Reviewby Lissa Pattillo,
It's time for the second round of the Carnival of Corpses to begin but Ganta finds out he has already met his next opponent who is none other than the little sister of his fellow-inmate and friend, Yo. Meanwhile Yo is infiltrating the off-limits Ward G to find what he believes he needs to see his sister freed from this place. Instead he learns some things that could shake the little trust Ganta has in the prison – his faith in the mysterious but cheery, Shiro. Ganta begins to remember Shiro from his childhood as his memories return to him yet the bigger matter at hand remains surviving long enough for them to mean anything.
Deadmand Wonderland is a series that does so many things well. The art is fantastic, the premise interesting and the characters you can keep straight are fascinating. Keeping things straight, however, proves a bit of an issue. While the first volume served up a straight-forward introduction, the second volume began to fall slightly on the confusing side when the 'infections' of their abilities started being explored. By this third volume, it feels like it's becoming convoluted – too many ideas trying to fit together before they themselves are solidified. There's a number of intriguing and memorably disturbing characters who keep popping up when it doesn't feel like we really yet have a grasp of the relationship and relevance of those already here and that opportunities may be lost in sacrifice to promoting new faces.
It doesn't help that the environment itself doesn't feel entirely concrete either. All these characters are in a prison called Deadman Wonderland where a select few are forced to battle one another for the amusement of the public. The loser gets a body part taken away for science in a slot-machine style game of chance. That's clear enough, but the daily-life aspects of the prison itself seem a little lax for convenience's sake – these prisoners seem to have a lot of freedom to do as they please, when and where they please, until suddenly plot purposes dictate they don't. Then again, when you have all the 'Deadman' – those slated to fight against one another – living together and you already expect them to end up dead eventually, what's the worse that can happen? Still it makes it hard to pinpoint when readers should feel they're doing something 'wrong' or when they're just hanging around casually, not to mention where.
That said however, it's no less capable now than it was before to pull you straight through until the end. It may not be entirely coherent who's doing what for who and why but you'd be hard-pressed to find a current series more compellingly able to pull you through without really caring to stop for all those little details. And besides, in a place as chaotic as this should anything really be that easy for any of us?
Ganta is still a great main character for the series to focus around – tough but kindhearted, an indomitable spirit but still relatable. You'd think the same could be said for any series but finding a main character is the most likable in a story doesn't happen as much as perhaps one would hope. The volume opens with Ganta meeting a doe-eyed young girl named Minatsuki clutching a vase of flowers. After helping her out of a hungry situation, he spends an awkward couple of teenage-hormone filled minutes in her room before a teary-eyed confession reveals she's his next opponent. Oh, and she's his best friend's sister too – what're the odds? Pretty high in this place. Then again, Ganta should still know better than to trust anyone in here is an innocent by-stander. To no real spoil for readers, Minatsuki is actually a powerful opponent and clinically insane - or at least chronically mistrusting and crazy.
After their messy fight with sees Minatsuki using blood abilities of her own, Ganta and Minatsuki's brother Yo, take to the path of wanting to see to it Minatsuki escapes, not to mention being obviously keen on the idea themselves. But Yo has quite a bit more on his mind after his infiltration into the sealed off Ward G of the prison leaves him not only battered and bruised but also now onto some of the prison's darkest secrets. Most specifically, he knows the real monster in this blood-soaked facility is none other than Ganta's heroine-to-the-rescue, Shiro. He knows better than to trust a pair of bright shiny eyes and innocent intentions.
This harks to what has continually proven one of the most interesting and presumably plot-relevant parts of the story, past blood-soaked battle stadiums, and that's slow unraveling of Ganta's childhood. In this volume he remembers enough to know that Shiro was a part of his past and they used to play together as children. We see some short flashbacks to his childhood friendship with her, which is much the same as it is now in terms of their relationship. Meanwhile in the present day however, readers get to see Shiro away from the main group, exhibiting some major MPD that's both severely creepy and indicative that some of the mysteries Ganta would like solved are about to collide in a way he's not going to like.
By the volume's end, readers are introduced to a couple of new characters, all of whom sporting some snazzy character designs - from an 'ultra Buddhist priest' to a potential Android - and are set to take the story in a new direction in the next book. Most notably are those of them part of a group called 'Scar Chain', an underground circle of people out to take down the infrastructure of this madhouse prison. They invite Ganta to join them, and though a bit violent in their initial 'hellos' like everyone else in here, they seem like people Ganta could come to add to his small but growing repertoire of semi-trustworthy acquaintances.
Even with it's occasionally confusing moments, Deadman Wonderland continues to be a series worth suggesting to any manga reader who doesn't mind some occasionally disturbing imagery. There's a great sense of atmosphere and intensity when the story calls for it, which is most of the time, and the whole thing looks great, from the violent, high-suspense fight scenes to the distinct character designs themselves. It's a shame at times the story seems so eager to add in new intrigue that it momentarily loses track of what's already been laid down, but at least everything remains so darn cool when it's happening that it's pretty easy to forget you may not remember why. One big mystery is already readying itself for a no-doubt traumatic reveal however, so fingers crossed and eyes peeled for the next volume and some more blood-stained puzzle pieces to fall into place.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A
+ A deepening web of intrigue and suspense in a prison setting that still feels unique; fantastic fight scenes and eye-catching, detailed artwork that's easy to follow
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