Deadman Wonderland is one of my favourite manga of the past few years, although admittedly I haven’t picked up all that many lately. There was an interesting link here with the anime Eureka Seven, which was adapted during production by the mangaka duo Kataoka Jinsei (story) and Kondou Kazuma (art) for Shounen Ace. When that series came to an end, Kataoka and Kondou were given a chance to make their own story, and the result was Deadman Wonderland. I like that - two artists given a chance to develop from adapting another’s work to flourishing on their own, and Deadman Wonderland is an excellent story in its own right. And while the character designs and something of the main relationship between a young, naïve boy and a girl with hidden powers hark back to Eureka Seven, the series itself feels very different from something the latter’s chief writer Satou Dai would write. There’s something of a juvenile immaturity about the first few chapters, but the title settles into something clever, dark and full of interesting characters.
So I was pleased when I heard that an anime adaptation was being made. It seemed to me a great time to release something like this, violent and grim but with more relatable characters and genuinely smart plot elements than the likes of Higurashi or High School of the Dead. And so Deadman Wonderland was released with slick animation from Manglobe – albeit not so impressive as on their previous series like Ergo Proxy or Samurai Champloo (both, incidentally, Satou Dai-linked projects) – and a great opening song only slightly marred by the singer getting a bit over-excited at the end. It seemed well-received, OVA releases were announced before the series even began to air, and word-of-mouth was very positive. Personally, I objected only to the casting of Paku Romi as Ganta – her well-known voice (for roles such as Edward Elric, Hitsugaya, Ueki etc) is a little rougher than I ever imagined Ganta’s - but I soon grew to accept her acting without finding it inappropriate, and she delivered a good performance particularly at Ganta’s most vulnerable moments.
But the problem was that Deadman Wonderland needed a nice, extended adaptation. It needed a good long run – 52 episodes would be about right. What we got was 12 too-short episodes, covering about the amount of manga I felt the creators had needed to find their voice and start making the story really strong. The story covers the exposition and the first major conflict: young Igurashi Ganta’s entire class is butchered by a mysterious ‘red man’, leaving only him alive. Trusting in a lawyer Enzai-style, he is framed for the killings and incarcerated in the bizarre Deadman Wonderland – a prison modelled on a theme park, where convicts are forced to partake in deadly games for the entertainment of the public, an endeavour so successful the institution can fund itself. There, he not only discovers his own mysterious power, but is befriended by a very strange girl who he half-remembers from his early childhood, and may or may not be a regular inmate. His abilities soon lead him to discover a hidden underworld in this prison, where those with odd powers are forced to fight one another – sometimes to the death. Will he be forced to submit, or will he be accepted by the resistance movement?
Quite a lot for twelve episodes, I grant you – but it’s really only after the attempted uprising that the manga gets really gripping. I remember reading the chapters surrounding Owl and thinking they were a bit rushed, but that things improved drastically just afterwards. On one hand, the chapters focusing on him becoming the final climax of the anime gave those events the gravitas they needed to work even better than in the manga. On the other, though, this is a series that ends just as it is really beginning.
I know there is more, but I am worried we will see only the OVAs and no more. The problem with OVAs is that oftentimes they signal the end of an anime’s televised presence – although that’s certainly not always the case (witness Maria-sama ga Miteru, for example). If Deadman Wonderland is allowed to continue and flourish, it could be one of the best dark shounen stories to have aired in years. If it remains as it is, however, I fear it will end up like Claymore or Narutaru’s anime adaptations: interesting companion pieces to a much wider and more compelling story that considered alone, are a mere shadow of what their potential could have made them.