Samurai and ninja are staples in manga. Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku has both. This horror/action manga is set in Edo Period Japan and centers around a ninja assassin named Gabimaru. Raised from childhood to be a cold-blooded killer, Gabimaru is called “the Hollow” for the lack of emotion he shows towards his profession.
When we meet him, he has been betrayed by his companions and captured. Facing a death sentence from the Shogun’s most skilled executioners, the Yamada Clan, Gabimaru turns out to be surprisingly difficult to execute–and believe me, they TRY. The irony is that Gabimaru has a death wish.
But the one thing keeping Gabimaru clinging to this world is his sweet, peace-loving wife. And he is offered a deal which may allow him to return to her. He just needs to agree to go on a suicide mission to a mysterious, mystical island to recover an ancient elixir of immortality for the Shogun. And he has to do it with a group of murderous criminals, watched over by a Yamada executioner who is under orders to kill him if he steps out of line.
There are certainly shades of Blade of the Immortal (BotA) in Hell’s Paradise. But unlike Manji, Gabimaru isn’t on a quest for redemption. He’s already been redeemed by the love of a good woman. He just has to do this job to get back to her. The character on a quest, is actually his executioner—Sagiri Yamada, a rare female Decapitator Asaemon. Her skills with the sword are unparalleled, but she lacks confidence and is seeking validation in this dangerous mission.
Sagiri and Gabibaru are forced into an uneasy alliance. The Island, called Shinsenkyo, appears to be a paradise but it is filled with bizarre monsters and strange horrors that have killed every single man the Shogun has sent to the place, which is why he decided to give a motley array of deranged death row inmates a shot.
I can’t help but keep comparing this manga to BotA, which is a bit unfair as BotA is one of the greatest samurai manga ever made, and is enjoying a resurgence due to a successful, second anime series shown in early 2020 on Amazon Prime as well as upcoming deluxe hardcover omnibus editions coming out. Hell’s Paradise has its own style. Mangaka Yuji Kaku is a skilled artist. The fight scenes flow and the characters are well designed.
The plot is fast-paced without a lot of exposition. But it’s easy enough to figure out who’s who in this deadly mission. My only disappointment with this manga is the text. Gabimaru’s speech seems ultra-modern and more than a little smart assed. While Sagiri’s speech is a little more formal, in line with a historical manga. This may be a lack in the translation.
While it’s difficult for any samurai manga to creep out of BotA’s shadow, Hell’s Paradise has some things going for it. The plot is more straightforward, without the Machiavellian politics of its predecessor. It’s also less dark. It’s violent, yes. Full of bloodshed and some body horror, but lacking in the pure sadism and twisted sexual violence of BotA. That said, Hell’s Paradise is still marked for explicit content and is better suited to an adult collection, but might be of interest to older teen readers.
The first volume certainly makes me want to keep reading to see what happens. The first two volumes are currently available in Viz’s Signature line, with a slightly larger format.
Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, Volume 1
By Yuji Kaku
Viz Media, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Japanese