WARNING: This is a mature title for adult readers only.
There is much to see in this manga, most of it being blood as Hell’s Paradise is a particularly violent series. Mind you, it is not just shocking in terms of the actual violence itself.
The story begins with a condemned man: Gabimaru, a ninja nicknamed “The Hollow” because of his utter lack of emotion. In his work, he is a ruthless killer who is seemingly impossible to defeat, which may explain why none of the normal methods of execution work on him. Swords break on him, he survives being burned at the stake, boiled in oil, and being torn apart by oxen.
Eventually a woman named Sagiri tries to do the job. Sagiri comes from the Yamada Asaemon family of executioners, and Gabimaru can tell that she really does have the power to actually kill him. However, while Gabimaru seemingly has no reason to live, Sagiri detects that he does have one: his wife, who is unnamed in the story. Gabimaru’s wife is different from everyone else in their tribe as she is a peace-loving person who wants a normal life. Her father, the tribe leader, was so against this that he scarred her face to prevent her from leaving. Gabimaru and his wife decided to flee the tribe and live normally, but their plan was uncovered, he was caught, and was sentenced to be executed.
Sagiri thus has an offer for Gabimaru. The Shogunate is attempting to find the elixir of life on Shinsenkyo, a seemingly perfect land beyond the Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa). However, none of the five teams of people that have been sent there have survived the return trip. So the Shogunate has decided to set up a team made exclusively of condemned felons, as well as executioners to keep them in line. The one felon who manages to find the elixir and return it safely with the executioner will be granted a pardon for all their crimes. Gabimaru agrees to the deal.
As stated, the violence and action is the main draw to Hell’s Paradise. The opening chapter in which we see Gabimaru survive all of his various executions makes for gripping reading, and credit must go to creator Yuji Kaku for his artwork. His writing is good too, as is the translation from Caleb Cook, but it is the art that stands out. It is not just the standard violence that grabs the eye, but also elements of body horror. The seemingly idyllic Shinsenkyo is so dangerous because of its wildlife. The one person to have returned is seen with mushrooms growing out of their body and talking gibberish.
We then witness the formation of the party being sent to Shinsenkyo, which is decided by having a mass group of convicts killing each other until ten are left. Thus, we quickly get the formation of a “battle royale” series, which each of the characters having their own motivation to find the elixir.
One other element that is of particular note is the inclusion of translation notes, which is rare for a Viz Media title. Among the things explained is the actual title of the series in Japanese: Jigokuraku is a portmanteau of the words for heaven and hell, jigo and gokuraku respectively.
So far, it is an interesting read, and it will be good to see in what way the story progresses.