WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku, Volume 1, which contains Chapters 1-6 on the Shonen Jump app.
Many heads roll in the first volume of Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku, and while it's an absolute bloodbath through and through, it's not your average, run-of-the-mill horror manga. With fantasy, lore, and a character that's seeking redemption, there is plenty of substance mixed throughout the carnage. It's clever, psychologically stimulating, and extremely well-executed. The latter being quite ironic, because Gabimaru's execution didn't go well at all. Even though I'm months behind its release, I am glad I finally got around to giving this one a chance.
While I love shonen, I've been in search of something that's more brazen in its approach for quite some time; Something different, something more graphic and bloody, but still has an interesting story. Luckily, I got that this month with the release of Chainsaw Man, but I'm happy to add Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku to the list as well. This comes as no surprise really though, because Yuji Kaku previously worked as an assistant to Tatsuki Fujimoto, the creator of both Fire Punch and Chainsaw Man. For me, Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku feels like a shonen, but at other times, it feels very much like a seinen. With that said, it falls somewhere in the middle of the two for me, and as a fan of both, I really appreciate this about the series.
Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku initially hooked me with introduction of Gabimaru the Hollow, who's painted as this heartless, bloodthirsty killer, but you learn deep down he's anything but. It is true that he is fearsome and will cut down any and all who stand in his way, but only when provoked or put in a position where it's kill or be killed. That is then of course paralleled with the way he kills, which is pretty gruesome to say the least. There's a stone-cold nature to Gabimaru that has been engrained in him due to his upbringing, but that coldness within him is thawing thanks to the warmth and love he feels for his wife. He's offered a second chance and you really push for him to get the normal life he desires.
There's also Sagiri, who's story takes a forefront in the first volume. Like Gabimaru, she is an interesting character with depth, and while she grew up with a very different life than he did, both have similar demons and both lead lives surrounded by death. Both are sanctioned to kill by others; The only difference being that Sagiri is doing so in accordance with the law as an executioner from the Yamada clan. Both also carry the weight of those they've killed, but while Sagiri is pulled down by them, Gabimaru trudges on eventually accepting the burden that's been given to him. She respects this about him and realizes his willingness to change, which creates a unique and interesting dynamic between the two. These two are partnered together when they venture to the island of Shinsenkyo, and it is their interactions together that show just how blurry the line between those who are seen as good and bad can be.
Even though the art in Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku features some gruesome content, I still find Yuji Kaku's art style to be beautiful. The way he depicts certain scenes is really impactful and the story could be told alone through his art. With such amazing illustrations, I always worry that the story-telling won't be on the same level, but that's not the case here. Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku is visually-appealing, but it also has a gripping story, and it's one of the few manga as of late that has excelled in both areas.
There's a strong emphasis in this world between hell and paradise, and as you learn with the island of Shinsenkyo, more often than not, what is seen as a paradise is often hell. Similarly, the line between a blessing and a curse is sometimes very thin. In Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku, people are in search of the fabled elixir that grants ever-lasting life. Immortality is thought to be a blessing, but in all reality, it is more so a curse. It is this constant search for immortality that continues to draw people to this island, where those who are "lucky" enough to survive return with lumps and various flora growing out of their body. While terrifying, they return, as odd as this sounds, looking like "art installations" crafted by a psychopath, like those you'd see from murderer Rikako Oryo in Psycho Pass. These scenes really drive home just how dangerous and horror-filled this place is. And who better to send to explore this unknown, unforgiving island than a bunch of criminals that were going to be executed anyways?
Of course, with criminals being unleashed on this island all with same goal, there's bound to be some chaos. We got some brief glimpses of this in the first volume with some criminals forming alliances while others attempted and some succeeded to kill off their competition. But, it seems that the other criminals are the last of their worries with the introduction of that monster at the end of Volume 1. The island is full of unknown terrors, and the mystery it holds keeps me reading, but it's the emotional moments you get from characters, like Gabimaru and Sagiri, that have me hooked even more. One of its major appeals is the sheer amount of violence that occurs in this series, but the story is never sacrificed by any means. As a result, Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku is one of my favorite manga releases to debut this year and I'm excited to catch up on the volumes that have been released so far!
Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku released in Japan in 2018, but the first volume wasn't released in the United States until March of 2020. You can check out more about the series on Viz's site here!