「死罪人と執行人」 (Shizaijin to Shikkounin)
“The Death Row Convict and the Executioner”

Even this season I couldn’t bring myself to call Jigokuraku a sleeper – it’s too well-known for that. Nevertheless for me it’s a bit of a middle-feeder, what with all the enormous competition from series I know in manga form and sequels to previous top 10 series. That said, despite having next to no familiarity with the manga or Kaku Yuuji, I had a tickle in my brain telling me this one was going to be good. The staff isn’t exceptional, MAPPA is as generically non-indicative of quality as studios get, and Kaku’s follow-up manga wasn’t especially well-loved. But I just had a feeling.

Well, it certainly is good. For a week at least, and there’s no reason to suspect it’s a mirage. While the look is pretty much standard MAPPA it suits the material well, and the production values seem fine so far at least. More importantly this is an interesting premise staged in an interesting way, with a premiere executed patiently and cleverly. I only have the anime to go on but I liked that there was a certain trust in the audience here, showing us instead of telling us what was happening for the most part.

Opening with a botched beheading is certainly a choice. There is a bit of explanation to it, but it was worth doing since most people don’t realize that beheadings by sword were typically gruesome and drawn-out (which is why the guillotine was intended as a merciful invention). The one being beheaded is Gabimaru (Kobayashi Chiaki), an Iwagakure ninja who claims to be tired of life and ready to die. His body says otherwise, however – much to the frustration of the local magistrate – and resists and any all attempts to kill it. One has to buy into the mythology of superhuman ninja here of course, but Jigokuraku is hardly the first manga to ask that of an audience.

The events of the episode are framed as an interview of Gabimaru by a chronicler named Asaemon Sagiri Yamada (Hanamori Yumiri). Gabimaru’s life story unspools: his parents were killed by the village chief, he learned the secrets of the Iwa ninja and eventually became the strongest in the clan. He marries the chief’s daughter (a married Jump protagonist is a rare thing to be sure) Yui (Noto Mamiko) and claims that he tried to leave the village because he hated his life with her. As Iwagakure ninja are not allowed to leave the clan under any circumstances, Gabimaru accepts his death sentence as just and proper. But his body keeps betraying him.

It’s pretty obvious that “Garan” (Hollow) Gabimaru is deceiving himself. Sagiri is deceiving him too of course – she’s actually a sword tester and professional executioner for the shogun. But her real purpose here is not to kill Gabimaru (though she could if he truly wanted it) – it’s to recruit him for a mission to Shinsenkyo, the mythical paradise which apparently in this reality is a real place somewhere south of Okinawa. The Shogun seeks the elixir of life purported to exist in Shinsenkyo, and after his search parties all met with gruesome fates, his plan is to send condemned prisoners to retrieve the elixir, earning themselves a pardon in the process. That’s the only possible path for Gabimaru to live peacefully with Yui, beyond the reach of his clan, so he accepts the challenge.

That’s a lot of content to pack into a first episode, but things didn’t feel rushed to me. Pacing is a concern, though. There’s no official episode count but it’s been strongly hinted that Hell’s Paradise will run for two split cours (24 episodes). That’s not an awful lot for a 13-volume WSJ manga, and I don’t know how well the series lends itself to the sort of compression that would be required to make that happen. Nevertheless the setup here is very interesting, and I found Gabimaru to be a pretty compelling figure to build a story around. It’s another contender in what’s shaping up to be an incredibly competitive battle for my time this season.


  1. The first 10, no 5 minutes felt like Kaimetsu no Yaiba meets Tokyo Ghoul meets Gintama with a hint of American blockbuster movie drama. I was so captivated—by Sagiri’s stoic fascination with Gabimaru’s sturdy body. That Gabimaru guy remains hard even at rest. (^_^ )

    What I found even more fascinating than Gabimaru’s love for his wife or the possible chance that Sagiri could harbor feelings for Gabimaru later on. Is this elixir of life the Anime brought up? I remember my old man telling me a bedtime story from when I was a kid that a bunch of Chinese people went to look for the elixir of life ordered by the feudal lord during the Han dynasty. This group found the elixir, and instead of taking it back, they defended the location and called it Japan. That was the most curious info he had. Afterward, all history on the Japanese were negative for no reason. We Canto people hold grudges for war crimes that were WAY before our time.

    Sorry for getting sidetracked. I can see Gabimaru in a polygamy relationship with his wife and Sagiri if she isn’t too stubborn with her love expectations.

  2. Yuji Kaku was a former assistant of Tatsuki Fujimoto (author of “Chainsaw Man”). Jigokuraku is part of the “Dark Trio” (dumb name I know) dubbed by many people on the Internet along with Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man because of the dark themes these series possessed. The best thing about “Hell’s Paradise” is definitely the characters (so many badass & likable characters) and a short story with a satisfying ending. You won’t be disappointed imo. Oh and the anime is confirmed for 13 episodes so I’m not sure if the split-cours rumor is true or not.

  3. I have not been following manga and anime for a while now. Sadly, I barely watch one anime per year. I did like jujutsu kaisen and someone mentioned this one was pretty good too but I had no heard of prior so I was quite surprised it caught my attention and that I really enjoyed the first episode.


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