Hell’s Paradise Review: Two Tickets to Paradise

Produced by MAPPA

Directed by Kaori Makita

Streaming on Crunchyroll

If I had a nickel for every dark fantasy manga adaptation produced by MAPPA in the last couple years, I’d have six nickels, and actually, that’s quite a lot.

That being said, Hell’s Paradise is an adaptation I’ve been waiting a long time for. I’ve only skimmed the manga, but the author, Yuji Kaku, produced one of my favorite short-lived Shonen Jump series, Ayashimon, which I once recommended here before it got canned after only 25 chapters. It’s a hard world trying to make a dark contemporary fantasy battle manga about a disillusioned violent young man after Chainsaw Man, and I guess the editors thought that particular boat had already sailed.

Sad as that may be, I’ve only heard good things about Hell’s Paradise, Kaku’s manga that actually got to run its course, and I guess we’ve all agreed to keep watching every anime MAPPA pumps out until either the sun burns out or the carpal tunnel kills their staff, which makes us accomplices.

Nope, too late, you’re already going to get arrested, so you may as well read this review before they take you away. I hear there’s an elixir of immortality on this weird magic island, and the shogun’s sending prisoners to collect in exchange for a pardon, so if either of us wants to get out of this alive, pack your bags for an all expenses paid trip to a luxurious island resort where…they send your corpse back as the natural flora devours your lifeless husk. Yeah, but they’re really pretty tropical flowers, so let’s just get into it.

Gabimaru the Hollow is the most feared shinobi of Iwagakure, an assassin so cold and skilled he slew twenty men before being captured. He attempted to flee the village, you see, in an attempt to escape his arranged marriage with the chief’s daughter, a kind, pious woman who could never hope to understand the remorseless killer she had married.

Thus, Gabimaru is slated to be executed, though his shinobi skills are so keen that even without the aid of ninjutsu, his executioners are hard-pressed to kill him. Swords break on his neck. Bulls exhaust themselves trying to tear him limb from limb. Burning him alive was cozier than any blanket.

It isn’t until he’s introduced to Asaemon Yamada Sagiri, a blade tester intent on wringing Gabimaru’s life story out before she puts him to the sword, that his motives are revealed. Despite his claims of abandoning attachment to life, Gabimaru wishes to live more than anything. His story about loathing his pious wife was a front to protect her, after he pleaded with her father to let them leave the village and this life of killing behind. Try as he might to give up, he shakes off each day’s execution in the hopes of returning to his wife, Yui.

Luckily for Gabimaru, he’s just the kind of man that Sagiri and the shogun are looking for. If you didn’t guess from that last bit, the shogun is searching for the elixir of immortality, and after five expeditions were met with five failures, he’s willing to use expendable death row convicts. If Gabimaru succeeds, he’ll have not only a pardon, but the shogun’s protection to take Yui away from Iwagakure.

He’ll just have to conquer hell. Easy enough, right?

I’ll come out and say it: I’m not in love with the visuals in Hell’s Paradise. In each episode’s action, you do get at least one impressive sequence, though the rest of the show hits a consistent level of mediocrity. That’s not terrible, and I’ve mentioned before that I prefer when anime that aim for higher highs if it comes at the cost of lower quality dialogue scenes. However, just because the animation flows well does not make for a good fight scene.

The fights of the manga are fast and brutal, and the anime has done an admirable job of adapting that to the screen, but there’s nothing more going on. To compare it to another of MAPPA’s titles, Jujutsu Kaisen takes the grounded movement and weighty blows of its source material, and gives Sunghoo Park the chance to unload his talent for making martial arts-inspired fight choreography sing.

In Gabimaru’s battle on the beach, we see him rip out three or four peoples’ throats with his hands in the exact same fashion every time. There’s very little fight choreography going into these scenes that doesn’t exist in the manga already, and considering we’re making the jump from a handful of panels to the hundreds of frames that compose an animation sequence, that’s a problem.

Maybe I’m being too hard on Hell’s Paradise because of MAPPA’s representation, but the manga’s visuals serve to elevate its gruesome story, and the anime just doesn’t pull that off consistently.

Hell’s Paradise has a brilliant albeit simple story. Gabimaru is not the most complex protagonist, but he is a compelling one, beyond the usual overpowered MC who is just fed up with everything. His dissatisfaction with inflicting violence is reminiscent of Vinland Saga’s Thorfinn, and that’s about as favorable a comparison as I can make. He does not revel in his abilities, but nor does he refuse to defend himself, unlike many disposable battle royale anime protagonists, up until they get traumatized enough to let the plot start.

But, pardon me for repeating myself, this story has suffered in its transition to animation. The island of Shinsenkyo is gorgeous and lush, and benefits from the vibrant colors used to paint it, but the bulk of Hell’s Paradise’s merits lie in its dark tone that is amplified by moody monocolor sketches.

Without that, the story limps in places. The moment where Gabimaru’s motivations are revealed, the little fake-out they pull where his marriage is shown to be sincere, hits much harder in the manga than it does in the anime. That is due to a number of issues: the art, the pacing, and the build-up before the reveal, but these are issues that only exist in the anime.

While I would love to praise Hell’s Paradise for its dark story, gripping characters, and tense action, I would have to follow everything up with an asterisk, and I simply can’t do that in good conscience.

Hell’s Paradise is a moderate disappointment. Far from my first disappointment, and even further from my worst, but a letdown nonetheless.

I should temper the negativity of this review by adding that the anime is a suitable substitute for the manga, but not an ideal. I’ve even recommended far worse adaptations, though with the benefit of hindsight, I would never tell someone that the Blue Lock anime could ever replace its manga.

If you just don’t read manga and refuse to ever start, then Hell’s Paradise is a great story with some alright direction and stellar moments of animation, when they manage to cut through the rest. The voice acting might make it worth watching alone, if you’re a stickler for that sort of thing, but I’m always going to prefer the manga in this case.

It’s a bit of a tricky title to categorize, so we’re going to call it an Entertaining Fine. Not the best place to start a season, but it’s only up from here, so if you want to see the rest of the season’s reviews, make sure to follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress, or on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku for extra doses of bite-sized anime garbage. Until next time, thanks for reading.

FineHell’s Paradise

One response to “Hell’s Paradise Review: Two Tickets to Paradise”

  1. I’ve been really enjoying the anime so far, but now I’m kind of curious about the manga. I’ll have to check it out! Though, my heap of manga that I still need to read is pretty huge so it might be a while before I get to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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