Thursday, April 30, 2020

#IReadsYou Review: HELL'S PARADISE: Jigokuraku Volume 1


[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

MANGAKA: Juji Kaku
LETTERS: Mark McMurray
EDITOR: David Brothers
ISBN: 978-1-9747-1320-2; paperback (March 2020); Rated “M” for “Mature”
216pp, B&W, $12.99 U.S., $17.99 CAN, £8.99 U.K.

Jigokuraku is a manga series written and illustrated by Yuji Kaku.  It has been serialized weekly for free on the Shōnen Jump+ application (app) and website since January 22, 2018.  As of December 2019, Japanese publisher, Shueisha, has collected the series in eight tankobon (graphic novel) volumes.  VIZ Media is publishing an English-language edition of the manga as a graphic novel series, entitled Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku, under its “VIZ Signature” imprint.

Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku, Vol. 1 (Chapters 1 to 6) opens in Japan during the “Edo period” (1603 to 1868, specifically between 1773 and 1841 for this story).  The ninja, “Gabimaru the Hollow,” is one of the most vicious assassins to come out of the ninja village of Iwagakure.  However, an act of betrayal results in Gabimaru being captured during a mission and handed a death sentence, but no method of execution can kill him due to his superhuman body.

Besides, Gabimaru claims that he does not care if he is facing death because he no longer cares to live.  The executioner, Yamada Asaemon Sagiri, believes that she has discovered that Gabimaru actually feels otherwise.  Lord Tokugawa Nariyoshi, the 11th Shogun, offers Gabimaru and other monstrous killers sentenced to death a chance at a pardon.  They must travel to a strange island, known as “Shinsenkyo,” where they must find “the elixir of life,” which will make the shogun immortal.  Sagiri and others of her clan will accompany these criminals, but on this island, “Heaven” and “Hell” are said to be practically the same thing!

[This volume includes bonus art and “Translation Notes.”]

The Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku manga is an Edo-period, samurai horror-drama.  It's English title, “Hell's Paradise,” aptly fits the series' horror elements.

Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku Graphic Novel Volume 1 is one of the best first volumes of a manga tankobon/graphic novel that I have ever read.  The ethereal, illustrative manner in which Yuji Kaku depicts Gabimaru and Sagiri's internal struggles with the relentless killing in which they engage is a series of gruesome, nightmarish tapestries.  It is like taking some of the most shocking art from the legendary EC Comics' horror titles and multiplying it by the power of 10.  Kaku also enthralls the readers with the mysteries of the island of Shinsenkyo, of which he does give us a nasty taste in Vol. 1.

Caleb Cook's translation captures the demented nature of many of the characters that this volume introduces.  At the same time, Cook feeds us tendrils of story to capture our imagination and to draw us ever deeper into the world of Jigokuraku.  Meanwhile, rather than do the tendril-thing, letterer Mark McMurray slashes and smashes us with the glory of bloodletting that Hell's Paradise offers its unwary visitors... And that is a very good thing.

9 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

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