The story takes place around the eleventh year of the Tokugawa period. The ninja known as the strongest and most feared was captured and while imprisoned waiting for his judgment, he received a condition from the executioner. The condition was that if he could obtain the elixir of immortality from a mysterious land they would let him go.
Jigokuraku focus on the story of a former ninja searching for the elixir of immortality in a mysterious land, so he can be pardoned from his crimes. Overall, the premise of the story isn't quite new, but not quite old. However, the author makes up for this!While the story is young and still developing, the author has done a great job with the series. This is due to great world building, art and characters expression.
Because of the plot, we're suppose to be in a mysterious world with the unknown; therefore, we (the readers) are suppose to feel that and feed off that energy. My
hair is suppose to stand! And from this author I can feel it! The author has done a great job of keeping that energy and constantly introduce new elements to keep the readers on their toes and interested.
Secondly, the author can't keep that energy going unless he has great art to portray expressions of characters. This I might say is where the author excels the most. He constantly brings better art each week which is nice. This allows the reader not to get bored or distracts by bad art instead of the art helping the story come along.
Overall, while it is a young story, I feel like it is moving in the right direction to becoming a main stay in the action manga we talk.
Fighting for survival/ Path of returning home or searching for immortality
I didn’t have any expectation. But after a few chapters or 65 chapters later, I came out close to addicted.
If you are searching for some fantasy fighting or shounen-ish manga while hoping it can combine the element of thriller or plot-twists, you should check out this manga~~ Oh yeah, not only this is a gory manga, but this manga also heavily details on its characters’ development.
***Warning, this is not a ninja manga that focuses on whose Jutsu is cooler or stronger. If you are trying to read a manga that makes you happy
or laugh, this is not a manga for you*
Before talking about the story, I must mention the MCs.
-Gabimaru: “Best” Ninja/ Prisoner.
-Asaemon: Sword Master/ Executioner.
Due to “coincidence” or “story setup”, these two MCs somehow “teamed” up together along with the other executioners/ prisoners to pursue the elixir of immortality on a mysterious island in order to be freed and return back to home.
Along the way, both of them must face or prevail their personal conflicts and weaknesses. More importantly, they must survive death-threatening opponents or challenges ahead of them.
For Gabimaru, he was supposed to be a heartless human killing machine; however, he must find a way to incorporate emotions and feelings to become his strength.
For Asaemon, she was supposed to be arguably the best swordmaster; however, she must find confidence in herself and her expertise in the samurai sword.
Other than the MCs, the side characters can be extremely interesting as well. Overall, the characters in this manga are hella striking in their own ways and can actually steal some spotlights away from the MCs.
For the story, the setup is extremely unique. Despite having the samurai/ninja element + Edo-ish vibe, the mangaka, Yuuji san, completely created his own universe. With the existence of a mysterious island, Yuuji san demonstrated crimson contrast between hope and despair, survival and death.
For the art category, it is definitely a highlight of its own. Don’t want to go further into this, go READ x)
Story: 9 (unique, well planned, smooth)
Art:10 (meticulous, aesthetically pleasing, astounding background, love the human sketches)
Characters: 10 (detailed, see growth, consistent)
Enjoyment: 10 (Became a huge fan of this manga)
Overall: 9.5 (highly recommend to give it a shot)
This review is only based on the first 50 chapters. Although I gave it an overall score of 8, I may rise it if the quality of the manga keeps improving as it did. Also, I'll try to keep this review as spoiler free as I manage to, and I'm super sorry if you'll find any error, as English is not my native language.
So, what makes this manga really worth reading to me are characters and art. The two things are connected, as every single character is well drawn and, of course, many times the way a character is drawn in this manga gives hints
to what to expect from him in terms of characters or combat. Fightings are really important, one of the fundamental parts of this manga, and the author's attention to details is so high that every single fighting scene is clear, even where some strange powers are involved and he clearly doesnt want to let the reader understand too much about those.
The premise of the story is quite simple: some criminals, sentenced to death, are given a second chance to redeem themselves and become free. Each one of them will be followed by an executor, who'll kill them if they don't follow the rules or try to run away. The quest is to bring back the Elixir of Life from a mysterious island cloaked in mist, and anyone who manages to do so is free for the rest of their lives. The thing I like the most about how this premise develops, is that every single character has some reason to go to that island, and if they don't have one the author soon finds a way to give them one. Something I don't really like are the big evil enemies, who as of chapter fifty seem put there only to provide us some good fights and to explain the powers surrounding everyone on that island. They don't seem to have a good personality and/or some reasons do whatever they're doing other than gaining power or achieving eternal life.
Another thing I don't really like is world building: the island looks as mysterious as vague, the author did not manage as of now to give it some consistency, meaning that it looks more like a floathing thing made of nothing and out of nowhere, and not an exact place in which the story is taking place.
Every other aspect of this manga is awesome, and although it has some minor flaws I expect it to really improve over time and become a super good reading for everyone who likes this kind of stuff (it already is!).
If there is confusion whether a place is hell or heaven, you can be sure it’s hell. And this particular hell is all about sexy times between Buddhist sculpture, Taoist esoteric teachings and Boschian thicc predatory plantlife. Body horror meets clerical gardening in a tale that’s interesting to look at, but not so much to actually read through.
It’s a fresh Asian-themed flavor of the deadly mutant-infested “zone”, normally characteristic of post-apocalyptic settings. It’s just that it’s pre-apocalypse for now and not a wasteland – like really, it’s quite lush.
And it’s also often so pretty. In later chapters a reveal of a new landscape makes you
stop and whoa – it’s imaginative, beautiful and striking like best comic locations are. The designs of the characters are also masterful and well thought out (author’s notes on how he designed clothes were impressive).
In addition it’s a battle royale. With a culling of the cast coming early, heads flying and real final deaths even for named characters.
So yeah, there’s blood and there’re naked bodies. Jigokuraku is an example of fanservice done in an adult almost proper way. Characters pose naked when it’s logical for them to be naked, sex is a thing that people do. The fanservice is very male-centric in its vibe, with only female bodies being shown off, thought there’s narrative BL bait for ladies, some clothed handsome men and there’s attention to the struggles of women in their world. Yet I say almost, because while it’s written so much better than the vast majority of similar manga, a bunch of same worrying stereotypes is present – an age shifting mute loli with a dark past, several evil seductresses, an incestual bromance… There’re hints on sexual violence (which is fair considering the context, but it may make some potential readers reconsider). Oh, and the unique fetish this manga can satisfy is gender-flipping hermaphroditism with a darker edge.
…Too bad that all of this still isn’t engaging enough. And a big part of the reason is because the plot is overstructured. It’s a typical battle shounen with power levels, bosses and skill acquisition, and a battle royale with additional interpair relationships between executioners and their charges. The system is too rigid, familiar and predictable – no miracle has happened because of the fusion, no fresh meat has been grown on the bones. Now, it may change with the addition of new characters and forces, but it’s a maybe at 70+ chapters.
And the rest of the reason is that the concepts of the characters are also old. Gabimaru, the repentant ninja, is basically Mumon from Shinobi no Kuni, but less interesting, or the main character of Basilisk, and the executioner, Sagiri, is a great female character bound to be protected, sidelined and too ideal for her own good, like Tokine from Kekkaishi or Hime from Bleach. The worst part of writing is the tell-don’t-show approach to aggrandizing, when the author spells verbally how great the characters are – a character is often “thinking” that another one is oh-so-strong or cool: “Look, she/he is so cool, look”.
Additionally I honestly can’t say that battles are exciting. Too much is delegated to energy levels and weird ninja magic, so you can’t exactly build expectations, worry and celebrate, you just follow the lines.
In short, the manga drags, because it lacks emotional hooks. You know who is going to win and the character development isn’t engaging. Plus only several characters in the focus get it, side chracters remain largely simplistic.
When I read Jigokuraku I constantly feel the pull of two opposing forces. I want to see more of the gorgeous disturbing feast that the world of this manga is, its visual proficiency and mature (both in themes and in skill) narrative ideas make me want to continue to follow and enjoy it. But then the plot drags and drains, most revelations are predictable, I struggle to care. Tastes and mileage may vary tho, so Jigokuraku is totally worth checking out – for its interesting hellscape and rare brands of body horror, for a big amount of great female breasts and bi-everything plant handsome people, for Buddhist inspirations and historical fantasy fighting. Maybe the story will redeem itself, but for now it tests my patience, you can see for yourself how much it strains yours.