The story of my struggle to get all thirteen of these volumes would drag on too long, but sufficed to say that the paper shortage and resultant out of print plague striking manga has affected us all and I had to wait over a month for the tenth volume to show up. What I really liked about this series was that it’s complete and thirteen volumes is a satisfying amount of manga to read without being overwhelming. The art is also great and Kaku does a wonderful job at making highly distinct and alive characters who you come to really like and root for.
Hell’s Paradise is set in an alternate Edo Japan where a mysterious island has been discovered off the coast. The shogun believes that the elixir of youth must be there since the island matches the descriptions of paradise (covered in beautiful flowers and trees, etc). But only one of the men he sent to explore came back, and flowers sprouted out of his body and seemed to drive him insane, so they decide to gather up the worst criminals and send them to the island to get the elixir. Each criminal is paired up with a state-sanctioned executioner who is allowed to kill them immediately if they try to desert or go rogue. Whichever criminal gets the elixir back first gets a full pardon, but all the rest will be executed.
With that setup, the series is off to the races. The relationships between the criminals and their guards become complex, and the secrets of the island are revealed. These books have some extremely grotesque body horror and some amazing fight sequences. At their heart is the very well done characterization and a nuanced exploration of what makes humanity special, and what drives people. I found the overall story arc to be satisfying and I felt that I was in good hands the whole time.
I would highly recommend this if you like character-driven stories, alternate history, and elaborate fight sequences. But if you’re not okay with body horror, this is really not for you. Some of the monsters really did freak me out. And warnings for child abuse, sexual content, physical/mental abuse, gore/body horror/death.