「弱さと強さ / 地獄と極楽」 (Yowasa to Tsuyosa / Jigoku to Gokuraku)
“Weakness and Strength / Hell and Paradise”
I suspect there are a lot of seasons – maybe most – where Jigokuraku would be a heavy favorite to make the cut. But this season, especially this day of the week, I’m on the fence. I see a lot here I like but my overall impression remains strongly that Hell’s Paradise has a split personality. Sometimes it’s subtle and even pushing profound, sometimes it’s juvenile and simplistic. It almost strikes me as a case where the writer is pushing in one direction and the editor in another, but I have absolutely zero evidence to back that up – it’s just a gut reaction.
One thing I will say is that this whole arrangement of executioners and criminals as tag teams on this mission is kind of a silly one. Indeed I agree with the Asaemon Kicho that Sagiri is being ridiculous telling Gabimaru to keep his hands bound, but it points up the absurdity of the whole mission. How are these poor crims supposed to succeed in a place like this with their hands tied in the first place? And what, truly, is to prevent them from trying to kill their minders the first chance they get? Sagiri can’t force Gabimaru to keep those bonds on, and no one in their right mind would think he will.
But silly as it is, this is still kind of an interesting situation. And Shinsekyo feels like a sneak preview of the Dark Continent, which most of us don’t believe the characters in Hunter X Hunter will ever actually get to. Gabirmaru’s situation is dealt with in a slightly heavy-handed way, but there is genuine pathos to it. Him not wanting to kill Sagiri is obviously important for his character, though it does ring a bit hollow (no pun intended) given how easily he kills other people. Yeah, yeah, I know – his face is in pain when he’s doing it, Sagiri tells us. But actions speak louder than worlds.
I hope this is the last we hear about those ropes (it’s just dumb). And I do look forward to more spotlight for the other criminals and executioners, assuming any of them live long enough for it to matter. Tamiya Gantetsusai and his minder Fuchi (who looks even younger than Gabimaru) get some focus here, as he’s the first one we see being victimized by the island’s residents. In his case it’s a human-faced butterfly (watch those butterflies, boy) that seems to be the source of what we saw in the “survivor” back in Japan. Tamiya cuts off his own hand to save his life, but that’s quite a handicap (pun intended) to give yourself.
I can see some intriguing paths for Jigokuraku to take here, not least Gabimaru trying to live up to his wife’s ideals for him while on a mission where he has to ignore them to have any chance to survive. But that tug of war between this series’ two sides worries me, because you never know who’s going to win (including maybe neither, will the show continuing to jerk back and forth for its entire run). I’m far from ready to bail or even put Hell’s Paradise on probation, but it has some work to do to close the sale.
I’m very much on the fence with Jigokuraku, though I did find this episode to be probably the best since the premiere. I have no qualms with straight up battle series but they can be difficult to write about if there’s no thematic underpinning with some depth. There is here, but the question is more about how much the series will pursue it.
This episode was really about establishing the other pairs – or groups, as the case may be. They’re presumably going to be critical to whatever mileage Hell’s Paradise has, since Gabi and Yamada can’t carry the whole narrative on their own. They do have their part to play, doing battle with a circle of giant deities and that fish thing. The fact that these monsters all appear to be religiously themed (mostly Buddhist with some Taoism thrown in) would seem to indicate a mystical nature to the island, but they certainly bleed like living creatures (and this show does love its rains of blood).
Whether the three other pairs focused on here are the “main” pairs or just the first, I don’t know. We met Gantetsutsai and his young minder Fuchi already, and now the kunoichi Yuzuriha joins the party as Gabi is finishing off his monsters (the headline being his having taken the time to save Yamada). Yuzuriha is a lot to take, to be honest – she’s already pretty grating. Her two Asaemon are the bookish Senta and Genji, who ported over after she killed the criminal he was assigned to (because she seduced him, obviously).
Most interesting to me were the Aza brothers, Choubei and Touma. In Kimura Ryouhei and Ono Kensho you have two really good seiyuu playing the Aza, with Kimura’s Choubei being the elder. Touma infiltrated the Asaemon specifically to get assigned to his brother and join him on this quest, and while Choubei’s so-called philosophy is a bit shallow, the character has a fair bit of charisma. I’m curious to see what happens with these two.
Whatever the hell is going on here – the monsters can talk, interestingly enough – Yuzuriha is probably right in that the main danger comes from the bugs. And Fuchi is right that this whole operation kind of doesn’t make sense on any level, which is somewhat concerning but it is nice to have an on-screen character acknowledge that. If Fuchi’s position on the matter is aligned with Kaku Yuuji’s, I”d have more confidence in the latter’s intentions to steer this story in an interesting direction.