Review: Deadman Wonderland – The Complete Series Collection / Cert: 18 / Director: Koichi Hatsumi / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Kana Hanazawa, Romi Park / Release Date: September 9th
Being 14 years old can be a bit of a nightmare anyway, but especially if your name happens to be Ganta Igarashi. One day this meek schoolboy sees his fellow classmates brutally massacred by a mysterious man in red. As the only survivor, suspicion falls on him, and he's sentenced to death and shipped off to the titular Deadman Wonderland, a privately run correctional facility that is also a garish tourist attraction. On the bright side, at least it gets him off homework.
Here the inmates are forced to take part in various audience-pleasing spectacles; obstacle races where the obstacles try to chop you in two and shoot holes in you, all for the benefit of cheering crowds. Think Death Race meets It's a Knockout. But it quickly becomes apparent that Ganta has unusual abilities, and this leads him to discover a game within the game where superpowered freaks are pitted against one another in vicious duels.
This 13-episode series cherry-picks from the original manga by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou, so there's so shortage of things going on. As well as the funhouse-themed menaces, the show stacks up plenty of crazed, sadistic nemeses for Ganta to knock down and it also offers a steady diet of explosions, bloody body horror and angry robots squirting face-melting acid. There's a daring jailbreak, a mad monk who plays a Flying V, and, as you would expect with anime, a couple of very mean, very deadly little girls.
The animation's pretty good too – sharp and slick with touches of individuality to make it stand out from the pack. It boasts deep, rich colours, flashy, expensive-looking action sequences and lovingly detailed backdrops, all whipped together with whirling, tilting camera angles.
However, the story elements are rather rough and ready, and as a result this isn't a series with much in the way of cohesion, inner life or narrative drive beyond the question of who will be next to get in Ganta's face. While the regular influxes of new characters are on the whole a good thing, it means that the show feels as though it's continually rebooting itself. And some of the ingredients stubbornly refuse to mix with the rest – most notably Shiro, a bizarre catsuited girl-child whose level of banter wouldn't be out of place at a Peppa Pig picnic.
But even if it isn't very moving or plausible, Deadman Wonderland is still very diverting. It also pushes the envelope in terms of being foul-mouthed and gory, and if that's your bag, then step on through the turnstile and be prepared to be entertained. Just don't complain if there's not a lot of method to the mayhem.