Hell’s Paradise Episode 1 review: An intriguing, intense opening
Hell’s Paradise is just about to drop on Crunchyroll, but does the first episode live up to the hype? Let’s review.
Spring always brings a bunch of new exciting anime, and one of the most anticipated of this year so far is Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, which is coming to Crunchyroll very soon.
The anime’s official synopsis reads: “Gabimaru reigns as the strongest and most ruthless assassin in his village. But now finds himself on death row – with only one way out: retrieve the Elixir of Life from a sinister island. Longing for freedom, he accepts the challenge. But with fellow convicts vying for the same prize and demonic beasts lurking, how will Gabimaru and his handler, the executioner Yamada Asaemon Sagiri, survive this harrowing quest?”
The first episode, titled ‘Criminal and Executioner’, while exposition-heavy, does a good job at setting up the series, so without further ado, let’s get into it. But first, spoiler warning for Hell’s Paradise.
Hell’s Paradise requires Hell’s exposition
The episode opens in a cruel world, and on a rather dramatic scene: an execution. Our main character Gabimaru is on death row, for the crime of trying to leave his oppressive village, but there seems to be no successful way of killing him. The methods attempted are gruesome – this episode seems like a teaser of the gory imagery that is to come – and yet despite Gabimaru’s indifference to life, he cannot die.
There’s a lot of exposition at the beginning of the episode about who Gabimaru is and how the world works. It would be better to be shown this, but it seems we’re on something of a time crunch. The exposition is also delivered with slight comedy, as our lead is mostly naked the whole time. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like the anime will be relying on nudity for comedy/fan-service à la some other animes, so if you’re not into that, don’t worry.
There are some other tropes that cannot be ignored in this show. Gabimaru feels very much like an overpowered main character – he’s even got the main character hair to prove it.
This opener feels like a closer
But this hero is also allowed moments of vulnerability and cute comedy, making for an enjoyable protagonist. His motivation is laid out rather clearly, and it’s surprisingly told through a bait and switch. See, you believe he lacks any care for the lives of others or his own, but something is pushing him to stay alive. Turns out the arranged wife that we had first been told to believe that he hated is actually the only thing keeping him human, and the two share a touching connection.
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First episodes of animes generally feature big twists such as this, but this emotional twist feels more like the result of a season-long arc, rather than just an opening episode plot point. And again, it would be nice to be shown this more rather than told – it would be nice to properly meet the wife, for instance.
Then again, you need that character motivation to care about the journey they’re embarking on. And said journey is in intriguing one, as Gabimaru is tasked to go into Hell’s Paradise – a place that turns humans into gory depictions of flowers – but he’ll have to fight off other killers to reach his goal, finding the elixir of life. With that, he has the chance to be pardoned, after which he can be reunited with his wife.
If the animation from this episode keeps up, no doubt will this journey be both beautiful and gory. The action overuses freeze-frames so far – we jump cut to him having immediately killed 20 people – but it’s still nice to look at, and will hopefully get more intricate in future episodes.
Hell’s Paradise Episode 1 review score: 3/5
Ultimately, this opening episode succeeds in drawing the audience into a new story. The characters seem likable enough, Yamada Asaemon Sagiri especially seems to have good potential.
And the conflict between Gabimaru’s instincts – “Shinobi don’t have any great purpose, they just kill as they’re told” – and his desires – “I’ll make it back alive for you” – will no doubt set up an epic and dangerous new season of Shonen anime.
Hell’s Paradise is now streaming on Crunchyroll. To find out when you can watch it, click here.