Hell's Paradise episode one earns its 'dark trio' spot
Hell's Paradise episode one spoilers follow.
Hell's Paradise's long-awaited anime adaptation, based on Yuji Kaku's popular manga, is finally here!
The series comes after production company MAPPA's much-lauded recent adaptations of Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man. Those two, alongside Hell's Paradise, make up a group affectionately known as the "dark trio of shōnen" by anime fans.
The three shows are grouped together because of their similar tone and themes, especially compared with their peppier peers. They feature fewer tournament arcs, more complex protagonists and gorier violence. For many anime viewers, they're reminiscent of the grittier productions of the late 1980s and 1990s.
This approach has resulted in three franchises that are, despite their larger-than-life concepts, more grounded and human than you might expect.
We're glad to report that Hell's Paradise, directed by Kaori Makita, seems to fit this pattern perfectly. Episode one is filled with twists, action and a macabre sense of humour – but also suggests a series that's keen to emphasise its characters above all else.
The episode is essentially framed around a series of conversations between our main character Gabimaru, who is undergoing a series of failed execution attempts, and a mysterious woman.
Hell's Paradise mines comedy out of the attempted executions, if you can imagine, as they each fail in disturbing yet spectacular ways.
We learn that Gabimaru, whose capital offense we do not know, has spent his life as an assassin and that he underwent training in a hidden village that imbues its graduates with superhuman powers. We're also told, by Gabimaru, that he was married to the village chief's daughter but, after deciding they were no longer a good fit, tried to leave and was left for dead.
Halfway through the episode, it's revealed that the woman interviewing Gabimaru is actually a 'sword tester' and executioner from the renowned Yamada clan named Sagiri. She's been sent to execute Gabimaru on the orders of the Shogunate, as the show is set in the Edo period of Japanese history.
Sagiri reveals she has seen through the lie that Gabimaru wishes to die and can tell that, despite his story, he loved his wife. This is confirmed to us in amended versions of the earlier flashbacks. It turns out Gabimaru has a loving relationship with his wife, who was a positive influence on his darker tendencies.
In fact, it seems Gabimaru finds himself in the position of near-execution because he no longer wanted to be an assassin, and was trying to leave so he and his wife could lead a peaceful life.
The character-building and work that gets done on behalf of Gabimaru just fifteen minutes into Hell's Paradise's first episode is extremely impressive. The episode provides a novel vehicle for exposition via its last-rites interview framing, and the way Gabimaru presents the two versions of his story tells us a lot about how he's feeling and what he wishes he'd done differently.
The last chunk of the Hell's Paradise premiere is dedicated to setting up what will be our A-Plot.
Sagiri informs Gabimaru, and us as viewers, that a literal paradise has been discovered. It is said the secret to the elixir of life can be found there, but when the Shogun sent an exploratory party to bring back news, the only thing that returned was their bodies, all deformed by beautiful flowers and plants.
The visuals in this scene are really striking, very reminiscent of Annihilation, and definitely tease some weird (and probably disgusting) things to come.
Hell's Paradise episode one ends with Sagiri proposing Gabimaru joins an exploratory mission to this 'heaven' in exchange for a full pardon. When he finally agrees we get a taste of where the show's action is heading, as he casually unleashes a fiery vortex that toasts the guards surrounding them.
It's a brilliant-looking scene in an episode with a unique visual style. The show's animation is meticulously detailed, without ever being overly busy – this is definitely aided by the rural trappings of its historical setting. Scenes and faces feel intentionally flat, while soft underglow and lighting techniques lend everything a candlelit and fireside tone.
This is distinct from the sheen of Chainsaw Man and Jujutsu Kaisen, the other 'dark trio' shows produced by MAPPA. They both employ lots of sharp outlines, angular character designs, and neon-lit cityscapes to create a deliberately modern feel.
Ultimately, some fans might find the opening episode of Hell's Paradise a little slow, but the way it centers the backstory of its protagonist and immediately emphasises the relationship between Gabimaru and Sagiri is emblematic of the kind of character-first action show we're hoping it will be.
Chainsaw Man's opening did the same thing, as we spent time understanding the dire situation Denji was in, and look how good that show turned out to be.
Hell's Paradise is available on Crunchyroll, with new episodes releasing every Saturday at 4:30pm GMT.
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