Deadman Wonderland Volume 1 by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou
This title wasn’t on my radar before, but when I got it the cover design immediately caught my attention. Who was this disturbed boy with his hands on his head wearing a collar with a bar code? I was drawn into the story further when tons of action was packed into the first 20 pages. Let’s see…it is the future, there is a terrible earthquake that has placed most of Tokyo underwater, and the most popular tourist attraction is a privately operated prison called Deadman Wonderland. Ganta is having a normal day at school talking to his friends when he sees an armored red man dressed in a tattered cape floating outside the classroom window. The red man promptly slaughters everyone in the classroom except Ganta and implants a red stone in Ganta’s body. Ganta wakes up to see random body parts belonging to his classmates scattered all over the desks. As the only survivor of the massacre Ganta is promptly convicted, given the death penalty, and sent to serve his sentence in Deadman Wonderland.
When Ganta arrives at the prison the story really begins. He’s bewildered by his circumstances and semi-suicidal. Prisoners have to compete to obtain Cast Points which they can trade for better food or other items. The special collars the prisoners wear inject them with a poison that kills them in three days unless they eat some special “candy.” So every day in Deadman Wonderland is a race against an already imposed death sentence. As Ganta begins to adjust to his new environment he makes a friend of sorts in the albino girl Shiro. She randomly pops up out of nowhere and seems a little deranged, but she knows how the system works and tries to help Ganta in her own way.
Deadman Wonderland is a tourist attraction because the prisoners work at deadly carnival games just like Death Race 2000. The prisoners are obsessed with getting better food or privileges, which helps the wardens control the prison population. Ganta’s unique situation causes him to be singled out for extra punishment and the stone implanted in his chest ensures that he’ll be seeing the mysterious Red Man again. The art is slick although to my eyes it lacks a distinct style. The character design for the Red Man was interesting. This manga has the large bosomed prison warden you might expect from a shonen manga, but I was intrigued by Azami, a girl who tries to resist the bullying prison subculture. Shiro’s character of loony girl in a body stocking was a little grating, but I was amused by some of her insane habits like talking about afternoon snacks as prisoners die around her or getting beat up for Ganta with a grin on her face.
This is the type of manga that I think would have a lot of commercial appeal, which I’m guessing will be magnified once the recently announced anime version of the manga comes out. The combination of a unique setting, a compelling mystery, and a dark sense of humor will make Deadman Wonderland appeal to readers who want something a little different from their sci-fi shonen manga. Many manga take a couple volumes to really get the story going. Since the creators packed the exposition into a few short pages and immediately explored the unique rules of the prison, I felt like I wanted to read more when I reached the last page of this manga. It is more edgy and intelligent than the typical shonen manga. At 220 pages, this manga is a little bit thicker than the typical volume due to the inclusion of a preview of the new series Hanako and the Terror of Allegory by Sakae Esuno, creator of Future Diary. There are color pages included in the front of the manga and a few bonus omake pages with joke panels and Deadman Wonderland advertisements in the back of the book. Deadman Wonderland would be a good manga to recommend to Death Note or Future Diary fans looking for something similar in tone.
Review copy provided by the publisher.