Tuesday, May 3, 2011

F1RST IMPRESSIONS: Deadman Wonderland

We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Deadman Wonderland, based on the science-fiction manga from Jinsei Kataoka animated by Manglobe.

Storyline: 4

In the year 2023, Japan has reduced all of its incarcerations to a central, privately-owned prison that doubles as an amusement park, "Deadman Wonderland". Its prisoners are its cheap labor, painted clowns, and athletes to be used to entertain the throngs. Since it is a corporation, all rules are dictated by its own authorities, armed by self-reliant police forces. Prisoners are forced to dine on candies that provide an antidote; not taking one in 72 hours leads to automatic death.

In a middle school in Nagano, Ganta Igarashi hopes to visit that entertainment district during a field trip, only to be the lone survivor when a floating man in red slaughters his entire class. Twists of coincidence and blatant evidence tampering leads to Ganta's death sentence, his emotional plea unheard as minors such as Ganta are not immune to being sentenced to Deadman Wonderland. It's here that Ganta is doubly surprised—after befriending a carefree girl in white called "Shiro", he somehow activates a destructive force from his hand to save her from a falling structure, a force that might come from the red gem implanted in his chest by the "red man".

The plot may seem Hollywood-like by leaning heavily on corporate-state rebellion, but shows like Deadman Wonderland tend to keep the action running. Perhaps creator Jinsei Kataoka is playing with fire by introducing a penal system where the main character is jailed at a young age, but the story seems to have some interesting chess pieces in place.

Animation: 4

Manglobe has produced some pretty solid stuff in the past (Samurai Champloo, House of Five Leaves) and present (The World God Only Knows), so getting some nice approaches to animation and still-life is to be expected. The manga designs from Kazuma Kondô (who Kataoka also worked with to create Eureka 7) are adapted quite well for the animation by character designer Masaki Yamada.

Characters: 3

Deadman Wonderland does provide at least a stronger male lead than expected, voiced by the weathered Romi Park (Ed, Fullmetal Alchemist) to make Ganta nervous without making him feminine. The manipulative Tamaki and his brutal head-guard Makina make for some despicable characters, but there should be plenty of room for others as we meet the prisoners. The drawback comes from the applicability of Shiro to the series—not only does she feel out of place, but Kana Hanazawa pretty much reprises her role as Nessa from Fractale for the role. It's hard to like her assignment for the role.

Track: 4

NARASAKI has been a good producer for music in general, having teamed up with Kenji Ohtsuki for the Sayonara Zetsubo-sensei shows, and he provides good background for this show. The opening track—"One Reason" from DWB feat. fade—is a powerful English track that sets the stage for this trip to the insane asylum, while the ending theme "Shiny Shiny" just brings the day to an end.

"Hype": 4

Deadman Wonderland was supposed to have been animated for the Fall 2010 season, but delays pushed it back six months, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This actually has made the show more anticipated than before, if not the most anticipated show of the spring. While the show is being directed by first-timer Kôichi Hatsumi, the fact that the show is being animated by one of the better studios out there and the manga's popularity definitely gives the show more of a hyped feel.

Overall: 19/25
Deadman Wonderland follows the track of movies like The Running Man and Rollerball by introducing a fantasyland where the wall between entertainment and death sentence is paper-thin in reality, but meters thick in perception, the general public treating the corporation as a savior. It will be interesting to see the direction of this show to witness just how the feelings towards such an institution change. While Ganta doesn't have the build of a hero, it's good to see him molded into one by the second episode, as unfathomable as the results may feel. I just hope Shiro doesn't turn the show into a dramatic version of Idiocracy.

It's because of Ganta that I also watch with trepidation. Build aside, he's going to need some maturity to make this show a classic. Let's hope it comes quickly.

Deadman Wonderland is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Saturday at 1:30 PM EDT.)

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