OK, I have to confess I started watching with almost zero preconception/foreknowledge, so I was reasonably surprised when the first 5 min started out with a school massacre, which went well with the songless credits lead-in. Our lead, Ganta, courtesy of an unusual encounter with the perpetuator, is wrongly arrested for the crime and framed in a near kangaroo court, with his defence attorney playing his part in a “not so good cop, bad cop” fixit routine. Ganta is subsequently sent to Deadman Wonderland, a dystopian gaol that uses prison inmates in gladiatorial games of the kind only the wacky Japanese can think up, where he is tagged with a Battle Royale-esque collar and must have “Candy”, the absence of which is essentially a death sentence adminstered via collar. He also means a strange savant girl that seems to know him, and resolves to find the “Red Man” to bring justice to his friends’ killer and prove his innocence.
OK, so that might be a bit of a mess, but seinen shows playing coy usually are, so I’ll give it some slack until a few episodes down the road. I’m pretty ambivalent about those early minutes though, because I’m uncertain if this was some attempt at mocking the real-life Japanese system for pinning societial ills on the young. In any case, the brisk pace of the plot meant the execution was rather clumsy for that bit, and in retrospect the classroom dialogue between his two friends and Ganta was just merely cheap pathos. Judging from the rest of the episode, the snake-like attorney with Gin-like speech patterns (has someone been reading Bleach?) seems to be the primary atagonist for Ganta. I’m not sure how seriously we’re supposed to take the Running Man gimmicks, because the amusement park sets and voluptuous warden isn’t really burnishing the “serious seinen” credentials. Hopefully, the atmosphere will tend towards the surreal more than towards the ridiculous, which given the conspiracy-heavy talk and the past Akira-esque destruction of at least parts of Tokyo, seems to be the intention. Epsiode 2 will lead in with more of the cast, so we’ll have more information on the prison dynamic then.