Gokurakugai Volume 1: Paradise



I’ll be a little blunt here to start things off: I enjoyed Gokurakugai volume 1, but I know very well that it will find itself stuck at its current level of ability and quality. Allow me to explain. It’s got a rock solid and unique concept, it’s got nice and unique character designs, expressive and fun art- it’s got just about all that you might want in a good manga- but it can’t go further than that. It has a ceiling that’s immediately apparent within this volume, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing…. it does mean that you won’t be getting more out of the series if that’s what you’re looking for.

That said, if all you’re looking for is a series that fits the framework of popular shounen manga these days, but can set itself apart with the more vain and shallow aspects, Gokurakugai volume 1 is a surefire hit. It’s got a great sense of style and fun that doesn’t really worry too much about being confined or limited, and just enough of a story and world to keep you invested. While that comment does remain thinly veiled criticism of the work, it’s still something that I’ve chosen to read, and something that I’ll continue to read- for the foreseeable future. Because of that though, it’s probably best to actually get down into the nitty gritty of this first volume.

Let’s start with our lead characters: the stern-faced chainsmoker Ms. Tao, and the half-maga half-human Alma. I think on their own they occupy a space far enough way from the typical that they don’t come immediately come off as plain. However, the more time you get with them within Gokurakugai volume 1, the more their personalities begin to feel like a bit of a drag. Alma has far more life in them, which makes them more tolerable, but Tao quickly becomes a bit of a narrative brick wall for the series. Alma just sort of bounces off of her, and she’s the key to all the information in the volume- Alma doesn’t even utter a word in relation to the narrative, really. They’re a foil meant to express power and potential, and Tao really does exist as the key- literally unlocking Alma’s maga powers. Speaking of maga, what awful naming sense (in English). In Japanese, it’s just another reading for a preexisting kanji, but in English… I would have hoped something better would have come around. It’s not necessarily the fault of a single person, but I’d have rather nearly anything else as a name, honestly.

Anyways, let’s talk about the maga of Gokurakugai volume 1. Frankly speaking, they’re just mobs. Mindless reincarnated corpses from hell meant to cause problems and be fodder for the action aspects of the story. I don’t necessarily find them offensive in terms of design, but I do think it borders on lazy with their simplicity. It could be forgivable if they introduced more stylized maga down the road, but at this junction there’s just not much heart or creativity in it, when I really think there should be. Which is surprising, really, as there’s quite a bit of stylistic variance within the limits of the “chinatown” theme imposed by the Gokurakugai district- which is actually rather interesting as the hell gates (or whatever they might actually be called) are shown to be torii gates. It’s an interesting intersection, but at this point there’s not really an answer for it.

There are answers for a few things however, which at the very least make Gokurakugai volume 1 interesting. For one, at the very least Beastmen can survive in “hell” for extended periods. Secondly, it’s possible for Maga to “reproduce” (most likely artificially) and produce offspring. Third, Alma doesn’t have total control over his maga half- this is evidenced by Tao’s enchantment of “kai” which releases Alma’s other half. It’s a bit of an obvious nod by the way, as the kanji for “Kai” can be read as “key” or “undo” or any number of other pieces that relate to her ability to control half of Alma.

Similarly, this piece also directly ties Tao to the “bad guy” of this volume- though that’s as if a certain loose-lipped money grabbing informant didn’t already let the obvious slide. The man behind the strangulation of women in the Gokurakugai district clearly employs a similar power to what Tao wields. This means one of two things: humans have found a way to control Maga, or Tao and this mystery man aren’t entirely human- or, this mystery person is part maga like Alma. Personally speaking, this would be much more interesting if Gokurakugai volume 1 knew how to keep a secret and tell a story.

Quite frankly though, it doesn’t. It has solid ideas, but it just can’t find a way to pull them out in a way that reads well. Even going from scene to scene can get a little choppy, and some concepts just fall flat on their face within this first volume. It’s the kind of work that you expect from a first timer, and well, surprise, Gokurakugai volume 1 is the first volume that Yuuto Sano has ever done. It’s not a knock against them, as this is certainly work that is worth its time- It’s just that it’s not worth too much past that. Do I think people could pick it up and enjoy it? Definitely, yeah. I enjoyed it after all. I just think that if you come into this expecting something more than a healthily stylized series with a solid side of (simple) humor, you’ll absolutely end up disappointed and be wasting your time.

Because of that, at the end of Gokurakugai volume 1, I feel that this is a series that will the gaps in someone’s reading habits. It’ll be the series you pick up to read when you’re bored or don’t have anything else on the go in the moment- and again, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just important to be aware of the hard limits imposed with this work. So, if you’re looking to kill some time or fill some space on your shelf, you’ve got a safe pick in Gokurakugai.

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