The Spring 2023 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Hell's Paradise ?
Community score: 4.3
How would you rate episode 2 of
Hell's Paradise ?
Community score: 4.3
What is this?
Gabimaru the Hollow is one of the most vicious assassins ever to come out of the ninja village of Iwagakure. He's ruthlessly efficient, but a betrayal results in him being handed a death sentence. He has only one hope—in order to earn his freedom, he must travel to a long-hidden island and recover an elixir that will make the shogun immortal. Failure is not an option. On this island, heaven and hell are just a hair's breadth away.
Hell's Paradise is based on Yūji Kaku's Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku manga and streams on Netflix and Crunchyroll on Saturdays.
How was the first episode?
The Preview Guide reviewers were given an early screener of Hell's Paradise's first episode and were allowed to share their impressions before the premiere.
Tuck Everlasting taught me immortality might not be worth it. Hell's Paradise starts out looking like it plans to take the same approach before abruptly shifting gears. Or rather, it appears to shift gears: Gabimaru, nicknamed “The Hollow” in a non-Bleach sense, looks like he can't die and doesn't care. Beheading, burning, rending him limb-from-limb…none of it leaves so much as a scratch. There's a sense that he thinks he'd like to die, but when push comes to shove, and he finds himself in genuine danger, he realizes that such is not the case. The reason? He loves his wife.
Apart from being really sweet, this also shifts the conversation. It's not that immortality would be awful; it's that eternal life without her would be enough to turn Gabimaru into the hollow shell of the man he's rumored to be. His wife makes his life worth living, and the threat of never seeing her again is enough to make him fight back, while the promise of a reunion if he does this one little thing for the shogun restores his vigor. Along with firmly establishing Gabimaru as a wife guy (and thus removing the possibility of Sagiri the executioner/sword tester as a romantic interest), it also sets up the plot to be one of Gabimaru seeking to hold on to his humanity, which was the gift his wife gave him. He's hoping Sagiri isn't lying about her being alive and waiting for him.
For an opening episode of a story about a killer, this isn't at all reliant upon gore. There are frank descriptions of Edo-era execution methods, but if you've ever read early versions of fairy tales, even the worst one – being pulled apart by bulls – won't be anything new since that's a common punishment for wicked queens in The Brothers Grimm's work. Mostly it's used to showcase Gabimaru's invincibility and later, just how skilled Sagiri is by contrast. The image that unsettled me the most was of the twisted, ruined bodies in the boats that returned from Shinsenkyo, the eponymous paradise. Covered in exquisite blossoms that stand out all the more because of the otherwise muted color palette, the juxtaposition of grey corpse bits among the blooms is jarring and very effective.
This has potential, mainly if it hews relatively close to the source manga. This episode introduces just enough mystery to make up for some of the less elegant elements (Gabimaru's past feels a little clumsily done), and it's at the very least worth the old three-episode test.
Given everything I'd heard and seen of Hell's Paradise before watching its premiere, I was surprised by the first episode's tone and pace. Lacking any of the propulsive action or creative visuals that I'd glimpsed from the trailers, the premiere of Hell's Paradise instead opts to chain its protagonist to a wall for thirty minutes so that the show can get basically all of the necessary exposition out of the way up front. Granted, when we finally do get to understand what this show is going to be about by the time the episode ends, it's a solid enough premise for an action anime like this one: Gabimaru the Hollow is a disaffected shinobi who has been condemned to death, and he discovers that the only way he can earn himself a pardon and be reunited with his beloved wife is to hunt for the fabled Elixer of Life, which just so happens to reside in the legendary spirit world of Shinsenkyo.
Now, I just explained virtually everything you need to know about the setup of Hell's Paradise in a single sentence, so you probably won't be surprised to learn that we don't need to spend a full half-hour drawing out that explanation over Gabimaru and Yamada's somewhat repetitive interrogation scenes. Sure, all of that extra time gets to show us the story's other big hook, which is that Gabimaru is nigh immortal thanks to his fancy ninja powers, but that honestly isn't all that big of a deal in the grand scheme of shonen manga adaptations. I commend the episode's attempt to make the reveal of Gabimaru's invulnerability interesting by demonstrating a bunch of period-accurate execution methods in gruesome detail. Still, the vague mystery of who Gabimaru is and why he is so impervious to harm doesn't necessarily substitute a compelling in-the-moment plot for the episode itself.
That said, despite the subdued nature of this first episode, I am interested enough in what comes next to stick around for a few more episodes, at least. It certainly looks and sounds slick enough to live up to its studio pedigree; MAPPA has demonstrated an unholy commitment to delivering at least one banger of a series pretty much every season at this point, and all of that promotional material leads me to believe that there is some truly wild fun to be had with these characters and this setting. Hopefully, Hell's Paradise will have a chance to show off some of that potential now that it's gotten the exposition dump out of the way.
Easily the strongest part of Hell's Paradise, at least in this premiere, is its hook. Sending a bunch of condemned prisoners in the era of samurai to a mysterious, supernatural island in search of the key to immortality? That's a great elevator pitch, and you could sell me on watching through that sentence. You have struck gold with that idea.
The rest of the episode is a little shakier in its execution because it takes a lot of time to set up the pretty simple arc of protagonist Gabimaru. Before we have an inkling of the supernatural narrative, we follow the condemned shinobi through several failed executions, slowly eking out his tragic backstory through Sagiri's interviews with him. That introduction makes the first half feel aimless as our beleaguered edgelord hero quietly bemoans his inability to die. The ultimate reveal that Gabimaru is actually a wife guy and has been subconsciously sabotaging his executions works well enough as a twist. Still, it only does a little to make him stand out as a character. Usually, I applaud series for focusing on character building over plot progression, but it takes up just enough time to make the more exciting aspect – all the business with the island – feel like an afterthought that's rushed through via narration.
Visually, the premiere is very polished. There's some sharp imagery at key moments and standout fire animation during the climax and Gabimaru's attempted immolations. Of note is a really nice use of color at one point, as the mysterious flowers of the island positively glow against the muted tones of the mundane world. Though, on the subject of color, I'm not totally sold on the series' aesthetic just yet. Things feel too muted or obfuscated by compositing techniques to get the full impact, and I'm hoping that won't continue once we reach the island. The climactic sword fight between Gabimaru and Sagiri especially suffers there, and while it's not a deal breaker, it's also not the best foot for this show to start out on. On a purely personal level, I also couldn't stand the little pops and crackles in the score leading up to that fight either, as it was far more distracting than mood-setting.
Still, those are mostly minor misgivings for an otherwise solid and effective premiere. That hook is just too good, and with the necessary setup taken care of, I'm hopeful that the ensuing episodes will give a clearer idea of what this series has to offer.
This first episode does a surprising amount of heavy lifting. On one hand, we get the execution subplot—which is equal parts comedy, history lesson, and show-don't-tell character building for Gabimaru. On the other, we get the background of the world, the explanation of Gabimaru's mission, and his motivations for accepting the suicide mission to Shinsenkyo. That's a ton to cram into a single episode—especially a first episode. Yet Hell's Paradise handles it darn near perfectly—even as the tone of the episode swings back and forth between comedy, drama, horror, and action.
It helps that there are only two real characters in this episode: Gabimaru and Sagiri. (Both the government official and Gabimaru's wife are more plot devices to keep the story moving than characters with any sense of depth at this point.) Gabimaru is a man who thought of himself as a tool of death to be used for his village's benefit, and he built his entire identity around this idea. However, when he fell in love with his wife and could see how she viewed him, it shattered his world—though he unconsciously attempted to hold the pieces together. His only hope for the future was to change how he lived—but this only resulted in his being betrayed by the village he devoted his life to serve.
However, even facing execution, Gabimaru doesn't truly realize that he is already no longer the tool that he used to be. It takes Sagiri (and her swordplay) to show him. While Gabimaru laments that the local lord is unable to kill him, Sagiri realizes from the start that Gabimaru could die if he wanted to. The mystery for her to solve is why he won't die as he claims to desire—and could the thing that's keeping him alive be enough to let him survive the horrors of Shinsenkyo and return with the elixir of life? This gives the episode it's own little detective story—one with an excellent payoff that develops both Gabimaru and Sagiri. All in all, it's a fantastic way to start a series.
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