story by Jinsei Kataoka; art by Kazuma Kondou; adapted by Bryce P. Coleman
published by Tokyopop; $10.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
In just a couple of seconds, all of Ganta Igarashi’s classmates are gruesomely murdered by a mysterious Red Man, who vanishes as quickly as he appeared. Ganta is convicted of the murders and given the death sentence, but his execution is suspended. Instead, he is sent to work at Deadman Wonderland, an amusement park staffed by death row inmates. Ganta learns that survival is the real game both in front of the crowds and behind the scenes in the penitentiary.
Initially, Deadman Wonderland (DW) reminded me of Neon Genesis Evangelion (EVA). In his prison uniform, Ganta looks like Shinji Ikari in his pilot suit. Furthermore, Ganta starts out being pushed around and bullied by various people. He passively accepts it all while whining about his circumstances. Ganta then meets Shiro, a powerful girl of about the same age, who acts as a catalyst to get him to rethink his attitude.
Thankfully, DW breaks out of the EVA mold by the second chapter. Unlike Shinji, Ganta gets fed up with being everyone’s playtoy and stands up for himself. Shiro is also the exact opposite of Rei. Unlike Rei, Shiro is always in perfect health and has superhuman strength. She has a very positive personality in contrast to Rei’s dour persona. Shiro’s appearance in the manga always brightens the mood. She does come across as slightly unbalanced, as if she is always in a maniac phase. However, she has a serious side, too.
Ganta’s character development in this series is very odd. It’s not gradual but punctuated. He’s the wimpy guy until forced into a ‘fight or submit’ position, then he decides to stand up for himself. From that point forward, Ganta is a new man and takes charge of his situation, as much as he can. When Ganta encounters the Red Man again, he dedicates his life to making the Red Man pay for the murder of his classmates. Again, it’s an almost instantaneous decision that permanently changes Ganta’s personality. Since the focus of the series is really the plot, Ganta’s development will always be subservient to the needs of the storyline.
Kataoka keeps the book moving at a quick pace. There is never much down time before Ganta is dealing with a new crisis. Also, Kataoka is very stingy with background information; we are only given a couple of small morsels at a time. This makes for a surprisingly engaging series. Readers are drawn in by either the action or by the newest revelation. DW fluctuates between action and intrigue adeptly. Kataoka knows how to balance these two aspects so you never get bored with either.
In general, Kondou’s art is well done. However, there are times when the figure drawing for Shiro seems off. For example, in volume 1, the top panel of page 66 shows Shiro doing a very acrobatic kick. Kondou has her torso twisted wrong. Shiro wears a skintight leotard, so there isn’t any room for error when drawing her; little mistakes are instantly noticeable. Otherwise, Kondou does a great job with the art. The action sequences are especially well laid out and very exciting.
Deadman Wonderland is an enjoyable read. It’s a well-written action series that blends in elements of science fiction and horror. It’s not a deep series, by any means, but you still must pay attention to what’s going on. The series will get your blood pumping and still engage your grey matter too. It’s the perfect complement to the summer action films.
(The publisher provided a review copy.)