Thursday, April 01, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 57 (4/1) -- Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 1 by Kataoka and Kondou

Comics, as a medium, is absolutely loaded with insane premises, genre books more than anything else. (Think of whatever the current origin and state of play is for your favorite superhero, for example: how many times has he been dead? has the devil stolen his marriage recently? who else has been him?) But even against that kind of tough competition, Deadman Wonderland (by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou) is impressive, with a near future that sees Japan create an amusement park-cum-high security prison on top of the rubble from the Great Tokyo Earthquake and then throw a twelve-year-old boy in there on a death sentence because he was the sole survivor of a massacre in his classroom. (The most plausible explanation for the latter is that he was scapegoated to hide a secret government project, but it does make one wonder about the status of the rule of law and the right to a fair trial in this world.)

But, anyway, Ganta is that boy, and he saw a weird flying figure -- which he named the "red man," the usual horrific figure with masked head, giant grin, tattered and very photogenic rags around him and giant chains -- enter his classroom, kill everyone, and then disappear. When he woke up, he was rushed to trial, quickly found guilty, and shoved into Deadman Wonderland, where every prisoner is under sentence of death and also must caper for the entertainment of the public. (Those two aspects, of course, are not unrelated: the capering generally involves a lot of death.)

Ganta is a standard shonen protagonist: a relatively smart hard worker who fit completely into his age cohort and wanted only to have a standard, boring life but was thrust into a bizarre situation that rewards the cruel, the vicious, the cunning, and the duplicitous. (None of which things the standard shonen protagonist is.)

There's a fellow prisoner who befriends Ganta -- for purposes that the reader knows are not so pure -- and various cacklingly evil and corrupt adults in positions of power, from guards on up to the scientists and administrators that keep the "red man" (whom they call "the original sin") in the usual high-tech containment vessel. And there's a weird girl, Shiro, who was friends with Ganta when he was very young and who seems to have the run of the prison. (She also wears one of the weirdest costumes in all of comics, a white form-fitting bodysuit complete with giant mittens and a target-like design on her right boob.)

This is clearly the kind of series where the Big Secrets will be teased for a while, and probably will turn out to make about as much sense as the premise. But the point is the ride along the way, with lots of crunchy violence and ridiculously over-the-top situations, and Kataoka and Kondou play that for all its worth, with over-dramatic scenes on every other page. It's very difficult to take Deadman Wonderland seriously, but, as a post-Battle Royale pseudo-supernatural manga for boys, it does what it sets out to do, even if what it sets out to do is very silly.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Rykarda Parasol - A Drinking Song
via FoxyTunes

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