The season premiere of Hell’s Paradise aired on Saturday ushering in the Spring 2023 season in a major way. While some were skeptical after pre-animated trailers for the series were released, Hell’s Paradise and studio MAPPA showed us that fans have nothing to worry about regarding the quality that this series will live up to.
Great First Impression
The announcement of Hell’s Paradise receiving an anime adaptation already had me ecstatic. Now, after seeing that some of the scenes from the first episode were actually improved upon from those in the trailers, I couldn’t be happier now that the anime is finally airing—and boy oh boy did it leave a wonderful first impression.
First off, the casting for this couldn’t have been any better. Yumiri Hanamori encaptures Sagiri’s grace, composure, and warrior attitude to a T. While her character starts to unfold more as the series goes along, she’s going to become a fan favorite for a reason and I have no doubt that Hanamori’s performance is going to be one of those reasons. Series character designer Akitsugu Hisagi did a wonderful job with her design and the production work from the rest of the staff only made her that much better.
I have no doubts she’ll be voted as one of the “Best Girls” come the end of the year. There’s no reason not to like her. The episode did a wonderful job of capturing the fierce beauty she brings to the series and even gave her a hint of backstory while simultaneously not drawing the attention away from Gabimaru. But what I love most about her character even in just the first episode is that while she is a bringer of death as a reputable executioner, she always sides with life if the opportunity presents itself…even with someone on death row.
Secondly, the overall artwork, color design, and photography were all beautifully done. Hell’s Paradise is a manga that really has a lot of scenic beauty to it with a grotesque nature in some parts. Making sure the anime does a good job of relaying that is crucial for a series like this and I think e-caesar (art director), Hyo Gyu Park (director of photography), and Ayako Suenaga (color designer) all shined with this episode. That’s not to say the dozen of animation directors for just this episode alone didn’t, but those three definitely stood out to me above all.
The scene at the dock with the men finding the boat of flowers only to recognize the body parts that came with them was really well done and is just something you can’t receive in black-and-white manga panels. It really gave me an eerie mixed feeling of calmness and anxiousness and I think the color design above all else played a major role in that. Going forward, I expect all of the Hell’s Paradise episodes to showcase clashes of desaturated colors and vibrant settings to really give us a feel of what this series is all about.
Interesting Story, Wonderful Exposition
Rather than just comparing the anime with the manga, I have to give props to series director Kaori Makita, who also storyboarded the season premiere as well. While animation experts may look at some cuts and find whatever flaws they may have from this episode, through both watch-throughs I thought that it was wonderfully directed from beginning to end. The flower with blood dripping on it covering the one that had not bloomed yet is the first image we see when the episode starts and the symbolism that plays to the flowers we both see at the very end of the episode’s ED was a nice touch.
The season premiere of Hell’s Paradise set the tone in a very fluid way. It felt like the story wasn’t rushed but it also wasn’t a slow burn either. You have a former shinobi who was sentenced to death in a plethora of ways but his subconscious and deeply-rooted love for his wife refused to let him die. So now he’s going to be sent to a mysterious land that nobody comes back alive from. If he returns with what’s called The Elixir of Life, which is already interesting enough, then he’s a free man. Oh, and a fierce executioner who even made that same main character waiver is defending him.
The exposition was perfect for both Gabimaru and Sagiri and we weren’t overwhelmed with a bunch of important characters. Plus, I love how the season premiere didn’t give us too much information about this island but gave fans just enough to make it interesting. Again, it feels like the Hell’s Paradise season premiere really did check off every box you could want in a season premiere. That raging inferno in Gabimaru, and jokingly outside of him, will continue to burn for many more episodes going forward bringing about new, dangerous scenarios.
Hell’s Paradise stood out because it’s different. You have a murderous shinobi who married the most gentle person he knew (contrast in of itself right there) and now he has to win his freedom in the most bizarre way possible to return to her. It sets that end goal at the beginning of the story, which I am an absolute sucker for in storytelling, in such a unique way that it’s unlike anything I’ve watched or read. The formula is the same (many stories start as such), but it’s how you present different variables in that formula that makes one story stand out from the next.
One thing I want to point out with Gabimaru is that notice the only time you saw him smile in this episode was when he was with his wife during the flashback. At no other point did he smile, not even when he found out there was a way for him to be pardoned. Definitely going to keep track of that as the story continues on with him and Sagiri. It’s something little but I think it plays a big significance to Gabimaru’s character and who he is.
Hell’s Paradise Season Premiere Wrap-Up
The season premiere of Hell’s Paradise came out swinging. From the soundtrack when Gabimaru began to fight near the end of the episode to some of the animation sequences that looked incredible, and everything in between, this exciting beginning to a unique story hit a home run for me and it seems to be for the fans as well (as it should). Going forward, Hell’s Paradise is going to be a topic of discussion every week with each new episode and I’ll be right there waiting to give my two cents as well.
Episode rating: 9.5/10
Screenshots via Crunchyroll
©YUJI KAKU/SHUEISHA, TWIN ENGINE, MAPPA