Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku
Story & Art: Yuji Kaku
Translation: Caleb Cook
Lettering: Mark McMurray
Publisher: VIZ Media
While works like Naruto would have readers believing that ninja are busy thwarting evil at every turn, the truth of the matter is that real ninja were assassins, trained to carry out their mission regardless of the ethical implications. In Yuji Kaku’s more grown-up vision of the ninja world, Gabimaru is one such assassin, known far and wide as “the Hollow,” because he appears to have no remorse for the reckless violence he perpetrates in the name of his missions. At the outset of Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, Gabimaru has been caught and sentenced to death for his various misdeeds, but he seems incapable of dying. Readers soon find out that although he claims to be ready for death, he is unconsciously using his ninjutsu to counter each attempt on his life because he desperately wants to be reunited with his wife.
Gabimaru’s executioner, the seemingly calm and composed Sagiri, offers him a chance to see his gentle wife once again. She was able to discern that Gabimaru was trying to leave his bloody past behind for the love of his wife, and she proposes that he, along with a score of other hardened criminals on death row, go on a mission to seek out the Elixir of Life on behalf of the shogun in order to win their freedom. The catch is that he must be accompanied by Sagiri, and if he fails to comply to the rules laid out by the shogun, she is instructed to execute him on site. Gabimaru accepts, thus beginning a tenuous relationship between prisoner and executioner as they embark on a journey to a strange island whose exploration has resulted in the lost lives of many of the shogun’s finest soldiers.
Jigokuraku is alternately a violent action series and a psychological thriller. While Sagiri struggles with her aptitude as an executioner, Gabimaru is constantly at war with the part of him that knows only killing and the side that wishes to become a truly good person, deserving of his wife’s love. There are horror elements, as well, with the eerie creatures (human-faced moths, anyone?) lurking on this mysterious island which can cause frightening damage to trespassers. Kaku’s artwork is ink-forward and fluid, with even the most gruesome scenes rendered with a sick sort of beauty. The weight of the story is elevated by morsels of humor, especially from Gabimaru whose reputation belies his remarkably laid-back personality.
Gabimaru’s off-putting odd charm and Sagiri’s quiet complexity compliment each other well, and though Sagiri’s fears are frequently depicted by her standing nude with the bloody souls of her victims clinging to her bare flesh, she is firmly grounded as a character with motivations, fears, and goals. She is the lone woman in a male-dominated clan of executioners, tasked with monitoring possibly the most dangerous — and dangerously unpredictable — assassin of her time. She is a character to watch as the series progresses.
Readers who wish to follow Gabimaru and Sagiri on their arcane quest can find chapters available to read through the Shonen Jump website (not currently available through the app). The first print volume will be available on March 17, 2020, and can be preordered now through the VIZ Media website or at your local comic shop.