Yuji Kaku’s Hell’s Paradise: Jigokaraku is a feat of body horror and action that stands alone in the field of seinen manga, so of course, MAPPA is adapting the series for the Spring Anime 2023 season. I mean, body horror, action, and beauty? That’s up their alley. If you’re unfamiliar, Hell’s Paradise is a series that takes the “prisoners get a shot at freedom by doing a deadly mission” trope and exaggerates it by having them fight their way through gods and monsters all for the vanity of the Shogun.
This concept is straightforward and by no means revolutionary on the surface. That said, Kaku’s story stands apart because of his brutal visuals that both disgust and delight. Not to mention a narrative that constantly twists around a vibrant ensemble cast that can die at any moment. For Hell’s Paradise Episode 1, director Kaori Makita takes time to build up the foundation that the ensuing series is built on. Here, we get to meet the center of the story, Gabimaru the Hollow, a disgraced shinobi and prisoner of the Shogunate. The strongest and most ruthless assassin, he welcomes death but can’t seem to die, no matter the form of execution. Each failed attempt is recorded by a mysterious woman and his future executioner: Asaemon Sagiri.
After failing to die, Gabimaru receives a pardon on behalf of the Shogunate, but with a catch. In order to have get his freedom he has to retrieve the Elixir of Life from a sinister island known as the Other Side. Taking time to build the lore, MAPPA uses a watercolor style to paint the mysterious island. As we learn about the Other Side, the watercolor gives way as we see the fate that waits for those who attempt to take the elixir from the island.
The fantasy of Hell’s Paradise Episode 1, while small, is notable. How MAPPA has animated one of the most recognizable scenes from the manga solidifies that there was no other studio to do justice to Kaku’s work. Against a dark blue palette, two discover the boat with vibrant, almost glowing flowers spilling out. The petals cut the cool-toned night and reveal a body turned into a garden. It’s a striking visual that I questioned being rendered in full color, and it hits (if only it hadn’t been featured in the trailer).
But the visuals aren’t all that MAPPA hits. They also nail introductions, setting the stage slowly. Here we learn about who Gabimaru is beyond a man on death row. Despite claiming to be hollowed out, he’s a husband who feels deeply. Additionally, Asaemon Sagiri is stoic, strong, and one of the few women in her profession. Their introductions bring audiences into the fold, only the slowness of Hell’s Paradise Episode 1 doesn’t capture the absolute insanity that is to come. This slow descent into the monstrous chaos may pay off in the long run, but we’ll have to wait to see.
Ultimately, Hell’s Paradise Episode 1 is a stage-setting episode that lowers the audience into the shallow end of what mangaka Kaku has to offer. There is no studio more fitting to adapt Yuji Kaku’s nightmare than MAPPA, and they prove that with this episode. While the slow pace leaves a little to be desired, I can’t wait to see more.
Hell’s Paradise Episode 1 is streaming April 1, 2023 on Crunchyroll with new episodes every Saturday.
Hell's Paradise Episode 1
Hell’s Paradise Episode 1 is a stage-setting episode that lowers the audience into the shallow end of what mangaka Kaku has to offer. That said, there is no studio more fitting to adapt Yuji Kaku’s nightmare than MAPPA, and they prove that with this episode.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.