainly not attached to. And Shiro is…too enigmatic at this point (not to mention completely psycho). The Deadmen just barely get introduced at the end of the second volume. It may take another volume or two for it to work. But I’m reading too many other things to bother pursuing it for a “maybe it gets good later.”
    Maybe it just doesn’t go far enough? Or there’s still too much of a…cutesy isn’t really correct, but it’s not exactly dark and gritty. It’s hard to pin down why I enjoyed it, and yet have no desire to continue reading it.

  4. Perhaps that is the case then. Still I did write a review vol 1 originally for http://anime.com/Deadman_Wonderland/ and I was quite sold on the manga.

    I kinda think that it would appeal to adventure/male readers. After all a lot of Japanese protagonists especially in manga are pretty weak and whiny.. I am thinking Evangelion at this point. >_<

  5. Kristin

    Yeah, but the difference between Ganta and Shinji is that Ganta snaps pretty quickly and grows a pair. Shinji doesn’t do a damn thing for almost the entire series. Ganta actually takes action, as fruitless as it is, even while he’s whining and complaining. Shiro says it herself…he’s a weakling and a loser, but he refuses to give up. And that redeems him to an extent.

  6. Jade

    Haha, ‘It’s hard to pin down why I enjoyed it, and yet have no desire to continue reading it.’ sums it up perfectly I think. What you were saying just before…I thinks maybe it’s too close to a run-of-the-mill shonen story. Shiro is a total badass and the prison is incredibly brutal, but it doesn’t matter because the story is really all about juvenile power boys flashing psijunk and chains at each other with their totally kewl powers just like the couple hundred other lameass jaded youth power fantasies floating around.

    And as long as we brought up the topic of whiny heroes, I just started playing The World Ends with You and I want to stab that kid in the face sooo many times. I bought the game, I want to experience a crazy urban-fantasy world, I want to take part in heroic battles, but the main character does nothing but whine and moan about how much he doesn’t want to do any of those things! I am so sick of these characters! I buy these games and comics because I’m interested in what’s going on in them, why would I identify with the character with the least interest in doing what I paid to see them do? He’s nothing but jaded and self-absorbed, is that what they think the audience thinks of themselves or lusts over to the complete exclusion of wanting to experience an entertaining story? *ahem* Ok, sorry, I’m done now, haha.

  7. […] (Manga Life) Kate Dacey on Crimson Cross and Tale of a White Knight (The Manga Critic) Kristin on vols. 1 and 2 of Deadman Wonderland (Comic Attack) Sean Gaffey on vol. 17 of Excel Saga (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Leroy […]

  8. Haha, I’m not sure about the psychology of whiny characters. I haven’t thought about it that deeply, though I probably should.
    But as for The World Ends With You (which is one of my absolute favorite games ever)…. He gets better. He’s only like that for most of that first week. He’s a dynamic character who grows and changes throughout the game. He starts out with nothing to fight for, which is the problem. He’s so apathetic, he doesn’t care about anyone, he has no reason to bother. But he bonds with Shiki, and later has to fight FOR her. The kid is totally being used, so he has reason to bitch about his situation. But once he gets a reason to fight and a reason to live beyond…just being annoyed with his situation…it gets better. The game is really amazing.

  9. […] (Manga Life) Kate Dacey on Crimson Cross and Tale of a White Knight (The Manga Critic) Kristin on vols. 1 and 2 of Deadman Wonderland (Comic Attack) Sean Gaffey on vol. 17 of Excel Saga (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Leroy […]

  10. Jade

    Thanks, Kris, between him and the craziness of the battle system, it’s good to know it’s worth sticking through. I love the art style! And…umm…sorry for derailing the conversation into the land of video games. Let me try to tie it in:

    Contrasting what you said about the hero in TWEWY with Ganta in Deadman, I don’t foresee the same sort of personality changes ever coming in this series. Maybe Ganta will learn how to deal a little bit better, but I think his personality is presented at its peak from the get-go. The author sees him as a decent guy who doesn’t wish anyone any specific harm, but it’s just not someone I want to get to know. I don’t see him growing as a human being, I only see him just reacting a little better to future stimuli as plot demands.

    I think that sums up my problem with a lot of comic and manga characters these days. The white hat hero is seen as lame, so we get this endless procession of jaded bystanders. They feel a little bad that they can’t get across the street to stop that rape, but oh well, it’s human nature for people not to care about each other, they tell themselves. Biomega, for as much of a train wreck as volume three was had refreshingly heroic heroes motivated to do heroic things.

  11. […] only Tokyopop manga I read this year aside from the OEL Labyrinth series (which was mediocre) and Deadman Wonderland (which was OK, but failed to grab me). But it’s beautiful and a must read for Natsuki Takaya […]

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