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Deadman Wonderland Complete Series Limited Edition Anime DVD Review

11 min read

Framed for a brutal crime he didn’t commit, Ganta now finds himself like a rat trapped in a violent maze.

What They Say:
Ganta is the only survivor after a mysterious man in red slaughters a classroom full of teenagers. He’s framed for the carnage, sentenced to die, and locked away in the most twisted prison ever built: Deadman Wonderland. Then it gets worse.

At Deadman Wonderland, convicts are forced into brutal deathmatches for the amusement of the masses, the cheers of the crowd drowning out the screams of the dismembered. Even when Ganta befriends Shiro, an unusual female inmate, his dark fate crushes all hope – until he discovers a strange ability to wield his spilled blood as a weapon. Ganta learns his new skill might be related to the murderous man in red and uncovers disturbing secrets that could expose those who stole his freedom. He’s determined to see justice served – but first he’ll have to fight for his life in a prison that holds a million ways to die.

Contains episodes 1-12 and the OVA.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty standard fare as we get the original Japanese in stereo encoded at 192kbps while the English mix gets the bump up to 5.1 at 448kbps. The series has a pretty good mix of things going on between straightforward dialogue and some good quiet moments as well as the big action pieces. The action has a lot of variety to it from personal grudge matches, the big games that go on and the all out rebellion action. It moves across the forward soundstage well and the 5.1 mix bumps it up nicely, giving it a bit more impact and bass overall. Dialogue is well placed when needed but is generally just strong and clear and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is spread across two discs with seven episodes on the first and five on the second along with the OVA. A third disc is included which has all the extras on it outside of the commentaries. The series is one that generally has a fair dark look about it that works well because it’s not quite murky. The deep colors are here with all the reds used, which definitely holds up better than one might think it would, but it has some other areas of vibrant colors as well that comes across quite well. The series runs in a few different directions at times but the end result is pretty good and left me rather pleased by it.

The packaging for this limited edition release of the series is really nice as the heavy chipboard box definitely plays with its characters and designs in a way that stands out from most other series. It has a sense of playfulness about it because of the semi-circus aspects to it that almost makes you grin a little too much while knowing how violent it is inside. The character artwork is really detailed and has a great look about it as the main cover shows the main cast with some good looks about them while the back side has a quiet and really neat piece with just Shiro and Ganta while still tying all the circus atmosphere around it. The box doesn’t have any spacer material in it as there are two keepcases, one to hold the two show discs while the second holds the extras disc.

The regular sized keepcases are really appealing as each volume has some wraparound artwork on it that shows off the varied cast, one with an action shot while the other has all of them standing together for that particular grouping. Other than the series name and the discs inside it’s pretty plain otherwise. The reverse side is similar in that it has full wraparound artwork with more of the cast while the left panel also brings out a simple list of what’s on the relevant discs, be it episodes or extras. No show related inserts are included with this release.

The menu design is the weak part of the release for me as it does work the whole circus design to it but it just feels like too much, too crowded and not all that pleasing to the eye. The big tent aspect is in the background with shades of orange while a white strip down the middle brings us the varied text menu navigation and logo. The right side of it brings in a little artwork, such as the strangely upside down image of Ganta for the first volume. The layout is fairly easy to navigate overall and submenus load quickly with everything laid out well. The show defaults to the English language with sign/song subtitles as it ignores our players language presets.

On the two main discs, the extras included there are a pair of commentary tracks, one to each disc, that brings in the English language production team to talk about it.

The second disc has a small variety of extras that are pretty good. We get the clean opening and closings, including a director’s version of the opening that takes things just a little further than the broadcast version. The US trailer is included, a brief collection of commercials for the Japanese home video release that runs about ninety seconds and seven minutes worth of the original promo videos that were created to generate advance buzz about the series.

The really fun extra on this volume is the video commentary for episode seven. While we often get commentary tracks and they’re fun to listen to, this time we get to see the group together recording it, with the director along with Greg Ayres, Monica Rial and Leah Clarke. They do provide the show playing in a small window that moves about as needed during playback, but I’d definitely recommend watching this version of the commentary rather than just the pure audio track since there’s a lot of fun to be had here with it. I know that I’d be far more interested in commentary tracks done like this than just the voice over ones. This group is simply fun to watch as they relate some of their favorite moments and experiences from the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou that began in 2007 and is still ongoing, Deadman Wonderland is a twelve episode series plus OVA that arrived in the spring of 2011 by studio manglobe. After getting a simulcast run, one that left me finding the show rather uneven, I was surprised that it got the launch slot with the revived Adult Swim anime block since it was so violent and needed to be reworked enough to fit into things. Still, the show is the kind of late night fare that will definitely remind viewers of the kind of material that anime is capable of and was known for for so many years. There’s a lot to anime to be sure, but I really like that sometimes it takes a good, violent and crude show to get some attention.

Deadman Wonderland takes place in a relative near future where it’s ten years after an event that destroyed Tokyo occurred. The years have had some interesting changes going on but a lot of it is under the surface as there are powered individuals coming into the world. During the time since this mysterious event, a new private prison system has come into existence called Deadman Wonderland that anyone can go and visit. Within this prison, the criminals work the place, participate in the games and are for the amusement of those that go and visit the place. It’s quite a treat for those that go, but it’s not so bad that the visitors can actually do anything with the prisoners so it’s not totally cruel in that angle.

The series introduces us to Ganta Igarashi, a middle school student with a good group of friends that are about to go visit Deadman Wonderland for their school trip instead of what other trips are like which tend to go overseas. Unfortunately, while hanging around in the classroom, a mysterious red clad figure hovers outside suddenly and ends up turning the entire place into a brutal bloodbath. Ganta ends up escaping unscathed except for a red crystal shoved into and behind his chest. Even worse, while he’s completely innocent, everything that happens once the authorities gets there is fixed and framed to implicate him in it. Even some video was created to show that he admitted to it so casually and with a flippant attitude. Suffice to say, it’s a quick push to get Ganta from normal middle school life to now being on death row in Deadman Wonderland.

The prison is intense with everyone wearing collars that inject poison into people should their time run out, time they can only increase by acquiring special candy. These candies of course aren’t too hard to come by in a way as they have to participate in the work side of the facility but also in the games where they can earn cast points which can be exchanged for the candy. Ganta doesn’t quite get all of this first as he’s expected to die quickly so that leads to a host of problems and some awkward games that he gets drawn into. Deadly games as many of the participants end up getting killed alongside him all while the audience has no clue at all that they’re actually dying.

While the show has a pretty decent setup overall, there are problems with it pretty much across the board. These problems really drove me nuts at times when watching it in simulcast form and they are eased some here in marathon form. The main issue that I come away with here is that they do so much in twelve episodes that would have been a lot better off being done in twice as many episodes. There’s just so much going on here with so many characters that it doesn’t have time to really develop things. Ganta’s time in the prison brings him initially into contact with You, a scheming criminal who befriends him to gain advantage, and he’s the one that helps to ease us into how this world works. He has some key roles early on, including a tie to his sister that becomes important, but then he’s essentially written out of the second half of the show. That second half takes us from a prison discovery period to a story about an internal rebellion that’s looking to break out and expose to the world what’s really going on in there.

And in between that we get several fights, races and the introduction of a hidden cell block within the prison where the real story takes place. What Ganta is in there for is to suss out whether he’s one of these special people, a real Deadman, someone that can use their blood supply as a weapon they can control with their minds. He’s able to turn it into a gun-like ability while others use it with blades in their arms or bombs they can toss out at others. To complicate matters worse, we also get the main female character in Shiro, a mysterious white haired, white skin and unusual outfit girl who seems kind of disconnected from the world but has a real strong tie to Ganta.

It’s an unusual relationship since she appears out of the blue when he begins to use his power and she’s kind of flightly but interested in him as a friend. Shiro’s thought to be from the women’s block, which has others questioning why she’s there but never really saying much (sometimes you wonder if the others can even see her based on how the lack of reaction) and her outfit is simply radically different. We do get the idea that she’s not really part of things since the prison system doesn’t even recognize her as a prisoner, but she’s just of existing just outside of the system throughout this. It all gets even muddier when we start to get the flashback to how Shiro and Ganta used to play together as kids when they were younger. There’s a minor reveal or two there, but it’s mostly just more material that offers potential that’s never clearly explained.

Yet I will say, even with these complications, I did enjoy the show a lot more this time around compared to the original broadcast. The way things felt like they leapt around initially is reduced here and the flow of it definitely works better. While I did not like the shift from the races and other prison bits to the discovery of a rebellion going on inside the first time around, it does come across as connecting better here. I’m still not a fan of it since it simply serves to introduce bigger fights with more powerful characters when so much was left to explore, but also because it shfited the dynamic of things too much for my taste. The pivot changes the cast a fair amount and we hadn’t even really dealt with the existing cast yet and then bring in all these new characters. But in terms of the overall story, it does flow better than I felt it did originally.

In Summary:
Deadman Wonderland brought a pretty violent and at times vulgar series to the small screen when it came out and it really expanded its audience when it hit a national run through Cartoon Network, much to my surprise. The series has some really fun ideas it can work with but it comes across as an overly condensed version of events that never gets enough time to really breathe, explore and flesh out what it wants to tell. The flip side to that is that we get a series that’s almost constantly on the move, hitting up some brutal action or disturbing sequences and making it clear that pretty much almost any and every character could die or be butchered a fair bit before our eyes. While I basically expect that this is just mirroring the original manga, it makes me wish the anime had diverged enough to expand on it all and allow it a chance to make some better connections with the audience. It’s still a show I enjoyed overall though, flaws and all, because it threw a lot of things at the viewer to see what would stick and it kept up its energy really well.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Commentary for Episodes 6 & 12, Promo Videos, Original Commercials, U.S. Trailer, Textless Opening Song, Textless Opening Song (Director’s Version), Textless Closing Song

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: October 9th, 2012
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.