It’s feudal Japan and a man is about to be parted from his head. As the executioner raises his blade high, a narrator informs us just how difficult it is to behead a man, and just how ugly this is likely to get before the deed is finally done. But as the sword-bearer hacks away, something strange happens: the blade breaks and the supposedly dead man sighs in defeat. He just can’t seem to manage to die. Woe is he! What follows is a montage of attempted executions to rival a certain Boney M. song, none of which are successful. Our protagonist—because that’s the only thing he can be after having survived burning at the stake, being ripped apart by bulls (the poor bulls look the worse for wear after that one!), and boiling alive in oil—is looking weary as the death that he claims to long for, even as it continues to elude him. But does he really want to die? Like, really really? A mysterious lady scholar questions his adamant insistence that he has no ties to this world, nothing to keep that spark of hope alive in him, taking note of his every word as she interviews him in between execution attempts. Gabimaru insists that he is hollow inside—his name even proclaims it! But when he finally faces an executioner up to the task of taking his life, a daughter of Yamada Asaemon clan whose skill with the sword is unparalleled, will his story change? And wait, what’s that? An invitation to give up on trying to die and instead compete with other criminals to attain the Elixir of Life? Cool!
“Ra-Ra-Rasputin, Lover of the Russian Queen!” Even the famously unkillable Russian mystic can’t hold a candle to Gabimaru’s remarkable staying power, acquired through a lifetime of shinobi training among an elite community of trained assassins. But will this series demonstrate an equivalent capacity to remain alive (or more to the point, keep my interest) as the season progresses? That would be a solid maybe. Let’s begin with the pluses: the art is stunning, as expected of MAPPA, which doesn’t seem capable of putting a digital brushstroke wrong these past couple of years. It is immersive, with creative layouts and interesting camera angles. Big check mark there! Next up, the characters. Gabimaru is a bog standard seinen (anti)hero type, with a super-clichéd backstory so far (a gentle, beautiful woman with a scarred past melts his heart but then, oh no! he puts her in danger and causes her pain and oh my, doesn’t he just deserve to die? But wait, maybe he could deserve her love if only he did something awesome like win a contest among criminals!), but the scholar/swordswoman of the Yamada Asaemon clan is a little more interesting. Well, ok, she could be more interesting—time will tell on that one. There is the potential for an unusual backstory for her, but whether or not we ever get it will depend on how many additional criminals—er, protagonists—are added to the roster in the coming episodes, and how bombastic their tropes are. The score is great and injects the episode with energy and drama, while the OP is absolutely solid, with beautiful animation and the promise of what looks to be a rich cast of characters. So the final verdict? Definitely giving this one the usual three episodes, and probably a couple extra on the strength of the art alone, as long as the eye-rolling over the plot and characters doesn’t ruin the view.
Hell’s Paradise is streaming on Crunchyroll. It’s fun, give it a try.
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