Review: Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku Vol 1
Yuji Kaku's Hell's Paradise is a strange combination of violent action, supernatural horror, and dark comedy. The story follows Gabimaru the Hollow, a ninja assassin who's been sentenced to death. The problem is, he just can't die. Swords break against his neck, fire won't immolate him, and the oxen just can't tear him apart. And the trick is, he wants to die. Or does he?
Gabimaru is confronted by a sword tester, Yamada Asaemon Sagiri, an executioner for the shogun. Confronted with her skill, Gabimaru comes to the conclusion that he does want to live so that he may see his wife again.
What follows is the start of an interesting relationship as she takes Gabimaru to partake in a quest. The shogun wants a group of criminals to go to Shinsenkyo, a revered holy realm where an elixir of immortality may reside.
The trick is, every mission the shogun has sent has disappeared, with unspeakable horrors returning.
The core push of the story follows ten of the worst criminals, murders, and monsters being paired with 10 executioners to go on a suicide mission into 'paradise'. As one would expect, it quickly becomes a free-for-all as criminals and executioners alike have different plans for this quest. And of course, new lands they discover are fraught with dangers and all sorts of weird ass creatures.
The story moves at a brisk but well structured pace, setting up the principal characters nicely while giving us a healthy balance of murderous violence and plenty of body horror. Gabimaru and Sagiri make for an interesting duo as they are continually trying to figure each other out. Despite his reputation and terrible skills, Gabimaru is an affable character who genuinely wants to move away from being a hollow, emotionless killer. Sagiri meanwhile is trying to reconcile with the burden of killing and overcoming her fear, and as she spends more time with Gabimaru she starts to change her perspectives on how to do so.
The art is incredibly crisp and detailed, offering kinetic action scenes, a strong compositional flow, and emotive faces and body language that support the storytelling. From story to script to art, this is a really engaging first volume and well worth checking out if you want an action/horror piece that you would assume would be as hollow in humanity as its main character claims to be but is chock full of interesting moral and ethical quandaries.
And then people getting horribly murdered.