Based on mangaka Yuji Kaku’s manga of the same name, Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku is off to a stellar start. With the foundation laid in the first two episodes, Hell’s Paradise Episode 3 is where everything starts. After landing on the beautiful and vibrant island, engulfed by flowers, the danger is immediately clear, although it’s not from the wildlife. They have a few simple rules with each condemned criminal paired with a Yamada Aseamon. Don’t run, and don’t unbind your hands. While Sagiri is strict on these for her charge, Gabimaru, and other Yamada Asaemon have chosen a completely neutral stance. Neither enemy nor ally, some allow their charges to kill their competition while standing on the side.
As can be expected from a story dealing with killers, the danger isn’t only the island, but the other criminals. In Hell’s Paradise Episode 3 it becomes clear that the first order of business is to wipe the slate of anyone not strong enough to hold their place. The criminals kill each other. The Asaemon kill criminals. The criminals kill their Asaemon. Like the manga, these moments are presented with little context or explanation, only as deeds done to set the stage. Instead, MAPPA is more concerned with fleshing out Gabimaru the Hollow and Sagiri as the two face their first opponent and then each other.
Gabimaru is the deadliest warrior we’ve seen. A former shinobi, we have seen his body burned, quartered, and attempted to behead, and he still stands. Last episode, we saw him eviscerate those trying to kill him. But here, in Hell’s Paradise Episode 3, Gabimaru is docile. He brings humor and levity and his small stature makes it so that any idea of him being a threat only lives in words spoken about him and not his body.
When he’s challenged and kills the other criminal with ease, we get a small taste of battle, but MAPPA, like Kaku was in his manga, is more focused on showing the audience the shocking results instead of the fight itself. While some may be frustrated that they didn’t get to see the full first fight, the choice allows the audience to remain in awe of Gabimaru. Because we don’t get to see his full-out violence, only his defensive action and humor, we can stay connected to him. Like Kenshin Himura before him, the balance between alluding to great and violent skill is more effective than MAPPA showing us one of their detailed fight sequences, no matter how much we as an audience want to see it. That makes his switch to attacking Sagiri carry more weight and allows the flashbacks that tell his backstory to resonate as legend as much as character history.
Hell’s Paradise Episode 3 does a great job of setting up the internal battle that Gabimaru is undergoing and has been in since he met his wife. While he believes himself hollow, the truth is that he isn’t. Despite vowing to kill Sagiri to get an edge on finding the Elixir of Life, he can’t land the killing blow. His mind says kill, but his body shows “weakness,” pulling back his hand and bouncing his blade instead of taking a life that should be easy, given the other altercations we’ve seen in the series so far. While the characters make this explicit in dialogue, MAPPA’s ability to animate Kaku’s panels of internal struggle and the specter of the leader of Iwagakure on his shoulder. A push to be hollow is a push towards strength, but with Sagiri, Gabimaru can begin to push back against that assertion.
In just over 20 minutes, Hell’s Paradise Episode 3 manages to add depth to its lead characters and introduce the danger on the island at the same time. MAPPA is able to deliver character moments, action, and a larger connection to where the series will go expertly. At the episode’s end, the choice to show a glimpse of what the island has to offer in terms of creatures helps pull you into the series for the fantasy and horror it has to offer. Butterflies with human faces. Fish creatures with six arms. Centipedes with flailing hands as pincers. All of it is unsettling and just a taste of what’s to come. The horrors of the island are boundless and grand, and now that Sagiri and Gabimaru have established their relationship, everything is set for them to explore it, fight it, and hopefully find the Elixir of Life.
While I’m not a fan of continually bringing up past work to define the studio, MAPPA’s work on Chainsaw Man is vital to understanding how they have tackled Hell’s Paradise so far and where it will go in the future. Character may come first, while emotion and connection are built between the audience and the leads, but the horror isn’t far behind. That was true for Kaku’s manga, like Tatsuki Fujimoto’s and it’s true for how MAPPA approaches adapting the work as well.
Hell’s Paradise Episode 3 shows that MAPPA is here to give everything I wanted from the adaptation of a manga that I list in my top of all time. It’s emotional and fantastical and adds just enough horror to make everything, even in its vibrancy, infinitely ominous as well. MAPPA is the only studio that could have captured the complexity of balancing fantasy, action, horror, and drama, all while embracing graphic violence and vibrant landscapes.
Hell’s Paradise Episode 3 is streaming on Crunchyroll, with new episodes every Saturday.
Hell’s Paradise Episode 3 shows that MAPPA is here to give everything I wanted from the adaptation of a manga that I list in my top of all time. It’s emotional and fantastical and adds just enough horror to make everything, even in its vibrancy, infinitely ominous as well.
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.