Story and Art By: Yuji Kaku
Translation: Caleb Cook
Retouch & Lettering: Mark McMurray
What They Say:
Gabimaru the Hollow is one of the most vicious assassins ever to come out of the ninja village of Iwagakure. He’s ruthlessly efficient, but a betrayal results in him being handed a death sentence. He has only one hope—in order to earn his freedom, he must travel to a long-hidden island and recover an elixir that will make the shogun immortal. Failure is not an option. On this island, heaven and hell are just a hair’s breadth away
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Within the dark and somber dungeons of the castle there sat a single emotionless man named Gabimaru, his arms shackled above his head waiting for the next attempt to end his miserable life. They had tried to decapitate him, although as the executioner asked if he had any final words and responded with a simple negative word, the katana which struck his exposed neck did nothing against his bare skin aside from snap in half. Now as he awaits the next attempt for death, a somber woman sat before his cell and asked numerous questions in an effort to record his thoughts for the record, but this ninja from Iwagakure kept his words to a minimum. Even after they tried to burn this doomed man at the stake, both spear meant to give him mercy and flame did no damage, and he was returned to the cell with the same person continuing her interview of why he was imprisoned. It is only now does the man they also call the Hollow reveal we wants to die, only being caught after being betrayed by his village once he tried to cut ties with his home, but when they tried to capture him, he killed twenty men in the process. And yet as they tried once again to kill him this time by being torn asunder by oxen, and once again failing, this prisoner only then told of his wife who he called simple minded and a daughter of the chief, the one person who gave him stupid rules and questioned why he must kill in order to survive.
With her work now done after gathering information about the condemned, the interrogator stated she was ready for her next duty, and when they escorted Gabimaru the next morning for another chance at death, the head jailor mockingly told him this was his final day. It was only then when this unfeeling man was stunned to see the same sullen interviewer sitting within the chamber, with the overjoyed overseer introducing her as a tester from Edo: the Decapitator named Yamada Asaemon Sagiri. It was now the Hollow’s chance to be surprised, for even he knew of this clan’s reputation of evaluating a new blade’s sharpness by cutting through corpses and as executioners, but he was sincerely shocked to see such a person with a gory occupation was a woman. She was to be the official to carry out his death sentence, but as he felt a shudder through his body due to her ominous presence, this ninja was too preoccupied to notice her approach and barely dodged her first strike. But as they exchanged blows and Sagiri kept asking Gabimaru why he was afraid to die, it was only then did she reveal the real truth which she gleaned from their discussions – he did have something to cling within his life, and it was the wife who he had prior insulted … no matter how much he denied it, this shinobi did love her. It was only then did the Hollow look back on their conversations and recognize reality, and while he may vehemently deny this undeniable truth, it was this simple woman who showed him he was not what they called him, he did have emotions and she was the only one who treated him as such. Even as he lashed out and declared he could never have a normal life, Yamada intercepted his last blow and pulled out a lengthy scroll, describing it as a full pardon from any crimes by the shogunate with no one able to deny its authenticity as the bearer would carry the protection of the shogun himself. However in order to secure this liberating document, Gabimaru would have to do one last job – travel to the other side.
After first reading the synopsis for this book, I initially thought Hell’s Paradise Jigokuraku would be a typical shinobi driven story with plenty of bloody scenes to propel the reader into an immersive narrative of action and deception. And yet mangaka Yuji Kaku has taken quite an unique approach by allowing the reader to relate to Gabimaru via monotone speech which reflects his title of Hollow – one of a person who tries to hide his feelings in order to be more proficient with his work as a ruthless assassin. As such the illustrations are restrained with protagonists who project a sense of detachment from their emotions, with Gabimaru who is forced to do so due to his training and Sagiri who wishes for it so as to become a more efficient executioner, but both have a plainness upon their faces, almost as if they are bored with events unfolding before them. While they do manage to project some reactions as frantic moments cross their paths and cause a break from these molds, it is the intensity of actors around them which show how aloof they can truly be, almost as if they are unwilling to accept they are human and what that fact means to their identities. It is this detachment which makes their performances so much colder than necessary, allowing them to walk through the narrative and truly reflect as to the violence in their lives, with the man wishing for normalcy and the woman wanting for what her partner wishes to lose. This shifting psychological balance makes the story so poignant at times, with the irony being lost on both since neither will acknowledge this reflective nuance, only keeping the other in check until it is necessary to allow one to rein the other in before it is too late.
Although Hell’s Paradise Jigokuraku has the violence one would expect from a ninja epic, its intensity is sometimes swallowed up due to its severity being muted thanks to the black and white images of a typical manga. And yet this oversight is not necessary due to underlying themes of detachment which lie at the core of the protagonists, allowing for strongly depicted illustrations to have that much more impact as they stir the incentive of the reader to continue forward, all in order to find out what happens next within this curious story. By allowing violence to become the essence of all, one cannot but pay more attention to the serenity within new environments, thus causing us to question what will be the result as two contrasting worlds collide within a skirmish of wonder and desperation.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: Mature
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: March 17, 2020