Deadman Wonderland: Rats in a Cage
“Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage.” – Smashing Pumpkins
This pretty much sums up what I got out of the Spring 2011 anime, Deadman Wonderland. Every episode was set up to make the viewer look upon every worthwhile character and see just how much despair and hopelessness they could possibly experience. Even I had at least one moment of physical cringing, confirming that this anime was doing something right. Of course, when needed, there would be a 5-7 minute flashback justifying why said character was so, for lack of a better descriptor, fucked up. Regardless of justification, the characters (and even the plot itself) continue to run around like rats in a cage, never really going anywhere but down.
So Why Watch This Anime?
[+] A good, hard-boiled story
If nothing else, Deadman Wonderland attempts to offer a simple, “hard-knock” world governed by power, chaos, and insanity that many of us likely will never experience to such a physical and graphic degree. Ganta Igarashi, the falsely-accused child protagonist, is what many would pin “an annoying whiny bitch.” In reality, most of us thrown to the lions at that age with his immediate history would be exactly that. After you can accept this fact, there is a chance to appreciate his small victories and forgive his immaturities…sometimes. Ganta embodies the inner potential, hope, & priorities that children have, but also plays on the saying: “With great power comes great responsibility” – something no child is ready to take on, but does anyway when hope fails to materialize. The few times this does occur, it’s quite cool to see since we know early on that Ganta is already a powerful Deadman; I think we all quietly want to see him come out on top.
[+] Entertaining, moralist abandonment
…But let’s be real.
You don’t watch Deadman Wonderland because you’re looking for cute, busty girls, a kickass protagonist, or dynamic fight scenes that get your blood pumping. You watch this anime for the same reason gamers play Modern Warfare or Left 4 Dead:
You’re feeling sadistic, violent, and don’t want to think about the meaning of life. You want to be entertained by seeing people suffer and die by choice, craving those momentary victories within hours of your life you don’t care about ever getting back. Deadman Wonderland delivers the goods in that respect, being quite generous on censoring – plenty of headshots, mangled/cleaved bodies, physical/mental torture, almost-rape, and, of course, standard, loosely-justified-mass-killing with a shot of fan-service. If that’s your speed, then don’t pass this anime up.
[+] Quality production merits
My personal reason for sticking to this anime was the strong vibes of despair & struggle portrayed in grungy, heavily detailed animation akin to an intense under-the-radar, post-apocalyptic anime Now and Then, Here and There right down to the bittersweet ED theme. That series often me speechless & in tears while Deadman could not come close to making me that emotionally committed for reasons I’ll get into later. Also to its merit, Romi Paku and Kana Hanazawa star as Ganta and Shiro respectively, the OST by NARASAKI is well composed, and Manglobe’s animation isn’t anything worth complaining about.
Why NOT Watch This Anime?
[-] Episode/Story direction looses ground
Much seems well set up for Deadman Wonderland from the outset, giving a positive outlook on what is to come. However, as we enter the second half with the main plot device fearlessly revealed, the manner in which the director guides the series becomes very…frustrating. The motivation of nearly everything that mattered from the beginning suddenly shifts away “let’s survive this hell” to “let’s escape this hell.” Basically, the excitement that we were convinced we would see throughout drops off substantially.
To give an key example, absent of any manga source knowledge, I believe many would be satisfied with Ganta’s motivation to discover the “antagonist” to materialize into a badass, emotional clash that would push him beyond his limits and bring about a definitive conflict resolution. Instead, the last half of the series becomes a dramatically drawn out, two-time escape plan (two-timers included), with a somewhat vague connection between Ganta and the “antagonist” justifying his ability to hold his own against a threat that didn’t even show up until around the middle of the series. Joy.
At least Ganta does man-up when a comrade is involved…which is the only time he does.
[-] Conflicting plot-drivers & Disposable characters
Deadman Wonderland is propelled forward by plot-driven events while gradually trading off with character-driven plot. What you get are underdeveloped characters that rely too heavily on their tattered past flashbacks to elicit empathy with an audience who have, by Episode 4, likely become numb towards their plight. In turn, almost every character may fail to mean anything to viewers despite how much despair they may encounter.
If this turns out not to be my first & last piece (haha McTricky), you’ll come to understand that I’m big on characters and character-driven plot. Deadman Wonderland really likes disposable characters, which makes sense considering the kind of series this is. However, they aren’t being killed off. They are introduced, justified, serve their purpose, then tossed away after a few episodes only to be brought back out of sheer convenience.
This makes me sad because the time used in not giving perfectly good characters more screen time is used haphazardly to force Ganta to take action. Having Minatsuki [Hummingbird] disappear for a number of episodes then randomly show up to aid Ganta was nice, but only because I wanted more Minatsuki. Toto [Mockingbird] is suddenly introduced in the final 3-4 episodes as “the strongest Deadman.” He has a chance to prove that (without a flashback, thank goodness), but by this point, he’s just a plot-pushing game-changer unrelated to Ganta’s progress as a protagonist. The few characters that do matter in the end (e.g. Karako, Nagi) were introduced too late for me to care when they were in peril, killed, etc.
The list kind of goes on.
[-] Major unresolved plot lines and/or closure
Did anyone notice how many loose ends there are at the end of this series or is it just me? Let me attempt to hold your interest in my explanation while providing over-the-top ambiguity that appeals to your senses…like Deadman Wonderland.
“G-cup” militant lady (Chief Makina) complete with doting lesbian assistant (Kasuga) attempt to crack the Director’s (Tamaki‘s) true aim. Their attempt appears to be foiled, and simply goes back to her duties as usual. Talk about lax motives to give a character duo serving a little more than solely a fanservice deconstruction.
A few unimportant members and Karako of Scar Chain escape…but that’s all we know from the five second shot they show us. We couldn’t even get a second of remorse from Karako about leaving Ganta behind. This kind of puts all of their motives in question, but who cares right?
And the most annoying loose end of all: After all the literal blood, sweat, and tears of trying to forge a chance to clear his name and free himself of Deadman Wonderland…he stays to subjugate himself to further torture “for his friends.” Not only does Ganta prove to be the most whishy-washy, disorganized child protagonist I’ve come across in a long time (Shinji Ikari leaps to mind(?)), his idealism also makes him stunningly oblivious to the very last moment of the final episode. He’s not even thinking about “The Red Man,” of which he ferociously vowed to exact vengeance on. Oh the rage of that final scene.
Let’s say they were setting up for a 2nd season. I have an idea or two how they could make that happen, but there so much crap to sift through that I personally don’t care for a 2nd season when the 1st couldn’t even tie up one major plot point. People could also get philosophical, defending Deadman Wonderland as an anime that undercuts the societal angle that no matter who or where we are, the world is a wonderland full of deceit, pain, and hatred; dead if you do, dead if you don’t.
The impression that this anime had set itself up to be a straight-shot, supernatural ride catering to angst, despair, and sadistic discoveries of one’s reckless abandon in a game of “survival of the fittest” is not something I find unrealistic. Why it then made an odd B-line for all these positive elements of hope, comradery (necessary for Ganta, but could have been executed better), and meaningful depth during the second half is beyond me. Ganta had his motivation very early on, but the story direction jerks him around until even he forgets (e.g. finally approaches Senji for training in Episode 10/12 = What took so long?). In many ways, Senji is the only character that stayed true from beginning to end, while key characters were malleable pawns of the director’s whim.
Deadman Wonderland is truly an example of a series that eagerly wanted & could have gone somewhere supremely awesome, but, like a rat in a cage (or even a maze), got (lost) part way there.
Feel free to share your unbridled rage or thoughtful perspective in the comments. Just remember, in the end, we’re all anime fans. You respect me, I respect you.
This review/impressions article is strictly based off of the animation with NO knowledge of the source material (manga). Crunchyroll.com provided the source video stream.
Posted on July 10, 2011, in Anime, Deadman Wonderland and tagged Animation, Anime, Deadman Wonderland, editorial, Ganta, impressions, Kana Hanazawa, Manglobe, review, summary, supernatural. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.