Story and Art By: Yuji Kaku
Translation: Caleb Cook
Retouch & Lettering: Mark McMurray
What They Say:
Gabimaru is a ninja one death row with one chance to see his wife again – by finding the elixir of immortality on a supernatural island and delivering it to the shogun. Standing in his way are his fellow convicts and the fearsome beasts that roam the island, devouring or killing anyone they encounter. As Gabimaru and executioner explore the island, they come under attack from creatures that resemble gods but behave like devils. Is this the holy land or hell itself?
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
After finally making landfall upon Jigokuraku, Gabimaru and Sagiri are separated from the rest of the group, however, it does not take long until they are assaulted by numerous nauseating abominations which appear to be combinations of beasts and religious icons. And though he is able to butcher these creatures endlessly, even the Hollow himself grows tired of this continuous onslaught, with various monstrosities attacking from every direction. As soon as he massacres one, another walks or slithers in to take its place, with no concern being raised for the shed blood of its companions. And yet as this normally unfeeling criminal faces their attackers alone, with his monitor standing back in stunned idleness unsure of what to do against these relentless waves of aggressors, the stillness is finally broken when her charge attempts to address his latest assailant. Watching him being flailed around as if a rag doll, Asa hesitantly stepping forward to address this threat, until Gabimaru coldly shouts at her to stay back and out of the way.
However as the ninja is helpless flung away from his latest beating, even he knows when it is best to run away from enemies that cannot be beaten, but they do not get far as they are soon surrounded once again. After putting up another valiant defense against unrelenting foes and saving his executioner from certain death, Gabimaru himself finally is caught abruptly by an unseen enemy, with a spiked lash quickly wrapping around his head, certain to decapitate the brave shinobi. And yet once the noose was near closing, a skillfully thrown kunai slices the deadly lash apart, only to be followed by the cheerful voice of its owner, an alluringly dressed kunoichi named Yuzuriha and her two Asaemon escorts. While she tries her best to seduce her fellow ninja to join their team in order to better their odds, Gabimaru saw no point in doing so since there is only one pardon, but she continues to reason it is better to cooperate and use each other until the bitter end by trading information. Seeing no other way to dissuade this annoying pest, the criminals agree and Asa joins her fellow monitors, but it was only after this new group had settled in for the night is Sagiri confronted by the blunt truth from her former teacher Master Genji: with her being a woman of the Yamada clan, it is her duty not to play as samurai, but marry the next head and bear his children. Therefore, she should abandon her duty guarding the Hollow and return to the ship, and therefore go back home.
When the first volume of this violent tale was completed, it seemed the unsettling material might begin to dwindle in order to concentrate upon the underlying emphasis of the story, but mangaka Kaku-sensei has not relinquished his grip on the psychological thrills interwoven within this fascinating narrative, instead it has been intensified in order to captivate the audience. While we may have been initially repulsed by the cruelty of placing criminals and their monitors upon Jigokuraku, it is only now do we begin to understand the insight of each individual’s journey, and how freedom may not be the only reason they reluctantly agreed to this sadistic trip. Of course, we are fully aware of how much Gabimaru only wishes to return to his wife, but it is curiously surprising to see the depth of wondrous detail this writer has placed within people who may not survive until the end. Every notable criminal has an impact on the unfolding of thus sordid tale, however twisted their backgrounds may be, and while they may be undeniably cruel in how they chose to survive, they did so in unique ways which allow their actions to explode upon the page with bloody fascination and an equally grisly ending for these condemned murderers.
And yet while seeing the twisted religious monstrosities may be disturbing, what disgustingly stirs readers to the core is how Sagiri has been discriminated her whole life, constantly being told by everyone she is unsuited to be a samurai, and more importantly, an executioner. It is ironic she was born into the Yamada clan, a family renowned for their skill in killing the condemned, and while she may publicly be admired for her skills, it is thoroughly abominable to hear her own father is discouraged by the fact she was born a woman. To be scorned by her peers, shunned by those who knew she possessed a more indomitable spirit, admired by fellow members of the Asaemon, but all of these praises are for naught since she was the wrong sex. But what made it all the more impactful was the moving conversation between her and former teacher Master Genji, the insults traded by the man she admired, and yet the conclusion made all of the pain she endured over the years worth it, to finally have a meaningful resolution for herself and the instructor. You could not but shed a tear watching this finale, knowing she finally earned what she wanted the most – respect and a new path to conquer in order to become stronger within this world dominated by selfish men.
Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku constantly shocks with a fantastically brutal yet stunning artwork and a meaningful story that endlessly supplies readers with surprises that we would have not thought possible within such a violent tale. The nightmarishly beautiful images and frenetically exciting action scenes may be what initially draws the audience to this gruesome display, but it is the underlying complex character construction within this sadistic story which forces us to stay to see more. To witness Gabimaru and Sagiri become more than two-dimensional actors is moving, and while this current volume has unveiled more details to enthrall us, it is the hope for more fascinating interaction that keeps us coming back.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: Mature
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: May 19, 2020