hell heaven is one of the latest in a new generation of anime that is upending the shounen genre. Described as a “dark shounen”, the story of ninja assassin Gabimaru and executioner/escort Sagiri focuses on many of the mature themes that make up typical seinen anime, blurring the lines between the two demographics. .
Along with maturity, Hell’s Paradise is based on the idea of stories presented in a more realistic style. No, it’s not likely that one could stumble across the mythical island from the show in our world. Instead, the intricacies of the characters themselves are a reflection of reality. The background and motive paint them in gray, instead of the usual black and white that other anime subscribe to.
Good and Evil are interchangeable in Hell’s Heaven
When watching a show like My Hero Academia, the difference between virtuous heroes and irrevocable villains is stark. In Hell’s Paradise, the difference is not so obvious. It seems simple: the people on death row are clearly villains. You can’t be much worse than a bunch of murderers, especially when many people enjoy the act of murder. Gabimaru himself admits that he is an emotionless monster that deserves to be executed. The more time the audience spends with him throughout the show, the more he seems to represent a typical hero. He avoids killing, and his devotion to his wife is arguably one of the most honorable reasons to ask for a pardon from the Shogun.
This ambiguity is not exclusive to the protagonist. Almost every character has more to do with them than catch the eye. Tōma, introduced as one of the venerable Yamada Asaemon, tricked everyone into freeing Chōbei. Nurugai is revealed to be a child sentenced to death solely because of her clan’s lifestyle outside of the Shogun’s influence. Sagiri begins to question what exactly constitutes morality when she compares Gabimaru’s sense of responsibility when he kills people to her own fear and indecision. With each new plot story revealed, established ideas of good and evil are turned over and mixed together in a way as complex as they are real.
As shadow shounen continues to gain popularity, the new anime will look at the behind-the-scenes stories of Gabimmaru, Sagiri, and others as a case study to balance the medium’s magic with real life. In doing so, their story will continue to mature, just like what fans are following. Finally, there may come a time when the line between the shadow shounen and the seinen becomes as chaotic as what is considered right or wrong on Shinsenkyo Island. With the arrival of the highly anticipated hell heaven season 2, it will be interesting to see what other innovations the series will bring to shounen.