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This Week in Anime
What Makes Hell's Paradise So Unique?

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Hell's Paradise asks the important question: Will your typical shōnen anime immediately become better if your protagonist is a wife guy? (The answer is yes.)

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Nick, I was thinking we'd have a nice little chat about what, if anything, helps Hell's Paradise jut out of the vast shōnen anime sea. But after catching up, it seems like such a moot point to me when the answer is so obvious: finally, a hero whose superpower is being a wife guy.

For years, viewers have clamored for more mature, involved romances in these stories, begging to get away from the will-they-won't-they nonsense of high school love. Behold—Yūji Kaku has heard your cries and given you a shōnen protagonist who's not only married but is so married, he has to tell every living soul he encounters.
He has a wife! Many people are saying this, and most of them are him.
Seriously, while I appreciate that Hell's Paradise gives Gabimaru a motivation outside the typical shōnen heroic drive to be the best, it is very funny to me that it spent its entire first episode leading up to this reveal:
It's even funnier that the rising action of that premiere is a graphic survey and explanation of gruesome execution methods of yore, and that is the vehicle through which we learn about the wifely source of his determination.

If I were tragically separated from my wife through the machinations of my evil father-in-law and sentenced to death, I would simply refuse to die. RIP to those other guys, but I'm different.

And by "RIP," I mean I will rip their throats out myself.

This macabre tonal melange is, I think, what drew me into Hell's Paradise to begin with. Looking at it from the outside (especially the screencaps we just posted), you might think it would be this grim, ultraviolent affair. And it is, to a point. But there's also a wry, matter-of-factness to the gore that I like a lot. It doesn't wallow.
It's a series that features a lot of brutal gore and genuinely terrifying body horror, yet it's also just grounded enough to never feel like a splatterfest. Mostly because Gabimaru basically treats murder as a job because, well, it is.

Whenever he has to turn a person's skull into a pinata, he sighs like me clocking in for a 6am shift.
We all punch the clock; some of us just punch a bunch of bones and soft tissue after that.

That attitude, though, trickles into the entire story, and it's great. Like, the second episode shocks the criminals (and the audience) by wheeling out this dude who somehow got turned into a living flower arrangement. But he's quickly brushed aside as the meeting goes off the rails, except for the occasional glance of his dumb grinning face in the background when we cut to the shogun's retainers talking shop.

I love that guy. I'm pretty desensitized to body horror, especially in animation, but there's something about the roots sticking out of the eye socket that is just so perfectly unsettling. At once, natural and unnatural in a way that's hard to describe all at first.
It's a genuinely horrific image! It evokes both the Annihilation film adaptation (which shares other similarities with the overall story) and one of the more memorably messed up episodes of Hannibal. But the presentation is so understated that it wraps around to become both horrific and campy. That's not really an aesthetic space I see a lot of shōnen series deal in, which is cool.
It's a not-often inhabited area for sure, and sort of a surprising move for a plot that is basically "Super Samurai Suicide Squad".
It's a great bit of garnish, although I'm definitely a fan of the premise on its own. What's better than a cast of colorful criminals who are forced to work together in order to steal an immortality potion from a freaky monster island? And you know what's even better? When these colorful criminals spend a good deal of time conniving and backstabbing each other.
It's a great elevator pitch, and I like that Hell's Paradise is juuuuuust grounded enough to recognize that such a wild idea would immediately go wrong the second everyone was off the boat.

Like, oh right, putting a bunch of violent psychopaths on an island with nothing but samurai babysitters in a zero-sum game for freedom would probably result in an immediate bloodbath. Bad idea, Mr. Shogun.
It's a pre-imminent bloodbath! The shogun has them start killing each other before they board the boat. We even hear his retainers grumbling to themselves about how idiotic this all is.

Then again, Hell's Paradise, even in these early stages, definitely has a lot to say about how authority operates, particularly in patriarchal contexts.
Surprise, it thinks it sucks ass.
Cue Sagiri, Gabimaru's partner in crime deterrence, and a woman samurai whom we see putting up with mounds of shit because she's a woman samurai.

I must say, I approached Sagiri's arc with a loooot of skepticism when I first read the manga. Shōnen manga/anime has a pretty rough track record when trying to tackle sexism, and I was quietly gritting my teeth, waiting for the resolution to be "Sagiri is actually just as good as a man!" and then never dealing with it again. So I'm happy that, so far, it has been a little more nuanced than that.
Totally agree! Like, I'm not shouting from the hills that Hell's Paradise is a new feminist masterpiece, but it's certainly more thoughtful than I thought it would be. And the relationship between Sagiri and Gabimaru, in particular, is knottier and more interesting than the baseline for this genre.
Very thankful that Gabimaru's Wife Guy shtick means there are zero attempts at romance between the two. Instead, they just get to be buddies, and by that, I mean they constantly look to each other for inspiration on how to deal with trauma.
That's the good shit right there!!! Who needs romance when you've got two broken people who can perceive intimate parts of each other that no one else can? It's like two wounded animals snarling at each other but occasionally licking each other's wounds as well.
Just don't think too hard about the visual metaphor of her helping him sheath his sword.
I mean, it is worth noting the gendered opposing forces in his life, with Sagiri and Yui helping preserve his humanity, while the fatherly specter of the village chief wants to hollow him out for good.
See, that's what makes Gabimaru relatable. He may be a trained killer in a supernatural death battle against immortal monsters, but his greatest problem is dealing with his in-laws.
Don't you hate it when your wife's dad is supposed to be carving the Thanksgiving turkey, but he's doing his gross parlor trick with the knife for the 100th time?
Honestly, it's still better than when he would tell "funny" stories about that time he horrifically injured her.

Really brought down the mood during the Cowboys game, y'know.
Yeah, this guy sucks ass, and I imagine he'll probably be the final, most powerful villainous hurdle Gabimaru will have to overcome. And that's saying something, considering the absoluteness of the units on flower power island.

Turns out the ferocious flora of this place is somehow the nice half, because the fauna is literal nightmare fuel.

It speaks to how hardcore these characters are that they're even able to function even after this seeing this stuff. I'd just be pissing myself the moment the finger-mouths showed up.
I saw one (1) slightly larger than usual house centipede on my wall last night, and I jumped six inches off the couch. So, I concur.
Again, it's that weird combination of natural and supernatural elements that makes it work. I've seen countless giant bugs in anime before, but those things are just uncanny enough to make me "nope" right off the island. I don't even care if I drown; it's better than looking at those things for another second.
I also really like the subtler ways they highlight the wrongness of Shinsenkyo. Gabimaru points out that even the aesthetically pleasing flowers (and the background is very nice to look at) grow haphazardly without any regard for normal species distribution. We later learn that's because they're growing out of people, but that's beside the point. The religious iconography on the island is all messed up too, melding Buddhist and Taoist images and concepts together in ways that unsettle these characters. That's a neat application of profanity that, again, I don't think I've seen before.
I have some gripes with the direction of the show, mostly about the compositing and seams that become more visible with every episode. But I do love the way they've captured the surreal habitat of the island. The premise only works when every aspect of the surroundings feels like an ambient threat to the cast.
Yeah, it is worth mentioning that this is the umpteenth shōnen adaptation that MAPPA has tackled since they decided to animate everything in existence. So, those inevitable fractures mar the experience (in addition to making you question just where this industry is headed). In spite of that, though, Hell's Paradise is not without its charms as an anime. Do you want to hear the dulcet tones of Rie Takahashi acting like a little shit? Of course you do.
Ah, Yuzuriha. She's another aspect that in a lot of similar series would be insufferable since 90% of her screentime is just fanservice. But the added element of her being a bald-faced asshole and everyone being tired of her BS makes it a lot more palatable.
It's so key that she's terrible, and everyone, including her, knows it. I was really tickled when she started some mawkish spiel about a tragic sympathetic backstory, and at no point did any facet of the narrative treat it as believable. Instead, she gets turned into a stick figure. I love it.
Granted, the whole "femme fatale" thing is a little played out, considering there were technically two of them sent on this quest, though only Yuzuriha managed to survive her attempt at seduction.
Gotta admit, I'm more than a little disappointed at the early curtain call for someone with the title of "Cannibal Courtesan," but alas.

Though overall, I have appreciated Hell's Paradise's willingness to throw away a neat character design or completely skip over a fight. There's a confidence there.
It certainly keeps things moving and unpredictable. There are no obvious mooks or throwaway characters, so it really feels like anyone could live or die in any given encounter. Like, I bet everyone was expecting Fire-Type Byakuya here to last at least long enough for Sagiri to prove him wrong.
It is a bit clumsy for Kaku to then introduce a brand new misogynist for Sagiri to prove wrong anyway, but her embrace of her Middle Way is probably the most satisfying character moment in the show so far, so I'll allow it.

Honestly, I like that. It shows that the sexism Sagiri is facing is systemic, a consequence of the culture and family she's been raised in - as opposed to just having to prove the one (1) sexist, prejudiced guy wrong by being good at swords.
That's true. And hey, if you think about it, Shinsenkyo couldn't be a more appropriate place for this to happen. The citizens there seem pretty liberal about the whole gender thing. I'm sure they're all going to get along just fine.
If nothing else, they're certainly a sex-positive group of demigods. Just right out there in the middle of the forest of horrors, putting the fluid in genderfluid.

If I'm gonna keep listing things I like about this series, then the commitment to getting weirder and hornier as it progresses is up there.
I'm just imagining how confused Great Value Bakugo must be, seeing these two going at it when he just clubbed through several dozen giant monsters and drank their blood.
Oh, I love this idiot and his equally stupid brother. No clue how they're both still alive. Rooting for them all the way.
There are two ways to survive in a show like this: be the super-competent main character who's incredibly prepared for this specific set of circumstances, or just Mr. Bean your way through it all. While Gabimaru's over there having progressively more dangerous battles and gaining allies, these two are accidentally skipping story levels and running directly into the final boss.
Meanwhile, Tenza draws the short straw of getting an entire episode dedicated to his backstory, so he can suffer even more. This reminds us that "Hell's Paradise" is a serious shōnen series for serious shōnen enthusiasts.
RIP Tenza. You knew from the moment this samurai himbo opened his mouth that he was doomed, but I do appreciate that they portrayed at least one of the Asaemon as a decent person who isn't cool with capital punishment.
Yeah, the connection he had with Nurugai as a fellow societal outcast was the best thing going for him. Maybe I'm just a hardened bastard, but I thought this week's episode suffered from being more overwrought and "standard" than the askew stuff I've come to like Hell's Paradise for. While I'm sure it's a crowd-pleaser, I needed more moments like this.
It's something that I think will play better once all the splayed-out plot threads start to converge. Before this, the only group with any real dramatic weight was Gabimaru and Sagiri, and that could make any story that didn't focus on them feel like a diversion. Now, Nurugai and Shion have some actual heft to their struggle instead of just being B-plot fodder like the Bakubros.

Also, Tenza packed a mean right jab.

True, I did very much enjoy that. Overall, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more friction as more of these characters meet up and wrangle with how they're actually going to get off the island alive. I imagine we've barely scratched the surface of the Suicide Squad/Ocean's 11 ensemble-type antics.
Personally, I'm in it for more wild monster designs. While there's a lot I like about Hell's Paradise, there's decidedly little that I really love. It's a solid show, a fun and easy watch with just enough to chew on for its character drama, but it doesn't leave a huge impact on me.
I wouldn't consider it one of my top picks of the season either, but that's more due to how stacked the spring is. But I am definitely resonating with the weird vibes of Hell's Paradise. It's not spectacular, but it's on my wavelength. And on my wifelength.
It's tragically a casualty of sharing an island with even heavier hitters, but I nonetheless wish it the best in trying to find a home to call its own.

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