Ganta Igarashi, a 14-year-old boy, encounters the enigmatic “red man,” who slaughters his class in front of him and inserts a crystal into Ganta’s chest before leaving Deadman Wonderland. Ganta is then accused of murdering his entire class with his bare hands (yes, you read that correctly) and is sent to Deadman Wonderland, an experimental prison where prisoners are forced to participate in life-threatening games watched by the public in order to reduce their sentences, where he meets and befriends a strange girl named Shiro. So, aside from the gaping plot holes we’ve already been presented with, it sounds like a decent start, which is pretty much how the rest of the manga goes. Something will sound good but will always have a slew of issues.
I had the impression that the author didn’t really know what they were doing while I was reading Deadman Wonderland, especially after the first couple of volumes. It starts off fairly average but has an intriguing premise. However, after Ganta survives the first game, the story takes an unusual turn. The branch of sin that allows Ganta to use his blood as a weapon is introduced, and this is where the problems arise.
From this point forward, Deadman Wonderland is no longer the survival thriller it was attempting to be; instead, it has devolved into a generic battle shounen. Ganta’s motivation is no longer survival, but rather becoming stronger in order to protect his friends. The games we were introduced to previously have been replaced with meaningless fights that neither advance the plot nor add to character development. When the plot moves forward, it’s usually due to some sort of asspull or convenience. A good example is Ganta’s attempt to escape the prison with a group in order to hand over a data chip to a reporter. For whatever reason, one of the characters discovers the chip is a forgery and is an explosive, so it is thrown out and destroyed. So their escape strategy was a failure, right? No, because they get an exact copy of the chip a few chapters later with no explanation. The manga is filled with these kinds of moments, giving the impression that the writer is rushing through the story while somehow getting nowhere, making every major twist or event have no impact.
Another major issue I have with the story is the author’s handling of mystery. The writer will introduce an element of mystery, only to quickly back out by answering that same mystery far too soon, sometimes even in the same chapter. This is first seen when Ganta meets Shiro for the first time. Ganta expresses that she appears familiar but doesn’t know why. Okay, cool, an element of mystery has been added to keep the reader interested in the story. This is all great, but then we get a flashback to Shiro and Ganta as kids in the following pages. What was the point of creating the mystery if you’re going to solve it right away? Because the writer constantly spoon-feeds you the answers to everything, you are never given any time to figure something out for yourself.
To put it simply, the characters aren’t particularly memorable. Most characters in Deadman Wonderland either have a single quirk that defines their entire character or are insane and look cool; those who don’t are borderline blank slates. Of course, they get backstories in the form of awkwardly placed flashbacks, but these are usually really lazy or don’t add much insight to the character. Some characters, such as Hibana and Genkaku, have nearly identical backstories, in which they killed a bunch of people as children and went insane.
But what about Ganta and Shiro, our main characters? Unfortunately, they aren’t much better.
Ganta is your typical scared, anxious, and indecisive child, but that’s not a problem. Characters like Shinji from Evangelion and Simon from Gurren Lagann are great examples of this archetype. The quality of Ganta’s development and interaction with characters distinguishes him from the other two. For the majority of the manga, Ganta’s development consists of him occasionally becoming stronger or sad for a couple of pages. Only near the end does he appear to gain some confidence. His personality and interactions with others are also insufficient to keep him interesting. Instead of telling us about his personality, he spends the majority of his dialogue telling us what he’s going to do (“protect my friends”, “get stronger”, “I will save”, etc).
Shiro is more interesting than Ganta, but she suffers from the same issues. She’s supposed to be much more mysterious due to her strange behavior and the fact that she’s not registered in the prison, but for whatever reason, who and what she is is revealed within the first quarter of the manga but is forgotten about until the end. Any semblance of mystery surrounding her character has almost completely vanished, leaving her as a “random and cute” type of character who doesn’t do much except occasionally save Ganta until her development later on.
This is a fairly negative review, but Deadman Wonderland isn’t the worst manga series available out there. It has some great art and occasionally presents some interesting ideas, but that’s not nearly enough for me to recommend it. If you’re desperate for a battle shounen, give this a shot, but it’s not worth reading otherwise.