The newly-revamped Toonami surprised viewers with the broadcast of Deadman Wonderland, a particularly visceral, violent, and graphic series clearly scaled to adult audiences, yet devoid of the more extreme scenes and language that would later be accessible on the DVD/Blu-ray release. And when it was, me being the gorehound I am, drank it all in, laughing all the way until the end, stopping to rewind and rewatch, lapping up the moments where it dared to "go there." The journey was easily one of the best I had taken in the realm of anime in quite some time. And when, when I was about to cross the finish line, the rug was pulled from beneath me.
Deadman Wonderland: The Complete Series [BD/DVD]
Licensed by: FUNimation
Release Date: 12/28/2012
In true Berserk fashion, there is no clear-cut ending to the series as of yet since it only covers the first 21 chapters of the manga, which makes the DVD release a bit of a difficult review, as for all intents and purposes it's an incomplete product, but a great one at that. When the tale is such an engaging one, should the end completely obliterate a fantastic experience the rest of the way through? Let's not take a page out of BioWare fan history and give it a fair shake, since it's fair to say animation series are a different beast than interactive media.
Ganta Igarashi is your typical whinging weakling of a shounen protagonist, but he's an alright kid. One day he's sitting in class, minding his own business, when he peers out of the classroom window to find a man in a peculiar crimson coat. With a sinister grin the man proceeds to shatter the window and massacres each and every student at their desk, leaving behind a massive collection of corpses with one lone survivor: Ganta. When the smoke clears and the investigation by the authorities begin, Ganta's the prime suspect. With no evidence and Ganta being the only survivor ,the public is quick to scapegoat him and persecutes him for a crime he didn't commit. He's then carted off to Deadman Wonderland, an institution (jail) where prisoners work to the death and serve their sentences, making public spectacles of themselves. Death row inmates participate in gladitor-styled games and other activities for the entertainment of the general public.
Ganta finds himself trapped on the inside with hardened criminals and offenders. His only friend there at first is a peculiar, pale girl clad in a bodysuit with red markings and padded gloves named Shiro. She seems to know Ganta, but why? Who's behind all of this, and why should an innocent kid like Ganta be forced to bear the brunt of the atrocities committed by the Red Man?
Deadman Wonderland grips you from its opening episode much in the same way most of the anime greats do, and it does a fantastic job of setting up viewers for new surprises around every corner. There are no fillers to speak of - every episode advances the plot in some way -- which you'll be thankful for since each new revelation leaves you wanting much more. In this, it works best for marathon viewing sessions, watching the secrets of Wonderland unravel bit by bit.
But just as it's easy to cheer on the sheer twisted nature of it all, it's simpler to feel for the prisoners and how many of them were wrongly jailed or were within their rights to have committed the crimes they had. There are plenty of sticky moral dilemmas to speak of to be sure, and many stem from emotional manipulation: a man losing his pregnant wife and child, a young girl defending herself from an abusive father, and young Ganta, who's been swept into the mess without any real involvement. Many of them are guilty of gruesome acts, but don't all deserve the treatment thrust upon them in Wonderland, least of which the collars around each inmate's neck that will eventually kill them should they forget the candy antidote required every few days.
The juxtaposition between relatable causes and the gruesome occurrences is what keeps Deadman entertaining. You'll root for Ganta, the bizarre childlike Shiro, and even the gynophobic Crow as they're forced to compete in deadly challenges and utilize the "Branch of Sin" virus that Ganta found himself infected with after his run-in with the Red Man. These battles are fascinating all their own, especially considering the particularly psychotic wielders and what they're capable of.
It's all a fast-paced roller coaster ride that layers exposition and teases with climaxes at the right points -- until, that is, you reach episode 12, where the series comes to a screeching halt. It's here the story having been woven thus far simply ends with no hint at a continuation or indication of an impending second season, or anything, for that matter. It's not even set in stone that there ever will be a second season, but one must wonder why such effort was put into creating such a fantastic production when an ending was out of the the cards for quite some time, seeing as the manga has not come to an end as of yet. Just like the Berserk anime adaptation coming to a jarring end, it was an unsatisfactory experience staying faitfhul to the series, becoming hooked, and being left without a payoff, almost as if I had just wasted my time doing so.
On the other hand, Wonderland was such a refreshing change of pace that I can almost forgive it for being incomplete, that is, if FUNimation perhaps wouldn't market this set as "the complete series." Despite collecting all Deadman-related media in one place, it seems a bit misleading. I just have no idea how things are supposed to end, and to go to the manga means staring anew unless I want to miss out on potential changes between the two mediums I wasn't previously aware of.
Deadman Wonderland, all the way up until the ending, is an excellent adult thrill ride with plenty for action, horror, and drama junkies to devour. It's raw and in-your-face right up until its jarring conclusion, but if you're looking for high-octane carnage and some seriously twisted action, you won't find much better by way of adult series. Let's just hope it finds a well-deserved second (or third) season in the future for a true "complete" series release.
8.5 - Great. 8s are great examples of their genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
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