Deadman Wonderland has a bit of an interesting history here in the United States. It was originally licensed for translation by Tokyopop back in 2009 or so, with the first volume released in February of 2010. Then in 2011, the company closed shop with only five volumes of the series being translated and published. Flash forward to the summer of 2013 and Viz Media (who releases series like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece) announces they picked up the license and will be releasing the series from now on.
Several months later, here we are. The first volume has come out (again) and people finally get the chance to read it again instead of paying lots of money for the out of print copies from Tokyopop (or watching the anime, which at one time aired on Adult Swim). With the series back again, let us take a look into it and answer the question: Is it good?
Deadman Wonderland Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written By: Jinsei Kataoka
Drawn By: Kazuma Kondou
Translated By: Joe Yamazaki
American Publication: Tokyopop (originally), Viz Media (currently)
In the not too distant future, a gigantic earthquake strikes Japan and destroys Tokyo, sinking three quarters of it into the sea. The government has a solution for it and it is called Deadman Wonderland, a combination of a privatized prison and theme park. The idea of it is a theme park where all the shows and attractions are performed by the prisons and the funds from the place are used to fund the restoration of Tokyo itself. It’s certainly weird beyond any doubt, but it’s rather popular and seems to work for the most part.
Now ten years after the events of the earthquake, we are introduced to our protagonist: Ganta Igarashi, your basic middle school student (8th grader perhaps). He was one of the survivors of the big earthquake, but has no memory of it due to being very young at the time. His life is going just fine until one day at school, a mysterious person known only as the “Red Man” appears that day and massacres everyone in his class except for him. For some reason, he is declared the sole suspect and is eventually convicted of the mass murder. Considering the circumstances and the fact that it’s nearly physically impossible for him to kill everyone just by himself, there must have been a lot of corruption and political influence involved. Regardless, he is sent to Deadman Wonderland where this sentence will be carried out. However, inside the walls of the amusement park/prison, things will change even more for him.
Feel the wrath of my hexagons!
Outside of the questionable law and government system (look, if you can buy Escape From New York and Lockdown, you should have no problem with the premise with this series), this is a solid setup and introduction to the series with the first volume. I have read a couple of the volumes that proceeded this one and the series keeps evolving and changing as time goes on, so what you see in this part of the series will not exactly mirror what happens later on. The tone, mood, and themes (friendship, bravery, that sort of thing) stay the same, but the status quo will constantly be evolving.
The setting of the story is Deadman Wonderland (obviously) and it’s honestly one of the more unique locations in almost any comic I’ve ever read. The rules and system the prison/amusement park are run by are quite interesting, especially their death row system, (AKA Execution Rule) and the characters and events within it are very colorful and memorable. As the story keeps going, more and more parts of the prison are revealed and more depth is added to it, including what the warden refers to as the “true” Deadman Wonderland aspect of the place. That’s where the comic really takes off, but that’s for later (as in the next volume of the series).
The story is focused on Ganta Igarashi and his time within the walls of the prison, what he encounters and learns there. As our lead, he is pretty weak willed, worried, a bit of a pushover and a wimp, wanting to die because of how things have turned out for him. Most of these traits are understandable, considering he is a teenager who was falsely accused of mass murder, given a death sentence, and tossed into a rather harsh environment. As the first volume went on, he starts growing a spine a bit and wants to live. Not a whole lot, but you can see some progression begin to happen. He’s a bit on the bland side honestly, being sort of the normal, straight-laced person in a series in a cast of very colorful characters.
Look, I think the kind of questions you were looking for were supposed to be a bit more serious.
Speaking of which, the supporting cast really stands out in this story. We have Tsunenaga Tamaki, the warden of prison who comes across as a sort of chess master if you will. He’s a very smart and cunning individual, and seemingly always has a plan. Makina is the chief of the guards in the prison, who is very harsh and incredibly cold towards others. Her big establishing character moment is when she uses a decorated sword to slash a prisoner for “stealing” something, nearly killing the person. There are also prisoners like Yō Takami, Azami Midō, and Kazumasa Kozuji that also make up the cast with their own unique personalities and interests that make them stand out (Yō is probably has one of the more surprising moments of the cast so far).
Besides Ganta, the second lead of sorts for the series is the mysterious character called Shiro. She’s an albino and upbeat prisoner who wears bodysuit and large gloves but has no prison number. She is incredibly childish, goofy, but also incredibly durable and strong. She claims to be old friends with him, dating back to when they were children but Ganta has no memory of her (the opening pages allude to this friendship, but we do not know much more beyond that at this time). She’s probably the most likeable member of the series so far, but her childish nature often really does not fit with the tone of the series and may throw some of the readers off in more serious scenes. On the other hand, her personality can also bring some much needed levity in the series as well. It will be interesting to see where this series goes with her, since it is quite apparent that something is going on with this girl.
Also, Shiro knows how to make one hell of entrance.
The first volume is setup and getting the pieces together ready for when the story really gets going in the second volume (at least, that’s my view of it). It establishes the characters and their personalities fairly well, like mentioned previously. The history and settings are well defined, introducing everything very well in the brief opening montage (that part is in color, too) and naturally as the story progresses. We start establishing many different storylines and subplots, like the secret behind the park, the history between Ganta and Shiro, and more. The last chapter of the volume is what kicks off the main and more action-oriented part of the series involving blood, but that’s for next volume.
Genre wise, this series is labeled under action, horror, science-fiction, and mystery. I’ve also heard claims of it being psychological, but I haven’t really seen that yet. The mystery aspect of the comic is definitely in full swing here, with all of these questions that are being thrown up here with all of these events in the story, so the manga does that right. Science-fiction and action aren’t really seen a lot here in the story so far, but these elements are definitely there (the concept definitely has a sci-fi element to it, even if we haven’t gotten too much into it and there is a dose of action to be found towards the end, but not much). The horror part is definitely visible here, with the whole prison system and how it works to the mysterious Red Man that slaughtered an entire classroom full of kids. It’s definitely on the gory side of things, but thematically there are some good horror vibes to it.
That is going to leave one hell of a mess for the janitor to clean up.
One thing to comment on is the translation. Both Viz Media and Tokyopop translated the book with different writers and I should mention there are some differences here in areas. Most of the differences are basically rewords of dialogue and sound effect changes in areas. For instance, in Tokyopop version, Makina says: “Here, irrationality is reality.” In the Viz Media edition, she says instead: “Absurdity is your new reality.” Nothing too big. The only real big thing that stands out about this new edition is that about the translation cuts back on a lot of the swearing. All f-bombs, uses of “shit,” “god damns,” and even “bitch” and “bastard” are gone here. The cutting of colorful language isn’t too bad (though now one scene doesn’t have the full impact to express Ganta’s anger without the harsh swearing), though as time goes on, it is going to be rather interesting to see how the translator handles one of the nastier characters’ dialogue.
The artwork for the manga is pretty good overall and often adds to some of the experience. The characters are distinct and visually diverse, even if they share a lot of similar looking faces. The setting is interesting (definitely has the feel of a prison in areas) with some unique designs and creativity, though it is a bit lacking in showing the amusement park aspect of the location. The layouts are relativity easy to follow, which can often help speed up the pacing and excitement in the more action oriented and intense scenes. Speaking of which, the violence displayed in the comic is very intense and graphic, being displayed rather well and disturbing in some areas (like the massacre in the classroom). Action also looks pretty good with some of the effects seen, though we don’t get much of it this far in the series. It’ll pick up soon enough, but the taste we are given here is visually interesting and eye-catching at points.
Is It Good?
Deadman Wonderland Vol. 1 is a solid start to this returning series. While many ideas that’ll be coming as the series progresses are not seen here yet or have been developed, the potential here and lead up are fantastic. Characters are interesting at this stage, the environment/setting unique, and the artwork is pleasing. Knowing what is coming ahead of time and what is being developed at this stage of the game, readers are guaranteed a very engaging, brutal, and exciting time ahead of themselves, as long as they don’t mind the utter dark and disturbing moments that come with it as well.
Deadman Wonderland is currently being released by Viz Media, with the second volume to be coming very soon at the time of this review. The Tokyopop edition, along with the four volumes that proceed this one, are out of print and go for some high prices (though if you got them for their original price, they be about dollar more than these new editions). There is also an anime adaption of the series out as well from Funimation, though it has a different ending than the series does. You get that when the animated version is made before the ending of the original series.