INTERVIEW: Subverting Shonen Tropes with Alejandro Saab and Marisa Duran

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Hell's Paradise Gabimaru — But Why Tho (1)

Based on mangaka Yuji Kaku’s action-horror-fantasy series Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, MAPPA and Twin Engine kicked off the Fall Anime 2023 season with a firey blast. In the series, the audience follows a group of condemned convicts who are tasked to find and bring back the elixir of life from a dangerous island to the Shogunate. With an assigned executioner, the pairs realize that the elixir of life isn’t going to save them if the island gets to them first. But even with this premise, Hell’s Paradise also offers up unique characters, particularly in its dynamic leads Gabimaru the Hollow and his executioner, the Yamada Asaemon, Sagiri.

We got the chance to talk to Alejandro Saab and Marisa Duran, the English voice actors who bring Gabimaru and Sagiri to life (respectively) in the Hell’s Paradise English dub. We talk about the larger themes of the series, what it’s like to reunite after another hit, Horimiya, and ultimately how this series takes Shonen tropes and flips them on their head.

 This interview was transcribed and edited for length and clarity. 

BUT WHY THO: So my opening question is, were you two familiar with the manga before taking on the roles? Were you pulled to the characters in any special ways?

MARISA DURAN: That’s the best question! So I didn’t know anything about the manga previously. But when I saw the trailer drop in Japanese, the animation was so beautiful. And I remember hearing Sagiri’s voice and thinking like, “Oh, that’s like within my vocal range!” I could feasibly play that I mean never in 1 million years thought it would happen. Then, when I got the email that I was cast, I immediately bought all of the manga volumes. I’m slowly but surely making my way through them. I don’t want to read too far ahead because then I’ll forget what I’ve read.

ALEJANDRO SAAB: Same thing here, I wasn’t familiar with it before [being cast], I had seen the art but that’s as far as I got. But as soon as I got the email, I read the whole thing. I’m now caught up, and I’m super excited.

BUT WHY THO: So you two play our leads, Gabimaru and Sagiri, and they are really impressive in terms of having their own dynamic stories. What do you love about your character that you can’t wait for people to unpack?

MARISA DURAN: I love that Sagiri takes what you might expect from your typical shonen female lead, and completely flips those expectations upside down. First and foremost, the relationship between her and Gabimaru is completely platonic, and I feel like most of the time it ends up being a romantic relationship between leads. But here, we just get to see the friendship and how the two of them help one another, discover who they truly are.

Sagiri is also constantly dealing with the men in her life, and she is taking the expectations that society is placed on her, and all of the gender stereotypes and norms that are expected. And she flips them on their head. It’s interesting because I’ve been able to take some of my own life experiences and things that I’ve dealt with. Then I use those to inform my reads as Sagiri, and it makes a character mean so much more to me. I’m really hoping that those moments and those scenes resonate with the audience, too.

ALEJANDRO SAAB: Yeah, I mean, for me, one of my favorite things about Gabimaru is that he’s different. You know his whole driving force in this thing isn’t getting power it isn’t necessarily that he is seeking the elixir of life. He wants to go home. He wants to be with his wife! What other Shonen Jump protag wants to do that? It’s such a change of pace, and I love it. I’m at the point in my life where that is me. I’m traveling so much going back and forth, that I just want to go home and be with my partner. I relate to it wholeheartedly, and you know it’s what I love. He’ll do anything to get back and it doesn’t matter who’s in his way. But at the same time, he’s learning about his own emotions. He’s learning that he doesn’t like killing. He’s just been told to kill for his whole life. It’s just insane just seeing this progression. And he’s learning all this because of his relationship with Sagiri. It’s so cool to see his evolution.

Gabimaru and his wife in Hell's Paradise episode 1

BUT WHY THO: That’s one of the things that makes MAPPA’s adaptation of this so incredibly awesome. Right off the bat and in the opening episodes, we get chances to dive into both Gabimaru and Sagiri’s backgrounds. What are some of your favorite moments that you got to voice and bring to life?

ALEJANDRO SAAB: For me, like in the very first episode, it was watching Gabimaru just losing it. You don’t know anything about [Gabimaru] and just see him wailing. I remember Cassie, was walking into the Booth, who was also in the show, as I’m recording that, and they were like “Oh God!” But it was because it’s, you know how much he shows. He is still in the mindset of “I want to die.” He’s thinking “It’s fine, I have nothing in this world,” but he was just lying to himself. Getting to record that was so fun.

MARISA DURAN: I love that in episode two we get to see so much of Sagiri’s backstory, and you learn what she experienced as a kid. It all definitely led to her being the way that she is. We see that you know, she was essentially bullied because she came from a family of neck choppers, as they call it. There’s a a really beautiful moment—it’s actually a panel that came straight from the manga—you see her as a little kid fighting back with this rock, and then you see it flip back to current Sagiri, and she’s getting ready with the blade. She’s decides, “I’m going to decide my own fate.” And that line for me was so powerful to record in the booth. I get teary thinking about it because it was just. It’s such an important moment. And it was really cool to be able to record it.

BUT WHY THO: The things that you all are touching on with your characters are really what makes this story powerful, and not like a lot of the other Shonen we see. For you, Marissa, Sagiri flips her tropes on their head. And for you Alejandro, you’re Gabimaru and he’s a protagonist who is a wife guy isn’t common. I mean, even Goku isn’t a Wife Guy. Maybe Vegeta is the most wife guy in anime? But Gabimaru has his number. What is it like for both of you to be a part of something that is extremely different from the usual?

MARISA DURAN: Man, I don’t even know how to explain it because I never in a million years thought that I would be sitting here right now, being able to even discuss this. It was so unexpected when I got that email saying that I had been cast. I love that this role is so different from every other shonen woman. To be able to play someone who is so fiercely independent and stubborn but also, you know, kind of hilarious in her own way. Exploring her character and going on this journey with her has been an honor, and I’m really excited to continue.

ALEJANDRO SAAB: I’m still laughing about the Goku and Vegeta comment. [laughs] It’s weird because I was a Shonen Jump kid. I would read the Weekly Shonen Jump, I mean I’d go to my grocery store to buy the fat boys to like read whatever was on there. So getting to play someone that is so different is interesting because, as I said, he’s not out for power. He’s not out for the big adventure, he just really wants to go home. I know that all that may not resonate with everyone that wants in a shonen lead. Some people want that power-hungry, that murderer, or you know, the cool guy that just is about to get another transformation, and I get that. But there’s a good amount of people that are like, “Wow! What a breath of fresh air!”

Sometimes you need that thing, you know? You need that thing to change it up because you can’t be eating chicken and rice every day. Sometimes you want to have a little bit, of something else. You want to maybe have steak or salmon, I don’t know, but I do love it. I am a sucker for the Shonen Jump power-ups, but it’s also cool seeing someone that isn’t looking for the power-ups as a single purpose. It’s to get to a when he loves.

Hell's Paradise Gabimaru and Sagiri

BUT WHY THO: This is also not your first time voicing together in a genre-pushing anime. Both of you, or also the leads of Horimiya, and that is also one of my favorites when it comes to romances. What’s it like to be leading a series together again?

MARISA DURAN: It’s been the craziest and best adventure, having, you know, played opposite each other before. It’s comforting to be able to step foot in the booth this time around and know that my scene partner is going to deliver a stellar performance that I can then react to. There’s a level of trust there that I will never take for granted.

I love that Gabimaru and Sagiri have such a different dynamic to their relationship than Hori and me and Miyamura. And yet there’s still this kind of like this witty banter every now and then. That is kind of reminiscent of Horimiya; only it’s just delivered in a completely different way because Gabimaru and Sagiri have completely different personalities.

ALEJANDRO SAAB: He’s sassy! He’s sassy to Sagiri, and I kind of love it. I love those moments because there is a gentleness to it, you know? It’s like there’s a friendship between us, and that chemistry is already there, and I feel like that helps a lot between us. With Horimiya, I feel like how Marisa and I were getting to know each other during the show, and Miyamura and Hori themselves were also getting to know each other. As the show progressed, we again got to know each other even more.

But here it’s like, yes, again know each other. But the friendship is kind of like fate? It’s so weird to describe because it’s not, but it has that feeling of “This was bound to happen.” You’ve been caught, but I’m presenting you with this thing that can solve all your issues, and the friendship is being built. But we have that repertoire already to make it more grounded, you know?

BUT WHY THO: That it’s really awesome to hear, and I think it’s it’s kind of that’s the first time I’ve heard of people kind of taking into consideration. Knowing that the person on the other side is going to have that energy, I wanted to ask, what is it like to record alone in a booth but think about the people around you that you’re going to be fitting into your scene, or how they will be fitting to you?

MARISA DURAN: When I saw the cast announcement come out, I was immediately like Mike did a fabulous job with this one because I could immediately hear the voices of every single character in my head. That’s incredibly cool, and it just goes to show how excellent Mike is when it comes to casting and directing. Obviously getting to work with Alejandro again. It’s like I step into the booth, and I never know if I’m the one recording for first or if he has, so I may or may not have his performance to react to. But I could hear how he was going to deliver his lines in my head to a certain extent, which is incredibly reassuring, and also kind of bizarre. But I’m incredibly grateful for that. It’s been a great journey so far.

ALEJANDRO SAAB: Yeah, Marissa, I just pretty much said everything I would.

Hell's Paradise Gabimaru — But Why Tho (3)

BUT WHY THO: So when it comes to the acting pieces for each of your characters, are there any specific things that you’re changing about your voice or choosing to do with your performance, maybe physically, to really embody that character?

ALEJANDRO SAAB: For Gabimaru, it depends on the scene. But something I like to do is try to match where his hands are. So like for episode two when he’s, you know, his hands are bound in, you know, in episode three when his hands are bound in the beginning, I try to like record ball like having my hands like this. It kind of gives a bit of a physicality to it. But when it comes to like warm-ups or anything, I just listen to music to get into the certain vibe of it. And you know, if I’m really tired.

MARISA DURAN: I have to give huge credit to Mike again because I naturally have a pretty varied inflection and my pitch. But Sagirir is very much flat and calm, cool and collected. So Mike really worked with me a lot for the episodes, one in particular, to make sure that we got just the right tone and just the right inflection for Sagiri, so that it doesn’t sound like me necessarily, but it’s still my tone. It’s been fun. I’ve learned that I really can’t drink a whole ton of coffee before I record for her, or Im too jittery, and like I speak too fast, so I I’ve really had to learn to kind of like flatten out my reads with her. But there’s still also a way to do that while making it interesting and not boring. It’s been a really fun challenge.

BUT WHY THO: So outside of your own characters, do you have any other favorite characters in the ensemble cast for Hell’s Paradise?

ALEJANDRO SAAB: It’s just. I always forget his name, but I wanna say the blonde dude.

BUT WHY THO: Oh, Chobe?

ALEJANDRO SAAB: No, not him.

BUT WHY THO: It’s the one that’s assigned to Nurugai Right?

ALEJANDRO SAAB: I read it all about a month ago, but I’m so forgetful names they escape me until I see them in front of me. But yeah, I’m in love with that guy. I love that guy, and I’m so excited that Ben Balmaceda is playing him.



MARISA DURAN: For me, I was gonna say Jordan Cruises character whose name escapes me too. He’s an Asaemon and I don’t know why—


MARISA DURAN: Yes! He’s a sweetheart.

BUT WHY THO: Wow, yeah, those are really good choices and something that I’m like really happy to hear because when I have met folks who read Hell’s Paradise, they’re usually focused on the convicts. So it’s really cool to hear those choices.

ALEJANDRO SAAB: The convicts are great! Especially the Dragon Sword Convict. But I love [Tenza]. He’s best boy.

Hell's Paradise Episode 2 — But Why Tho - Gabimaru and Sagiri

BUT WHY THO: What do you want people to think at the end of the season?

ALEJANDRO SAAB: I want people to think from my character that whatever you set your mind to be as determined as Gabimaru. Like whatever tribulations you go through, whether you’re trying to achieve something, whether it’s career-related life related: do whatever it takes. Wait, I mean, but you know, don’t go killing people like Gabimaru. Just you know, within reason. [laughs]

MARISA DURAN: I would say that showing emotion is not a sign of weakness is a sign of strength. That really spoke to me. At the end of the day, I think this is a story that comes back down to love and how what people are willing to do for what they love. And also that you should know that what society tells you doesn’t have to be who you are.

Hell’s Paradise airs exclusively every Saturday on Crunchyroll.

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