Down a Different Rabbit Hole – Deadman Wonderland

Shiro.(Deadman.Wonderland).full.960776“We’re all mad here.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

Manga Title: Deadman Wonderland
Author/Artist: Jinsei Kataoka/Kazuma Kondou
Genres: Action, Biopunk, Science Fantasy, Psychological
Demographic: Shounen

Unlike Alice, Ganta Igarashi finds himself in a nightmare when he steps into Deadman Wonderland. The story takes place in the year 2023 in Tokyo, which has been nearly destroyed and two-thirds of it has sunk into the ocean after an earthquake ten years before. One day while Ganta is attending class at  junior high-school, a mysterious being known as the Red Man appears. He massacres Ganta’s classmates and inexplicably plunges a shard of red rock into Ganta’s chest.

Deadman Wonderland manga

The Red Man

Being the only survivor of the incident and not having a valid alibi, Ganta is given a mock trial and shunted off to the creepy prison called Deadman Wonderland.

Deadman Wonderland mangaAfter arriving for only a short while he realizes that this is no ordinary prison; the inmates are dangerous criminals, and the wardens who keep watch over them are sometimes even more psychotic.

deadman wonderland manga

Vicious wardens

Placed on death row, Ganta is fitted with a collar that slowly releases poison. To escape death he must eat a piece of candy every three days which acts as an antidote to the poison. The entire place runs on a credit system called cast points, the equivalent of money in DW, and just about anything can be bought with these cast points – from food and necessities all the way up to the candy which is the most expensive.

Later Ganta meets some other inmates, and learns all this information from them. He also comes across an enigmatic girl named Shiro who claims to be his childhood friend. Having the uncanny ability to move around freely in DW, Shiro seems to understand what Ganta is thinking without him even saying it. She comes across as sweet but crazy and has some badass martial arts moves at the same time. The mystery of her and Ganta’s relationship is a pivotal part of the storyline.

deadman wonderland manga

Ganta and Shiro

Ganta initially accepts that he needs to suck up to the vicious inmates and violent guards to survive, a decision that doesn’t sit well with him despite his helplessness.

deadman wonderland manga

Unfriendly inmates

To add to his miseries the director of DW has it in for him and initially tries to eliminate him. In order to gain cast points to purchase a candy, Ganta enters a DW event called the Dog Race. The race basically consists of inmates running a deadly obstacle course, loaded with lethal weapons and traps, to reach the other side. It’s an event that’s open to the public, inviting people to watch a live slaughter that they’re told isn’t real, but everyone secretly knows is. The winner is given 100 000 cast points – just the amount Ganta needs to purchase a candy to postpone his death.

deadman wonderland manga

Slice and dice

The Red Man also reveals himself to be in the facility too, and we find out he is called the Wretched Egg and that the prison is like a holding cell for the Wretched Egg as well, going by the name of the Mother Goose system. Encountering the Red Man once more, this time he speaks to Ganta, referring to him by the name Woodpecker. Enraged by memories of the Red Man butchering his classmates, Ganta lashes out at him with what little power he has – and reveals that he has a kind of dormant ability within him which is released. Unleashing a blast of energy on the Red Man, he withdraws, leaving Ganta to ponder what this bizarre gift is.

deadman wonderland manga

Ganta’s ability

DW is a fast-paced, intense and in-your-face kind of manga that doesn’t let up. The art is engrossing, and from the blood-splattered details of the Red Man’s carnage to the depictions of the cute Shiro, there’s not a dull moment. Although the plot unfolds gradually and there is quite a lot of information to process in the first volume, it’s gradually expounded on over the latter volumes.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about DW is its characters; similar to the cast of a freaky circus show, they come in all shapes and sizes and not one is flat or boring.

deadman wonderland manga

The cast

Ganta’s growth is awesome to read as he goes from servility to eventually expressing his true feelings and showing himself to be pretty self-sacrificing despite initial impressions.

Deadman Wonderland is truly like falling down a different rabbit hole – a place where nothing is as it seems and where surviving is literally all in the blood.

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?


Demi-Human – Ajin

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Manga Title: Ajin
Author/ Artist:  Tsunina Miura/ Gamon Sakurai
Genres: Horror, supernatural, mystery, action
Demographic: Seinen
Rating: M (mature)

Ajin (demi-human) is a fitting name for this manga. A running theme in the story is human nature, and in the case of the characters that nature is often less than human. The manga follows Kei Nagai, a high school student who discovers one day after an accident that he is one of the feared ‘Ajin’ – a type of being that can’t die and regenerates wounds shortly after receiving them.

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The dark nature of humanity soon shows itself to Kei as he is immediately hunted down for a large reward that has been placed on the head of any Ajin captured. Fortunately, he finds some compassion in his childhood friend Kai who immediately comes to his aid, and who doesn’t see him differently, despite his regenerative abilities.

kei and kai

Kai and Kei

Kei struggles to escape his would be captors, whilst coming to grips with his dilemma and figuring out what his new found powers are. He slowly begins to discover that Ajin aren’t only immortal, they also possess a unique vocal ability that paralyzes others, as well as a powerful kind of puppet called a ‘Black Ghost’ that they can manipulate mentally for attack and presumably other purposes (all that’s seen in volume one are its attack abilities though).

In volume 1 a few characters are introduced and it’s hard to distinguish between the good and bad guys. That’s to be expected though, the overall feel of the manga is pretty dark, and even Kei reveals some of his twisted intentions later on. Apart from having ordinary reward craving civilians on his tail, there’s the police and a mysterious duo from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (aka. Ajin hunters) who are also pursuing him.

Tosaki and Izumi

Tosaki and Izumi

They are Tozaki-san and Shimura Izumi. Tozaki is cold, methodical and has love for mints that he pushes on others. Izumi is his quiet sidekick who just screams that she’s holding a secret. They’re knowledgeable about the Ajin, especially their powers and weaknesses, the latter being very limited.

If things weren’t bad enough for Kei, another group is also searching for him – this time a group of fellow Ajin. Headed by a key figure among this secret sect, they seek to bring Kei to them for unknown purposes. Whatever it is though, their methods aren’t subtle.

Apart from the main plot involving Kei, there are flashbacks to another Ajin’s past – Tanaka – and his torture at the hands of his human detainers. In addition, later in the volume another female Ajin reveals herself in the most unexpected place.

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Tanaka in Captivity

The storytelling in Ajin is compelling to read; the time -skips that occur are well placed and give you enough tidbits of information to keep you hungry for more. This among other reasons made it a real page-turner for me.

Another enjoyable aspect is the overall brooding feel of the manga. This atmosphere grows with Kei’s gradual descent into accepting his predicament, physically and mentally. The dark past surrounding the Ajin is gradually revealed, including the persecutors who’ve tried to capture them and use them for experimentation and as weapons.

The art is fitting for the mood too, with dark and gory sketches and occasional escapes into wild abandonment by the artist.

abandonment (2)A particularly creepy feature in the artwork is the design of the Black Ghosts – ghoulish, mummy type creatures. They’re without a doubt the most sinister apparition I’ve seen appear in a manga recently.

Black Ghosts

Black Ghosts

Ajin is a title worth keeping an eye on (I’m thinking of anime adaptions in the near future) and is a tense, inwardly chafing journey into the realm of the demi-humans, and simultaneously into the dark recesses of the psyche.

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?