Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐.25
"Gabimaru the Hollow is one of the most vicious assassins ever to come out of the ninja village of Iwagakure. He’s ruthlessly efficient, but a betrayal results in him being handed a death sentence. He has only one hope—in order to earn his freedom, he must travel to a long-hidden island and recover an elixir that will make the shogun immortal. Failure is not an option. On this island, heaven and hell are just a hair’s breadth away."
The Island Arc is the 1st arc in Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku, a manga by Yūji Kaku. This arc consists of chapters 1-16, and volumes 1-2.
I, somehow, managed to go into this without spoiling or knowing anything about it, so I had no idea what to expect from this. All I really knew was that this series was part of the 'Dark Trio' along with Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man. Knowing that, I had to brace myself before reading this, but nothing could have prepared me for the surreality that is this series.
Let's get into the details.
I rather like the art style of this manga. It is more or less the same as your typical shonen manga, but there is something different about the linework that stands out, but I don't know what it is. I think it might be the use of thin lines, that makes some panels almost look like a thumb print. As for the character designs, well, you will get no complaints from me because you get your standard, but very well done, stylized characters.
Since this is considered a dark manga, there is, of course, going to be graphic content. While it is black and white, which takes a bit away from the gore factor, there is still a lot of violence and body horror. That being said though, the panels with the most graphic content are the most well-drawn in my opinion.
There is also nudity in this, which admittedly surprised me. There is no full-frontal nudity (so far), but you do see a lot of buts and breasts.
This manga starts with a bang, with its main character, Gabimaru the Hollow, set to be executed. This doesn't exactly go the plan though as the executions fail, several times, to execute him. I think this was a great way to introduce Gabimaru, as it sets the bar high for his character and his capabilities as a ninja.
This is about more than just Gabimaru though, as we ultimately follow a group of criminals, and their monitors, the Asaemon, as they journey to Shinsenkyo by order of the Shogunate in order to acquire the elixir of life in exchange for a pardon. Of course, the journey is far more dangerous than any of them could have imagined, and the author certainly does show why this series is part of the dark trio.
Admittedly though, since I went into this blind, I had no idea that Gabimaru's motivation, and therefore the entire backbone of the story, was that he wanted to get back to his wife. I would not have guessed that this guy, who look like a middle schooler, has a wife. It does end up working really well for the story since it serves to deepen Gabimaru's character.
There is also a surprising amount of deadpanning in this, but I appreciate it nonetheless because that is my type of humour.
There is a lot to unpack in this arc regarding the world and magic system, even though there are a lot of answers we still need. Let's start with Shinsenkyo though, since it was now what I was expecting it to be. I am not actually going to go into detail about it, because I think that going in with no expectations like I did made the experience of seeing it for the first time better. The direction the author chose to go in to depict it isn't anything new or unique, but it was something that was both unsettling and beautiful to see.
As for the magic system, well, at this point it isn't very complex, and it doesn't take center stage either (at least at this point in the manga). In most manga, there is a specific system in place that allows for a range of abilities. In this though, the only magic we really get so far is the ninpo that the ninjas perform (but not to the level of something like Naruto). So, while it isn't much compared to other fantasy manga, it doesn't make this an less entertaining.
Now, there is one other thing I wanted to mention, as it is something that is going to end up bothering people. This is set sometime during the Edo period (1603-1867) so, naturally but unfortunately, that comes with a whole boat of misogyny. Specifically, the view that women are wombs and are not meant to be anything more than that, let alone be soldiers. While it is annoying to read about, I found that I was able to get through it, mainly because of how the female characters were portrayed.
Starting with Gabimaru, as he is the main character, he is a rather interesting character to dissect. He is known by everyone to have no emotions, hence the name Gabimaru the Hollow, but you quickly learn that he is far more complex than that. I rather like his duality and almost innocence and nonchalant attitude despite everything he has done and been through.
As for the Asaemon, most are more in the background (for now), but Sagiri is one of the main characters as she is Gabimaru's monitor and ally. While I am waiting for her to undergo some more development, I rather like her character. Part of that is because of how she reacts to Gabimaru's antics, and partially because of her choice to go against women's views in a male-dominated world. She is the only female Asaemon (at this point), and I admire her ambition.
I also like how she and Gabimaru are different sides of the same coin. Both of them are born into the business of violence and death and were raised to not have sentiment. In that way, both of them also have to grow.
I also appreciate how, despite the male-dominated world, there are some female characters. The author could have chosen to have only men, or only have women for fan service, but they are characters that have depth to them. (Although Yuzuriha is a bit questionable in that regard).
Now, as for the rest of the characters, I also like Chōbei for one reason and one reason alone - he looks like a combination of Sanemi and Bakugo. I also had to look up his name because I just keep calling him scarface... He is also called Chobe in the manga, and I don't know if that is just how it is spelled without the accent.
Because of the way the plot is structured, there is a lot of potential for interesting dynamics between the criminals and their monitors, as well as between the groups as well. On the downside though, they have to survive long enough for that development to happen. That is one weakness of a story like this, people start to drop like flies a bit too quickly.
This was a strong introduction, as both the first chapter, and the first arc set up the story pretty well. We are introduced to the main character and are given what we need to know, at the moment, about his backstory. We also know what he has to do in order to achieve his end goal, and what he has to face in order to get there.
The arc, and the second volume, also ended in a very good spot as it left you with something to look forward to.
WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD - PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Exactly how old is Gabimaru...?
Like this is a period manga, so the age for marriage is going to be lower
Alright, I looked it up (without spoiling anything thankfully) and apparently he is 16 which is...well, it's older than I expected at least
He is also apparently 4 foot 11, which I love because we need more short badass characters
This guy burned his own daughter's face in order to control her...dad of the year over here.
Like there is no benefit, for anyone, for doing this.
There is absolutely no guarantee that even if you somehow manage to get off the island alive, the Shogunate isn't going to kill you anyway for the knowledge they possess
Even the Asaemon, like I get that they do whatever they are ordered, but man, this situation is sketchy as hell
Alright, I want to say Eizen is good-looking, but I don't know what his age is...
Kinda disappointed that they skipped over the journey there because I love ships.
So man-made ruins were found on the island, so they were not the first people there by a long shot.
Also, why did they just assume the island was the holy land.
Sure, the island was a bit fantastical, for the wrong reasons, but you are banking a lot for a guess
So only one person can leave the island with the elixir to be pardoned...well that's not good news.
I got real confused there for a sec.
Scarface (Chobei) has a brother who looks a lot like Sagiri
So you're telling me they sentenced Nurugai, because she grew up in an unpledged tribe, and the Shogunate didn't like that...?
Right...so I thought it was a smart move to try and get off the island as quickly as you can...but the monsters patrol the waters too.
Did...did they kill off Eizen right off the bat...aww man.