Hell's Paradise First Thoughts
Posted on 16 Jun 2023
Having seen a lot of buzz around the adaptation of Yuji Kaku's manga, I decided to give the Edo period drama Hell's Paradise a try on Crunchyroll. With Succession now over I have a gap in my fairly limited watching schedule now, so a decent Shonen anime airing weekly could plug the gap nicely.
The show features jaded ninja assassin Ganbaru, sentenced to death for his supposed treachery, he finds himself wanting to die but unable to fully commit to his untimely demise. Try as they might, Ganbaru's executioners just can't seem to land a killing blow - swords shatter on his neck, he can't be hung, fire doesn't seem to faze him. Something he can't put his finger on is keeping him just this side of death, so when a travelling justice offers him a pardon in exchange for services rendered, he reluctantly agrees.
So far, so Shonen really. I think it's fair to say that besides some lovely animation, there's not much here that catches the eye. Our protagonist is overpowered to the point of literal comedy, dark as it may be, and he's about to go on a quest for the elixir of eternal life.
There are some solid touches - Ganbaru's scarred wife is clearly someone he cherishes, but feels unworthy of. His misplaced trust in her father has led to his loss of direction, and ultimately we have a classic hero's journey ready to unfold.
The real meat of the show, from what I've seen and read, comes from the other dubious souls working for their pardons who will join him on his quest. There's no sign of any of them in the first episode, so it does feel a bit dry, but it's a detailed introduction to Ganbaru and his handler, Sagari Yamada Asaemon.
The point of these first thoughts articles is to judge the opening episode on how much it grabs you, however it seemed somewhat unfair to judge the first episode in this case. True, it's not the slam-dunk Gundam: The Witch From Mercury was in terms of grabbing you by the collar and giving you a good shake, but it really felt as though this was going to be an ensemble piece, so I settled down to watch a few more episodes.
Having been assembled with a host of other ne-er do wells, it quickly becomes apparent that Ganbaru will be the oasis of calm in an ocean of complete chaos. In a bid to thin the numbers, the criminals are ordered to kill each other until the required amount are left standing. It's a very brutal fight with some barbaric and bloody action, but really only a taste of what's to come as the condemned reach the unusual island they've been gathered to search. I was quite taken aback at how visceral the action is, and usually it's not my cup of tea at all - I've never liked slasher films, nor gore - but with Hell's Paradise, much like Battle Royale, I'm so intrigued by the characters themselves that I'm actually tolerating it (watching between my fingers in some instances) to see how things shake out. Tarantino's The Hateful 8 also feels like a reference, given how you shouldn't like anyone in this series, but the sheer charisma and personality of the group compels you to keep going. In particular, kunoichi Yuzuriha seems poised for success as anime's latest femme fatale darling, a mix of quick wit, adorable flirtation and deadly betrayal. I have the Figuarts figure on pre-order.
I'm glad I spent more time with the show, as episode one doesn't do the best job in really pulling you in, simply because it seems so predictable. But by the time we get to the plot proper, the show hits you with a colourful cast and a feeling of doom that's highly intriguing. It doesn't hurt at all that production values seem very high, with gorgeous animation, sharp attention to detail and some stunning location shots that look almost real.
I'd recommend giving the show a watch beyond the first episode to really get a feel for it. It mixes period drama, horror and even humour to create an intriguing tale that looks and sounds gorgeous. It feels destined to become a classic.
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