Hell’s Paradise – Ep. 1 (First Impressions)

I don’t believe I’ve talked about it here on this blog but MAPPA has been on a roll these past couple of years. They’re not free from controversy, being accused of poor wages and work culture even by anime standards. However, they’ve also produced some impressive animation and they’ve animated some very hyped shows such as Jujutsu Kaisen, Attack on Titan: The Final Season, and Chainsaw Man. They’re a leading studio in anime right now and they’re showing no signs of slowing down (and if they are, they’re very good at hiding it). Evidently, they aim to keep this momentum going as they’ve nabbed themselves another high profile adaptation: Hell’s Paradise.

Set in the Edo period, Hell’s Paradise begins with Gabimaru (Chiaki Kobayashi), an infamously powerful ninja from the village of Iwagakure, awaiting his execution in prison. Despite wanting to die, every attempt to execute Gabimaru ends in failure due to his superhuman abilities. In between executions, Gabimaru details to an interrogator how he was raised to be a weapon by his clan’s chief and later married to the chief’s daughter Yui (Mamiko Noto). Dissatisfied with his marriage, Gabimaru asks to leave the village, resulting in the chief betraying him to the authorities. Eventually, the interrogator reveals herself as Yamada Asaemon Sagiri (Yumiri Hanamori), sword-tester and an executioner, who proceeds to fight Gabimaru and confront him over how he truly feels about his wife. When Gabimaru admits that he actually loves his wife, Sagiri offers him a pardon that’ll give him and his wife complete legal protection. The catch is that Gabimaru must accompany Sagiri to Shinsenkyo, a mysterious land rumored to house an Elixir of Immortality, and compete with other criminals to obtain said elixir. Seeing the pardon as his ticket to a peaceful life, Gabimaru accepts the offer.

The main hook to this premiere is its two lead characters. Gabimaru initially presents himself as a cold blooded killer and while this isn’t necessarily false, the show throws a wrench to his purported inhumanity when Sagiri correctly deduces that the shinobi is actually in love with his wife. Gabimaru claims he feels nothing for his wife but the reality is that his wife is the one thing in life that makes him feel he’s more than a living weapon. His desire to leave the village is so that the two of them could live a normal life. Him surviving every execution thrown at him has less to do with his abilities (although they are pretty out there) and more to do with a subconscious desire to live and reunite with his spouse. Not only does this relationship provide a personal stake within the plot, it also gives you a reason to invest in Gabimaru’s journey.

As for Sagiri, she’s a curious one. I really like how unassuming her appearance is at first before the episode finally reveals that she’s actually one of the two lead characters. I’m guessing from this point on, she’ll be serving as Gabimaru’s handler, someone to keep on him to make sure he does his work and take him on if things go awry. What I’m most curious about with her is what she actually thinks of Gabimaru. She manages to read him like a book but it’s hard to tell if she’s empathetic towards his situation. Right now, I’m more inclined to think she she’s only appealing to his emotions so that he’ll cooperate with retrieving the elixir.

Of course, these are two characters in a presumably large cast. In time, the show will presumably introduce other criminals and executioners for us to follow. It’ll be interesting to see what stake those people have in the “race”. I’m also curious how supernatural things will get in this story. Most of the episode is dedicated to showing Gabimaru’s freakish physical constitution. It’s only at the end that the ninja reveals that he can manipulate fire. I have to wonder what the other characters are capable of doing. We also only get a snippet of how supernatural the island is. We’ll need to stay tuned to see what’s actually out there.

All in all, this is a pretty strong start. The premise is a bit weird but the setup provided here proves that there may be an interesting story built around it. As for episode reviews, I won’t commit just yet but it is something I’m considering.

Watch Hell’s Paradise on Crunchyroll

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