Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku Review: The Yin and Yang of Embracing Strengths and Weaknesses.

I remember seeing the first trailer for the Hell’s Paradise anime months ago.
It was a fantastic trailer, perfectly highlighting the mysteries of the story, without a line of dialogue from the characters.
Despite being interested, I still held off from reading the manga, until watching the first three episodes of the anime, developed by Mappa.
After loving those episodes, I binged the entire manga in three days and was rewarded with a great story that presented a compelling mystery, charismatic characters, some of the most well thought out action I have read, and brilliant artwork from the writer, Yuji Kaku. 

Hell’s Paradise‘s artwork provides both a lot of beauty and a lot of darkness.

Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku is set in Edo Period Japan, and follows the story of Gabimaru, a ninja who has been captured and set for execution, yet longs to reunite with his wife. 
A chance to reunite with her comes with the arrival of Yamada Asaemon Sagiri, an executioner who arrives with the offer of a pardon from the Shogun himself.
The only catch is that, in order to obtain this pardon, Gabimaru will have to travel to a mystical island, from which none have returned alive, to obtain the Elixar of Life for the Shogun.

To reunite with his wife, Gabimaru travels to this dangerous island.

Gabimaru and Sagiri will not be going alone, however, with ten other death row prisoners being sent, with the pardon being available to only the one criminal who retrieves the Elixar.
As for the rest of them, they face death from the executioners sent with them to the island, to monitor them.
However, the criminals and executioners soon find they have much bigger problems to worry about than each other, as the island’s mysterious inhabitants begin picking them off, forcing them to band together and learn the ability known as Tao to survive together. 

The executioners and prisoners having to work togethor creates a lot of great bonds between them.

Tao is Hell’s Paradise’s main fighting mechanic and I was constantly marveling at how well Yuji Kaku incorporated it into his fight scenes, with many characters learning the technique quickly, while others learned slower in various triumphant moments.
Speaking of the characters, the ones in Hell’s Paradise have to be some of the most charismatic I have read in a while.
There is, of course, Gabimaru and Sagiri who, as the main leads of this story, grow a lot over the course of it, with numerous relizations they have about themselves creating plenty of development. 
Side characters such as Yuzuriha, the brothers Chobe and Toma, Nurugai, Shion, Fuchi, Tenza and Senta are also all fantastic but I don’t have time to discuss all of them, so I will focus on my favourite side character, Tamiya Gantetsusai.
He starts off as a warrior valuing only his own glory and legacy, yet slowly changes until, by the end of his story, he becomes much more humble due to the influence of his assigned executioner turned friend Fuchi.
This results in an ending for him that is probably the most emotionally impactful, alongside Gabimaru’s. 

Gantetsusai’s ending is subtle yet moving.

All of these characters I have mentioned are compelling and I find it to be a testament to how good Hell’s Paradise is that their camaraderie is so believeable, despite the main conflict of the story really only taking place over a few days at least.
What helps these characters and their fight sequences shine is also the combination of great themes and artwork.
The theme of Hell’s Paradise is the acceptance of strengths and weaknesses, yin and yang, with this theme being key to many of the events and imagery in the manga.
This imagery is especially great, with Yuji Kuko delivering many breath taking panels showing off both the beauty and horror of the island. 

The artwork of warped buddist statues and monsters highlight this yin and yang conflict quite well.

However, despite having plenty of positive things to say about Hell’s Paradise, I will not act like it is perfect, since there were a few issues I had.
The first of these is in regards to character deaths.
There are a few times in this manga where characters have emotional deaths that affected me, only for those feelings I had to vanish when the character is revealed to have survived.
Granted, I did like these characters so was pleased to see that they lived but, at the same time, some part of me wished that they had stayed dead so that the emotional weight of their deaths could be kept.
That being said, this was not a constant issue, as Yuji Kaku still followed through on many other tragic deaths across the series.
Although, there are a couple characters that were clearly introduced as canon fodder for the final battle.

While some characters introduced later in the story shine, others were probably introduced just to die.

Another minor issue I have is that there were a few plot points introduced that did not amount to much.
In particular, there is one moment where Jikka makes a pretty shady offer to two characters, only for this to amount to pretty much nothing.
While these were issues I had with the manga, they were nowhere near significant enough to dull my enjoyment of this otherwise fantastic story.
Hell’s Paradise is a manga with an interesting story, and great characters and fight scenes, supported by brilliant art work and compelling themes of ying and yang.
It is already among my favourite manga and I will continue watching the anime, hoping Mappa can keep up with the quality of their adaptation so far.