Without having ever read the manga, I’m well aware that there’s plenty of “story” left to tell in the world of Deadman Wonderland, but really — why end here and why now?
I subscribe to the belief that even parts of a bigger story must be self-contained to some extent. If what I just said isn’t immediately clear, then let me elaborate with an example. Have you ever watched a sequel and felt lost because you hadn’t seen the prequel? Deadman Wonderland’s first season is just like that, but in reverse. There’s no sense of finality in, ironically enough, the finale of the first season. The story isn’t self-contained enough to a degree to allow for a satisfying ending.
What actually changed from the first episode to the last? We’ve been following Ganta this entire time, but has he really undergone any real character breakthrough? In the end, it strikes me that he hasn’t grown up as a character — he’s the same whiny dork he was at the start of the show. Only now, he gets to make an inspired speech about friendship or something. If that’s catharsis, I don’t know what to say. Fighting and dying for friends in anime? That’s like one of the lowest hanging fruits out there.
So Ganta didn’t change, but surely other things have! Actually, no. Who’s to say the resistance group got out at all? Even if they did, what could they really do? Deadman Wonderland is still up and running. Tamaki and Makina are still in charge. Worst of all, Ganta still doesn’t realize that Shiro is the Red Man (I may not have read the manga, but this is so plainly obvious well before the finale episode). We just watched twelve episodes of nothing.
Even within this episode, there are moments too bizarre to ignore. Karako’s “death” couldn’t be more contrived. Like Ganta, she gets to have a touching moment of her own to get Nagisa to snap out of his despair. You can’t miss it — the melancholy piano music starts up amidst all the death and destruction. Then she casually turns and BAM! — knife through what appears to be her heart.
You think Nagisa would have noticed Genkaku readying the blade to strike Karako. If not Nagisa, then surely Ganta or Shiro must have seen and should have said something. But nevermind even the implausibility of Karako’s supposed death. Why? Because it never happened. Oh, Karako got stabbed alright, but mere minutes later, it turns out she didn’t die from it after all. All this setup to make her death seem absolutely tragic is undone by the very fact that Genkaku didn’t even kill her — he didn’t even want to.
Likewise, a little later into the same episode, Genkaku blows a gaping hole in Nagisa’s abdomen. This is no mere gunshot wound — this is a gaping foot-in-diameter, “you just lost 30 lbs in two seconds” hole that any bulimic would kill for. Like Karako, he still doesn’t die yet. Nagisa just lies limp for the rest of the episode until it’s time for him to heroically hold Genkaku in place for Ganta’s final attack. And even after that, Nagisa doesn’t die until he gets to say some parting words to Ganta while a moody track plays in the background that totally says “THIS IS SAD.”
The fake-outs with Karako and Nagisa actually reminded me of when I was young and playing Final Fantasy IV. My party members kept “dying” left and right. It turned out that some of them didn’t die at all, completely cheapening their noble sacrifices earlier in the game. Well, that was a dinky video game made in the early 90s. Deadman Wonderland doesn’t get a pass. Someone’s gonna snidely remark that I shouldn’t take this anime seriously, a criticism I heard constantly during Star Driver, but who cares — bad anime is bad.
Finally, in the middle of Genkaku’s killing spree, the anime just couldn’t resist weaving a tragic past for him. Really? — right now, at the eleventh hour, we are going to do a corny-as-hell flashback about how the death of a cat totally set this guy off? It wasn’t the constant beatings and rapings or his master’s complete obliviousness to Genkaku’s situation; the dead cat was the straw that broke the camel’s back. To tell the truth, I half suspected Genkaku’s assailants to rape the cat to death because that’s just how exploitative and cheap Deadman Wonderland is, but I guess I can take some solace that even this anime wouldn’t go there.
Then when you get to the technical aspects of the anime, it’s still a mess. I’m going to pull a number out of a hat and say 80% of the damn anime takes place in featureless corridors. The anime feels so uninspired and hemmed in. For a deranged, depraved prison borrowing from both the Roman gladiatorial matches and the circus, there’s hardly any imagination employed in offing the countless victims in Deadman Wonderland. Other than the one episode that featured Ganta and other prisoners racing through a hazardous course, we have been subjected to nothing but dark tunnels.
And good lord is the anime dark, but not even in an emo, “woe is the world” sort of way. Half of the scenes in the finale are literally pitch black. I get it — there’s a lot of gore in Deadman Wonderland and the Blu-ray version of this anime will be chock full of bloody goodness. But even shots in which nobody was wounded or injured, the anime is darker than black.
Deadman Wonderland wasn’t funny (even unintentionally) or raunchy. It didn’t push the envelope enough in terms of ridiculous, over-the-top action. In the end, Deadman Wonderland was a complete waste of time.