In a nutshell: There goes 325 minutes of my life I'll never get back.
When Deadman Wonderland the manga was released, I checked out the first few volumes and enjoyed what I read. The characters were fun, the atmosphere was dark and disturbing, and the story had a mystery backing it that made it a compelling read. When I heard the show was being made into an anime, naturally I was excited. Most manga-to-anime adaptations these days are faithful to the material, after all. When the complete series from FUNimation was dropped on my lap I popped the first disc in without hesitation.
Deadman Wonderland is grotesquely violent for the sake of being so. Granted the manga was pretty much this way, but it seems exacerbated by the animation somehow. Blood flies, body limbs get ripped off, and there's even a scene that involves someone having an eyeball ripped out of their socket while their alive to experience it (we even get to see first person glimpses during it). It's dark from start to finish, and though that's not necessarily a bad thing (I didn't find it off-putting), it just feels a little forced at times.
The dialogue is also laden with swears for no reason at all, other than to swear. It's almost as though the script was thrown together by a Tourette syndrome afflicted angst-filled youth mouthing off to everyone he hates in the world. It's downright silly most of the time, but I digress.
The show starts out serenely with a young boy named Ganta studying up on a school trip to some murderer's row amusement park known as Deadman Wonderland. Things seem to be hunky dory until a strange man in red appears outside the classroom and mutilates everyone in the room except for Ganta, who gets to witness the traumatic event and even have his friend's head roll by him. Ganta is convicted for the crime, even though no evidence existed that he had anything to do with it, other than being left alive. Thus Ganta winds up in the prison he was studying before his world was turned upside down.
Deadman Wonderland is a harsh place. It's where the hardest of the hardest criminals go to die. Each prisoner wears a collar that emits a poison if they don't eat an antidote in the form of "candy". In addition to that, the prisoners are forced to partake in "games" for public audiences that often end with them dying in some ghastly manner. Sliced in half by flying axes? Fried to extra-crispy on an electric grid? Impaled on spikes 100 feet below? Yup, it's all there. And Ganta is stuck in the middle of this hell-hole. I understand that someone thrust into that position would naturally lose their cool, but Ganta spends the whole damn show crying and sniveling about how weak and pathetic he is. Ganta, buddy, I get it - you suck as a protagonist.
Joining Ganta in this twisted version of Disney World is a white-haired girl from his past named Shiro, and a slew of other "cast members" such as You, the doube-agent, and Senji, a vicious killer with a mysterious power. There are others as well such as the operator of Deadman Wonderland and the size G bust prison warden who doesn't mind slicing prisoners at a moment's notice. The cast works well for the most part and they support the story and development of Ganta well enough. For the most part the cast is likeable, except for Ganta, who, you know...sucks.
I'd be remiss to continue this review without mentioning the "mysterious power" that Senji possesses, which is also known as a Branch of Sin. You see, Deadman Wonderland is home to individuals known as Deadmen who were survivors of an event known as the Red Hole some years ago. These Deadmen can use the very blood in their body as weapons and are the main underground attraction in the amusement park. Ganta happens to be one the Deadmen and his power forces him into a life and death struggle against other inmates, but also brings him ever closer to seeking vengeance against the Red Man.
Sounds pretty intriguing, right? Well, what if I were to tell you that at episode 12 the show just stops. It climaxes and climaxes and builds question upon question and then just ends. That's right! There's no freaking ending for the show!! The entire reveal that the plot was building towards, the introduction of characters towards the end, certain dialogue, and particular events all end in absolutely nothing. I don't mind a few loose ends here and there to leave one guessing, but what the f**k? It's this simple fact that leaves me to feel that I wasted my time watching the show. The episodes leading up to the finale (if you want to call it that) were great and the beginning of the show was especially good, but when the second disc ends and you pop in the third disc only to find extra features you're going to feel robbed.
This isn't FUNimation's doing. They licensed a good show, and it's not their fault the production of the series stopped at episode twelve, but that doesn't change the fact that the series leaves one feeling particularly bitter at the end. I mean, damn, it's like going to dinner and the waiter takes your plate away halfway through and leaves you the bill. Actually, it's worse; in this case it's about 6 hours of your life that will never see closure. I guess you could buy the manga if you wanted to see what happens in the story, but I suspect precious few will do that. Will there be a second season? I doubt it, but you never know. If there is and it continues from this spot, okay, but if not I'd think twice about buying this collection.
Deadman Wonderland is presented on DVD with its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks very good in this outing with clean lines, smooth animation (for the most part), and vibrant colors. There's no aliasing and only sparse amounts of examples of artifacts in the image, though these are in darker areas of the show such as moments underground in Section G or the night scene with You and Shiro. Otherwise the show is nice and crisp and is very pleasing on the eyes, which is ironic considering all the gore and whatnot.
Japanese stereo and English 5.1 surround are what you're going to find here for audio selections. In both cases the dialogue performs well, though I tended to prefer the Japanese track because I was sick of all the swearing in the English dub. The Japanese track was flat, which really dulled out some of the action, even though bass was utilized well. The surround mix for the English track brought a little more oomph to the proceedings and provided a more dynamic soundstage, though it wasn't as prevalent as it could have been.
Promotional videos for the show's release in Japan, original commercials, and clean animations are here for features. There are also two audio commentary tracks with the English cast that proved to be fun to listen to. The localization crew had a fun time putting this track together and they talk about their experience at length.
I'll be honest, if I wrote this review based on the first 3/4 of the show I would have made it an easy recommendation. The concept is wild, the action is solid, and the characters are fun (though Ganta...not so much). Unfortunately the ridiculously open ending completely ruined the show and sends viewers off on a sour note and feeling short-changed. I mean, the show just ends. 'That's it. Nothing more to see here folks!" It's inexcusable and forces a rental recommendation or the show to only be picked up by collectors of the manga. Even then it's almost not worth it.