Manga Spotlight: Deadman Wonderland

To start this off, I have to admit that Deadman Wonderland is a manga series that I normally wouldn’t have chosen to read on my own. I ended up starting into this series about three years ago, back when I was getting review copies of manga from VIZ Media. Unfortunately, since I was only reading this series through the review copies I received from the company, I ended up reading this in a jumbled up order. I recently read through the volumes that I didn’t get review copies of from VIZ Media so I could finally say that I read the entirety of the series.

Deadman Wonderland
Written by: Kazuma Kondou
Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten
English Publisher: Tokyopop (former) and VIZ Media
Release Dates: February 2, 2010-June 22, 2011 (Tokyopop)
February 11, 2014-February 9, 2016 (VIZ Media)

For those not familiar with Deadman Wonderland, I’ll give a brief introduction to the concept of the series. At the beginning of the first volume, it’s revealed that a massive earthquake destroyed most of Tokyo. Then, the story has a timeskip of 10 years, and focuses on a middle school student named Ganta Igarashi. He was a survivor of the earthquake 10 years earlier, but has no memories of it and has lived a normal life. One day while he’s at school, Ganta sees a strange person in blood and crimson armor float through the classroom windows. The “Red Man” murders everyone in the classroom except for Ganta; instead, he embeds a red crystal shard into Ganta’s chest.

A few days later, Ganta is declared the sole suspect in the murder of his classmates. He has a quick and unfair trial, and is sentenced to death. Ganta is incarcerated in Deadman Wonderland, which is a massive theme park-like prison. Due to the severity of his “crime,” Ganta has to live out imprisonment under Deadman Wonderland’s “Death Sentence”; he is fitted with a collar, which constantly injects a poison into his bloodstream. However, the poison can be neutralized by a candy-like medicine every three years. The medicine can be acquired through various activities in the prison, as well as through Cast Points (the currency of the prison). Cast Points can be earned by performing in the facility’s lethal games and survive.

While at Deadman Wonderland, Ganta is befriended by a mysterious girl named Shiro. Shiro says that knew Ganta a long time ago, and that they’d made a promise that they’d be friends. Ganta has no recollection of this promise. Even so, Shiro does what she can to help Ganta out, even during the first lethal game that Ganta participates in.

When I wrote a review for Volume One back in 2014, I said that “Deadman Wonderland has an interesting premise to it.” After making it through the entire series, I have to say that this initial observation ended up remaining true throughout the entirety of the series. Yes, the concept is a little on the strange side, but the overall premise of the story and its execution were interesting from the beginning through the end. There were twists that happened throughout the series that keep a reader interested in finding out more about these characters and their world. The backstory for Ganta and Shiro that was revealed near the end of the series was a major highlight for me, and I appreciate how writer Jinsei Kataoka handled this. My only real complaint with the writing comes wit how the series ended, because it left me with mixed feelings. Yes, there was a definite end to the story, but there was something about the ending that left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

I have to give a lot of props to artist Kazuma Kondou for the art in Deadman Wonderland. His art style perfectly captures the mood and feel of the series, and the character designs were fantastic. As I read the series, I could just tell how much effort Kondou was putting into his work. A standout portion comes in Volume Six, after Ganta is released from solitary confinement. Characters referenced how thin and gaunt Ganta looked, and Kondou captured this look on Ganta well; I could look at the character and easily tell just how thin and gaunt he was. Ganta also had a rather “dead” look in his eyes at this point, which helped to add to weaker feel to Ganta. It’s little touches and details like this that strengthen the Deadman Wonderland manga.

In the end, I would recommend Deadman Wonderland to readers who are interested in stories with dark themes, especially ones that employ psychological aspects. The series is good for what it is, and I’m glad I read it. However, I don’t think I can say that Deadman Wonderland would rank among my favorite manga series.

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