In the era of the sword, wayward ninja Gabimaru is captured by Shogunate forces and sentenced to death, under the supervision of Yamada Asaemon Sagiri. Sagiri interviews Gabimaru in between execution attempts, and he responds by telling her of his past, and saying that he no longer has any attachment to life after being betrayed by his former comrades. She believes that his claims are, in part, belied by his reflexive use of superhuman strength – developed during his childhood as part of a hidden ninja clan – to survive several different attempts to end his life. As a death row convict with skill and tenacity, Sagiri judges him worthy of an invitation to participate in a dangerous mission, and seeks to remind him of what he wants to live for so that he will accept.
In the original Japanese, the show’s title – Jigokuraku – is something of a portmanteau. Jigoku is essentially hell – if Hozuki’s Coolheadedness taught me anything, it’s just Dante’s Inferno with the furniture rearranged – and here it replaces the first half of Gokuraku, a word for paradise which refers the Buddhist Sukhavati. In the show, legends tell of a place called Shinsenkyo, a paradise where can be found the immortality-granting Elixir of Life, and expeditions to the southern seas have found an island that seems to match its descriptions (vaguely reminiscent of western legends like Avalon / Tír na nÓg / Island of Saint Brendan [ <– my namesake! ] ). The whole thing about gathering prisoners to investigate it has come about because none of the original explorers who set foot on it returned without being turned into plant food (somewhat more literally than usual).
It’s unclear how much time we’re going to have to spend getting set up and voyaging out to it – we’ll need a lot more than two people, presumably – but a shot in the OP suggests that we’ll at least arrive there by the end of the season. I hope Sagiri sticks around either way – I enjoy her professional demeanor and how it’s still allowed to support some of the show’s so far tastefully understated levity (initially her snapping during the bull scene, but hopefully with more to come).
Gabimaru has potential to be an interesting protagonist, in that he’ll be wielding an array of preposterous ninja skills in the service of his ultimate goal, which, by the end of the introductory episode, is basically to just go home and chill. His wife – daughter of the ninja clan patriarch – even says “We must always strive to be ordinary,” one of the most Japanese phrases there is. This is the kind of relatable motivation that I can get behind.
It’s early enough that any number of things could go wrong, and quickly, but what we’ve seen of the protagonists’ personalities so far is promising, and I’m looking forward to another show about a group of people delving into a supernaturally hostile island looking for cool swag.
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