Escape from Deadman Wonderland
Tokyo Pop obviously has some confidence in the new series “Deadman Wonderland.” They put out a nineteen-page preview in several titles released around the end of 2009, including the final volume of the popular Chibi Vampire) series, and have built some hype around the release.
I was personally hooked by that little teaser, and have been eagerly awaiting the first volume in what promised to be one of the best new series of the year. After having finally received and devoured my copy, I am happy to report that “Deadman Wonderland” lives up to its hype.
The story begins with the sort of post-apocalyptical set-up that you really have to suspend your disbelief to get into, (anyone who has watched Escape from New York should have no problem with this) but once you shut down the logical part of your brain and go with the flow of the series you will buy it completely. Set in…the future…ten years following a giant earthquake that submerged seventy percent of Tokyo, what remains of the ravaged capital city has been turned into a giant theme park/prison, with the justification of rebuilding the local economy. Housed in this “Deadman Wonderland” are criminals ranging from petty thieves to hardened death row inmates. They compete in various contests for the prize of Cast Points (CPs) which function as money inside the Deadman Wonderland and allow the inmates to buy special food and favors. Selling tickets to these bloody contests in how Deadman Wonderland generates its economy-reviving income.
We are introduced to this prison funhouse through the eyes of Igarashi Ganta, a middle-school boy who was the sole survivor of a massacre that slew twenty-one of his classmates including his best friends. Ganta was framed for the murder and housed in Deadman Wonderland as a death-row inmate, but only he knows the true perpetrator, a huge man-like monster draped in red who Ganta calls The Red Man. Instead of killing him, The Red Man implanted something in Ganta’s chest and left him to be tried and convicted for the murders.
Inside Deadman Wonderland, Ganta finds himself swept up in the internal politics of the prison. As a famous mass murderer and death-row inmate, Ganta draws attention and threats to himself with every move, especially from a thug named Kozuji who is quick to show Ganta his place in the pecking order. Coming to his occasional rescue is a mysterious albino girl named Shiro (meaning “white” in Japanese), who seems to appear and disappear from the prison at will, and holds some secret connection with Ganta’s past.
At first Ganta tries to keep a low profile and just stay out of everyone’s way, but some of the harsher rules of Deadman Wonderland are slowly revealed. Each prisoner is given a daily dose of poison, which can only be cured by an antidote sold in the form of “candy” that inmates can buy for one thousand CP. This means that if Ganta wants to survive, he must join the games and risk his life battling his fellow prisoners for a chance to earn the CP that keep them alive. As an innocent middle-school boy, however, Ganta is hardly in the same league as the desperate and hardened criminals he is surrounded by.
Of course, within Deadman Wonderland there are plots-within-plots, and circles-within-circles. Ganta re-encounters the giant Red Man within the prison walls, and discovers that the implant he received gives Ganta some powerful abilities. It soon becomes clear that the Red Man is known to the officials at Deadman Wonderland, who refer to him simply as The Original Sin, and that the manipulations that brought Ganta to the prison may lie very deep.
“Deadman Wonderland” is different from most manga in that it is created like an American-style comic book, with the writer and artist splitting the duties. This seems to work in the books favor, as both are allowed to really concentrate on their specialties, and the finished product is fabulous. There previous collaboration, Eureka Seven, was released in the US by Bandai and proved to be a popular adaptation of the anime series. I believe “Deadman Wonderland” is their first original work to get a US release.
Kondou’s art is really outstanding, with some shades of Range Murata (Last Exile) in the character design, and even a bit of Otomo Katsuhiro (Akira) in his depiction of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. The art style creates a nice counter between the light and somewhat cartoony Shiro and the heavy and realistic depiction of The Red Man.
“Deadman Wonderland” definitely earns its 16 + rating with liberal dropping of f-bombs and some harsh violence in the treatment of the Deadland Wonderland prisoners. There is no nudity or sex or fanservice to speak of in this first volume.
“Deadman Wonderland” was originally released in 2007 in Shonen Ace magazine. In Japan, there are seven volumes currently released and the series is still ongoing. This first US-release by Tokyo Pop is given the royal treatment, going so far as to preserve the color pages in the beginning that are usually rendered in black-and-white for most English-language manga.