Starring: Romi Park, Greg Ayres, Kana Hanazawa, Monica Riel, Iori Nomizu, Leah Clark, Junichi Suwabe, Eric Vale
Running Time: 325 minutes
DEADMAN WONDERLAND is a gratuitous mix of everything exploitation cinema. Taking its cues from the likes of THE RUNNING MAN, BATTLE ROYALE, and DEATH RACE, it sees a 14 year-old boy wrongly convicted of massacring his class. Sent to DEADMAN WONDERLAND, an amusement park where criminals take part in games, he finds himself fighting for his life and not just his freedom. Hardly an original tale, but the use of such a young protagonist adds an extra bit of sympathy and danger to proceedings that charge the violence to excruciating levels. The show also kicks things into overdrive from the outset which is great for you action junkies, but also means we miss out on a lot humanising early on. Unlucky lead, Ganta, would have really been able to pull at our heartstrings had we seen more of his friendships before they were killed off. There are some flashbacks, but later in the season they interrupt the action and slow down the pace.
The violence and action are beautifully rendered and take real delight in being 100% unapologetic. The violence is here to make you cringe and cheer at the same time, perhaps emulating the perverse pleasure that the in show audience also feels. The placement of the events in an amusement park make for some pleasurably bonkers visuals in a THE HUNGER GAMES taking place in Disneyland kind of way. Giant rollercoasters litter the backgrounds and some of the scenery plays well into the competitive scenarios. When not engaging in events that eventually end in death, the inmates are constructing their own social hierarchy and facing dilemmas of their own. Unfortunately the characters come and go in an irregular fashion, making it difficult to follow anything other than the cruelty on show.
DEADMAN WONDERLAND also falls prey to the inevitable anime trope of secret powers. The plot has enough to be getting on with as far as Ganta is concerned. The writers could have easily followed the psychological and physical torment of a 14 year old boy in such a predicament, as well as the social issues surrounding treatment of prisoners and violence for entertainment. However, it is decided that Ganta will also possess a supernatural power, along with many of the other inmates. It lends itself well to fight sequences wherein inmates manipulate their blood into weapons; which looks totally awesome, but it just makes space for convoluted plotting and needless twists.
If you like things gruesome, explicit, and colourful, then this could very well be the show for you. It does seem as though the makers have complicated a simple formula beyond the call of duty, but it’s just as easy to ignore the unnecessary elements and simply enjoy the violence. A follow-up is badly needed as this series leaves many unanswered questions, and it has to be asked whether or not the show has any intention of revealing information. You’ll soon forget about Ganta being framed as his blood starts to morph into a useful device, which is a shame in terms of connecting with the audience. Great sound, loud and proud music, and exhilarating animation make it an action must if not a storytelling classic.