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Wednesday, 10 August 2011 00:00

Deadman Wonderland

Hmmm. Deadman Wonderland is probably most easily described as anime doing The Running Man, but that doesn't quite hit the nail on the head. Ganta Igarashi's been framed for a crime he didn't commit, and sentenced to serve his time in a high-security prison that uses its inmates as entertainment in a bizarre themepark. But, no surprises for guessing, things aren't exactly what they seem...

What started as an ordinary schoolday for Ganta Igarashi and his classmates ends in horror when their classroom is attacked by a strange being, leaving Ganta as the sole survivor. Accused and convicted in a show-trial of the murder of his classmates, he's sentenced to death and sent to Deadman Wonderland - a new, privately owned and operated prison, where the inmates are the main attraction in a modern day twist to the gladiatorial coliseums of ancient times. During the attack, though, Ganta was quite clear of what he saw: a red man with unusual powers, slicing through his classmates but for some reason leaving him alive. There was a reason for that, and the reason is Deadman Wonderland's most closely-guarded secret...

Right. The Running Man comparison comes from the punishment-as-entertainment aspect, and the way in which the inmates at Deadman Wonderland are put on display for the amusement of others. "Deadman Wonderland - fun for kids and adults alike!" and "Making the world better with proactive philanthropy!", the park's adverts proclaim, as if this is all somehow a good thing. But the prison's real purpose is far less visible: to gather the Deadmen, those infected with a strange ability that allows them to shape their blood into deadly weapons, and learn how their ability came about. Oh, and to use them for the amusement of a rather sick elite in the aptly-named Carnival of Corpses, too.

Ganta was infected after his encounter with the Red Man, and that's what brought him to the attention of the man in charge of the prison, Promoter Tamaki, who's as deranged as you could hope a person to be. Inside the prison me makes a variety of friends and enemies, most notably Shiro, a mysterious girl who doesn't seem to have any official status in the prison and who turns out to be a childhood friend of his; Takami, who one the one hand is being paid handsomely by the Promoter to keep an eye on Ganta, but on the other has aims of his own regarding one of the other inmates - his darling sister, Minatsuki; and the members of Scar Chain, an underground grouping within the prison who are trying to get word to the outside world of just what the Promoter is doing inside.

Sounds good. Sadly, it's got some fairly huge flaws, starting with Ganta himself: in the tradition of anime male leads, he's a whiner who would rate quite highly on the Shinji scale, and who takes some time to come to terms with what's happening to him. The setting is also, for want of a better word, daft: if you're looking to keep & torture the Deadmen, why bother with the main prison above ground? It only draws unwanted attention to what's happening there. If you want to learn the secrets of the Branches of Sin (the source of the Deadmen's powers), then why the need for the rather brutal battles they're forced to take part in? It all feels like someone has come up with a string of ideas that they thought would work well, not necessarily in the same series, and then decided to cram them all into the one show anyway. In terms of how the story and setting are constructed, the show's a mess.

But you know what? It's also fun. The battles may be contrived & feature some scenes that are completely over-the-top, but they're exciting to watch. The characters, once you get used to Ganta's whining, are actually a decent bunch - with Minatsuki meriting special mention thanks to her own particular brand of insanity that really marks her out as a special case. Shiro, cute and bubbly on the one hand and a lethal killing machine on the other, is an enigma that you want to know more about. And there are enough revelations scattered throughout the series that you do at least get the feeling that, despite all its flaws, it is trying to go somewhere. It doesn't get there, sadly - events are clearly left hanging for a second season, although whether it will actually get one is still unknown at this point - but despite all its flaws, I had fun watching the story unfold - and that's a pretty major point in the show's favour.

So yes, it's a series that you'll want to watch with your brain in neutral, otherwise the numerous opportunites for nitpicking will quickly spoil your fun. But as a bit of lighthearted fun, with a large does of gratuitous violence on the side (some scenes fall fould of the TV censor), it's hard to beat, and was actually one of my favourite shows of its season. Definitely worth checking out.

Rating - ****