Hell can be many things: a place of endless horrors and punishment, a black abyss devoid of God’s light, or simply other people. The infernal realm has inspired numerous literary works, comics, movies, and video games. An underground realm occupied by a grand hierarchy of demons, ready to inflict unspeakable tortures upon humanity… who wouldn’t want to write about that?
With the exception of a few episodes of Dragonball Z, I haven’t seen Hell depicted in Japanese manga and anime; the underworld is typically referenced more often than it is shown. There are stories with characters that are referred to as “demons,” but more often than not the term is nothing more than an easy label for antagonists. Although Hell is meant to be a place of suffering and pain, Love In Hell—not to be confused with the early work of Matt Groening—is a goofy comedy about one man’s attempt to make the most of eternal damnation.
Rintaro Senkawa isn’t particularly special. A bit of a slacker, Rintaro’s time on Earth is cut short when he falls from a balcony after a night of heavy drinking. Waking up naked in a vast wasteland, Rintaro is greeted by Koyori, a waifish demon who acts as his personal guide through Hell. As Hell’s newest soul, Rintaro will be forced to suffer through all the indignities the underworld has to offer. There is a glimmer of hope: with each punishment a soul endures, they move one step closer to being cleansed of sin and cast out of Hell—but given Rintaro’s aversion to pain, his path to redemption will be easier said than done.
Grim as its setting may be, that doesn’t stop Love In Hell from being goofy and fun—though this fun occurs at Rintaro’s expense, and his suffering is our entertainment. Rintaro is scammed by an elderly con man, stumbles into a sexually compromising position with a transgendered coworker, and is mutilated on numerous occasions. All these troubles work in his favor, however, as the trauma he experiences puts him on the road to leave Hell behind forever. Satan’s realm is modeled after human civilization, in which souls take jobs to earn money for goods, services, and penitence. As expected, the deck is stacked against the damned: basic necessities cost an exorbitant amount of cash, and the fastest way to earn it is through willing submission to a host of eager demons brandishing all sorts of deadly armaments. Amidst the chaos, Rintaro finds a friend in Yukihiko, a deviant whose love for sadomasochism makes him one of the wealthiest souls in Hell and a constant target for his devil mistress.
Love In Hell’s “fish out of water” story is definitely not for young readers due to its violent content and saucy scenes. Most of the sexual content is nothing too traumatic, though the scenes themselves may merit some eye rolling. For instance, when Rintaro first meets Koyori, he is enchanted by her fleshy horns and proceeds to rub them in a sexual way. The violence, on the other hand, can get pretty graphic—after all, this is Hell. In volume one, Rintaro’s head is knocked clean off with a spiked mace, his eyes are gouged out, and he is boiled alive in a hot lava spring. Unfortunately for Rintaro, all wounds inflicted in Hell are instantly healed, allowing souls to endure continual and unending punishment. Yukihiko is first introduced with his skin ripped off, turning him into an unidentifiable walking mass of muscle. When Rintaro is shown to the lava baths, the body of an elderly man melts away in gory chunks. Torn skin and crushed heads are one thing, but the book’s most unsettling scene of violence is inflicted upon a busty girl from Rintaro’s orientation class. When Rintaro attempts to woo her, their behavior warrants discipline and in the next few panels, a demon proudly displays the woman’s breasts in both hands after they’ve been pulled from her body. With the demon laughing at his own antics, we are meant to take it as a gag, but the panel is so unsettling that it may elicit a nervous chuckle at most.
While its violence is often shocking, Love In Hell is ultimately silly. I’m not certain whether the series has staying power since Rintaro can only take so much suffering before the schtick gets old. This volume ends without any compelling hooks or revelations concerning Rintaro’s condemnation to Hell, and with a story set in the most evil place in human imagination, is there any room for antagonists or conflict? Love In Hell has no problem making the most of its setting through sexuality and gory violence, but amusing as these moments can be, the manga runs the risk of wasting its potential without a compelling storyline to underscore its humor.
Love In Hell, Vol. 1
by Reiji Suzumaru
Seven Seas, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)