Man-eating monsters, carnivorous plant life, and sexy Chinese vampires.
I’m going to get straight to the point here, this manga is great. Roll credits, play the ending theme, we’re done. Normally I’d start off with some elaborate scenario to describe the set up for this manga, but honestly there is so much packed in the first chapter alone that if I tried to be funny the first paragraph would be WAY too long, so here’s a quick summary. The story of this manga follows a man named “Gabimaru, the Empty,” a shinobi from the stone village Iwagakure. He’s someone who has been sentenced to execution, had the execution carried out, and still survived multiple times. He is someone with no remorse, no mercy, and no regrets for those he has murdered. A truly evil man, a truly “empty” man with no emotional attachment, and yet, he clings to living. Enter our second protagonist, Yamada Asaemon-Sagiri, an executioner from a clan of samurai who have honed their swordsmanship over the years to such a degree that they can behead a man without him feeling any pain. She has come to dole out Gabimaru’s final execution and end him once and for all. But before the day of execution, she gets to know the man she is to end the life of.
Sagiri is a very talented executioner, and debated to be the most skilled Asaemon of her clan. It should be no great feat for her to execute Gabimaru, but she hesitates. Sagiri is talented physically, but mentally she still lacks a killers detachment. While speaking to Gabimaru and getting an idea for who he is deep down, Sagiri doesn’t see an empty man without remorse or feeling. He’s keeping something important to himself. She prods Gabimaru again and again, asking why it is he refuses to die, why he prevents himself from it. The answer is one Gabimaru tries to deny: his wife.
Gabimaru has lived his entire life since early childhood as a tool for murder and destruction, slaughtering anyone for the highest bidder at the behest of Iwagakure’s chief. But there is one person who never saw him as a tool, one person who saw that there was a kind man deep beneath his cold exterior, the daughter of Iwagakure’s chief. His softened demeanor, his reluctance to continue killing, and his hesitation leading to his capture were all a result of his love for his wife. He desired to leave the life of killing to be a better man for his love. But now he is a prisoner on the literal chopping block, a permanently marked man with no chance at redemption, and the only way he can escape this fate is if he agrees to Sagiri’s request. To accompany a group of prisoners to the mythical island of Nirvana.
Gabimaru isn’t alone. He is one of many prisoners brought before the Shogunate, all serving life sentences, and all given the same objective. To be free, sail to the island of Nirvana and return with the Elixir of Eternal Life. Should one man return with the elixir, he will be cleared of his charges and even given a reward from the Shogun himself. But there are a few catches here to keep in mind about.
The prisoners must be escorted at all times by an executioner from the Asaemon clan, to monitor the prisoner and execute them should they try to escape. The second catch is that only one person can receive the Shogun’s pardon and reward, so it’s not just a race to find the elixir, but also a battle royale against all other death row inmates on the island. The final catch, is that the isle of Nirvana is not exactly the paradise talked of in legends but a living, breathing, nightmare.
This island is not safe, it’s not calm, and it’s not happy to have visitors step on its shores. Everything here is dangerous, everything here can kill you, and no one is coming to save you. The beautiful flowers are parasitic spores, the butterflies all hide fatally poisonous stingers, and behind every massive tree is a massive and monstrous abomination. This island is what a good chunk of people would describe hell as, and somewhere on it is the Elixir of Eternal Life.
On this island is where the story kicks off. A free for all to find the elixir and return home to safety, and all that’s standing in your way is hell itself. A good question would be which should you worry about more, the island, or the prisoners? Or maybe who or what is lurking further inside… But that’s up to Gabimaru and Sagiri to decide as they start their trek through this mysterious and inhospitable land, facing their own struggles along the way, whether internal or external.
Jigokuraku is a great manga with dynamic and interesting characters, a cool setting, and tons of cool fights. I would highly recommend this series if you want a good action series or pseudo-horror series. As of right now the manga is ongoing with 80+ chapters and updates bi-weekly for the most part. I hope you enjoy this manga, and if you’ve read it already tell us what you like about it below and be sure to check for new Manga Spotlights every Monday.