This is a fantastic perspective to kick off an anime that immediately makes Gabimaru feel different from most other shonen protagonists. There are plenty of disaffected heroes out there, but Hell’s Paradise begins at a point where Gabimaru is already past the point of exhaustion. It’s an ambitious foundation for the show’s main character, but after only one episode there’s already a distinct quality to Gabimaru that inspires the viewer to want to see what happens to him rather than jump over to the next ultra-violent assassin series.
The first episode of Hell’s Paradise benefits from its condensed time period and that it works with a relatively smaller scope instead of blowing everything up right away. This premiere does temporarily escape its prison setting through expository flashbacks of Gabimaru’s past. This doesn’t necessarily feel like clunky storytelling since the character is in such denial over what’s important to him in life. It’s as if these emotional flashbacks bubble up to the surface, against Gabimaru’s wishes, while he’s forced to confront what he refuses to accept. Gabimaru wants the world to think that he’s “hollow” because it’s easier than having a group of liabilities around him.
On that note, Hell’s Paradise is very much Gabimaru’s story, but the confidante who he opens up to becomes the crucial second pillar to this anime. Gabimaru, the passive shinobi, bonds with Yamada Asaemon Sagiri, a ronin executioner, who’s ready to throw her careful life behind in lieu of one of adventure. She and Gabimaru are no strangers to death, but they embark on a quest that gets to the very root of life and death through an immortality elixir. This first episode doesn’t subject Yamada Asaemon Sagiri to heavy backstory, but the audience still gets a very good sense of her heart and what she stands for in contrast to Gabimaru. By the end of this episode the power dynamic between the two of them is completely flipped and Sagiri’s the one who calls the shots.
The first episode of Hell’s Paradise is quite the bloody affair and is absolutely obsessed with death. That being said, this is far from a callous series. If anything Hell’s Paradise doesn’t criticize this brutal behavior, but rather emphasizes how there’s a right and wrong way to slice off a head and bathe in blood. One of the first things that’s said in Hell’s Paradise is that “beheading requires a great deal of skill.” This is an anime that explores the artistry of execution and argues that it’s not just empty gore where bodies roll across the ground. Execution is a respected art-form that combines precision, respect, and legacy more than it’s concerned with what happens when a blade meets flesh. Hell’s Paradise reflects this dichotomy throughout the premiere whether it’s through its conflicted characters, blood-splattered flowers, or a scarred face.
Hell’s Paradise has a strong narrative foundation to fall back on, but its creative staff helps elevate its story to greater heights. Hell’s Paradise is directed by Kaori Makita, who has directed episodes in the final season of Attack on Titan as well as Kakegurui Twin and Sarazanmai, among other notable anime productions. The anime also comes from MAPPA, who seem to be responsible for all of the most popular and cutting edge anime of the past few years, almost like they’re the A24 of the anime industry. Hell’s Paradise initially feels somewhat lackluster with its visual storytelling, despite always looking gorgeous. However, the back-end of this premiere is full of memorable visuals between its depiction of Shinsenkyo, the Underworld, the accentuated reactions within Sagiri’s blade, and Gabimaru’s fiery ninjutsu skills.
Hell’s Paradise is one of 2023’s more striking anime and it makes its mark early on with a premiere that avoids standard shonen genre pitfalls. There are still some pacing issues present here and it’s hardly a flawless start, but there’s a confidence in story and characters that’s undeniable here. This is not a case of a middling anime that takes dozens of episodes to come together. Hell’s Paradise comes out fully formed, with personality to spare, and hints at even greater twists and turns to come during this escapade for immortality.