Deadman Wonderland 1 by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou: B+

deadmanwonderland1From the back cover:
The Great Tokyo Earthquake. Ten years ago, it destroyed lives as it tore buildings asunder. Among those who lived through the disaster was Ganta Igarashi, now a middle school student finally getting a footing in his own life… that is, until the day the “Red Man” appears at his school and turns his world upside down again. Ganta’s entire class is brutally murdered, and although innocent of the crime, Ganta is sentenced to death and sent to the bizarre prison known as “Deadman Wonderland.” There, a brutal game of survival begins, where Ganta must discover the truth behind his classmates’ murder.

Can Ganta break out of Deadman Wonderland… or will it break him first?

The year is 2023. Ten years ago, the Great Tokyo Earthquake struck, leaving 70% of that city submerged by water. Ganta Igarashi used to live in Tokyo, but doesn’t remember anything prior to the evacuation. Now he attends middle school in Nagano, loves soccer, and has a couple good friends among his classmates. All of that changes on the day when “the red man”—a wonderfully creepy cyborg-looking fellow—arrives and murders all of Ganta’s classmates. In a rush to judgment, the authorities blame Ganta for the carnage and sentence him to death, at which point he’s shuffled off to Deadman Wonderland, the single privately owned prison in Japan, which doubles as a tourist attraction.

There, Ganta must learn to survive in the irrational environment or die. He’s fitted with a collar that is continually injecting him with poison—his death sentence—and the only way to delay it is to take a candy antidote every three days. To buy the candy, one must earn “cast points,” which are awarded for winning the various challenges put on for the benefit of the visiting public. When Ganta loses his first dose of the candy, he enters a deadly race with the hopes of using the prize money to procure another. Meanwhile, he meets a strange girl named Shiro who claims they knew each other before, gains some new super powers, and befriends his gentle-seeming cell mate who is hiding his true intentions.

There’s an awful lot going on in Deadman Wonderland, a fact made clear from the very start with a series of color pages depicting the moments right before the earthquake, but it all boils down to the fact that Ganta is likely not the normal kid he always thought he was. Sometimes I grow frustrated with stories that advance this many mysteries simultaneously, but it’s handled very well here, and the sense of a sure, guiding hand is palpable. I also really, really like “the red man,” who is not the only villain of the piece but merely the most visible. His character design is magnificent and menacing and you just know some crazy stuff is going to go down when he appears.

Ganta himself is also likable, as he rallies from his confusion and depression to fight for his life. I feel a little like one of the Deadman Wonderland patrons for enjoying watching him cope with some of the awful situations he faces, but he pulls through heroically enough that I can avoid feeling too bad.

This first volume of Deadman Wonderland does an excellent job introducing the reader to Ganta’s world and instilling a desire to read more about how he adjusts to his extreme circumstances. I also look forward to him learning more about some of the things at which the color pages hinted, like the truth of his early childhood and why, exactly, he’s been drawing a certain symbol on his possessions for years.

Deadman Wonderland is published in English by TOKYOPOP. The series is ongoing in Japan; seven collected volumes are currently available there.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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  1. Danielle Leigh says

    Hmmmmm. God, I’m weak. These aren’t my favorite kinds of titles but you certainly make this one sound interesting! (That sound you hear? Is my resolve not to buy more titles weakening.)


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