THIS IS AN
FEATURING NUDITY OF MALES AND FEMALES ALIKE (some young), SEXUAL HUMOR, TORTURE, GORE, AND MATURE THEMES
THOSE FAINT OF HEART, BE ADVISED: TURN BACK
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Jigokuren – Love in Hell (地獄恋 LOVE in the HELL) is a romantic comedy manga created by Suzumaru Reiji (鈴丸れいじ) about a young sinner’s fall into Hell after his death, and the strange society and people he finds there. As indicated by the above warning: yes, it features a lot of stuff that only adults ought to read and only adults who can handle such things. Did you like Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan in spite of or perhaps because of its extreme violence? You may still not like this. Highlights include spilled guts, flayed skin, and body parts ripped from their bodies all in detail. And as for sexual content: are you not cool with a seventeen year old who looks young for her age being seen naked? Then this manga is not for you, and you should really avoid the sequel, Jigokuren – Death Life. Explaining the mature themes might give away some of the jokes, so just use your imagination based on context. If you’re still here, thinking “yeah, I’m game!”, great; Jigokuren is one of my favorites, and I highly recommend it even as a person who is usually terribly squeamish with pain and gore. It’s funny, heartfelt, tragic, and cute, and it all takes place in a surprisingly well-thought-out world.
Jigokuren begins with protagonist Senkawa Rintaro staring over his body, dead at twenty-seven years old from falling over drunk in his apartment. His spirit seems to ascend, but when he regains consciousness he finds himself in a place that doesn’t look heavenly at all. Before he can react, somebody greets him. Turns out this is Hell.
The person who greets him is a young woman who isn’t human. Judging from her horns, it seems she’s a devil. She formally introduces her sinner to Hell, although Rintaro’s first concern is clothing, seeing as he’s naked.
The devil’s name is Koyori, and she is a guide for fallen souls. Rintaro is her first sinner since graduating from devil school. At seventeen years old she comes across as very innocent and not intimidating at all. She embarrasses easily, stammers, and seems kind to her sinner, HOWEVER…no, there’s no however with Koyori. She is a nice and adorable girl, very unlike how you’d think a devil would be. As it turns out, there are many kinds of devils in Hell, although in truth Koyori is a rare sort. After being accused of sexual harassment for rubbing her horns, Rintaro gets fed up with all this nonsense he’s been dealing with and forces Koyori to a wall. As it turns out, Rintaro is a dirtbag.
Thankfully the approach of a much more experienced devil, Momone, stops him from doing something stupid.
Momone is Koyori’s senior and the devil present/responsible for the opening images of this article. She’s pretty no-nonsense and stoic, not taking kindly to perverts and weaklings. So, when her sinner gets a nice squeeze on her breast, she lifts up a giant club and smashes his head in, leaving his corpse on the ground to be eaten by her pet hell hounds.
And so, the first chapter ends.
I was prompted to reread Jigokuren after reading a translation of the first chapter of its sequel, Death Life. I had followed Jigokuren about three years’ back as it was being released, and for reasons I’ll get more into later was pretty miffed about how it ended. One reason I was upset was since I remember greatly enjoying this series. Rereading it to brush up on the setting and characters for the sequel reminded me why. Take the first chapter for example: it’s strong. It demonstrates almost everything the manga offers and pretty much lets you know whether or not this is going to be a series for you. If things like the iPod Rintaro’s wearing “moving on its own”, the casual way the devils treat their suffering charges, and the fanservice amuse you at all, stick around. If not, don’t.
Also, although there’s only the suggestion of it, the first chapter features one more big aspect of this series: worldbuilding. Hell is a destination that has been interpreted in many and varied ways across the world and throughout time, yet Suzumaru-sensei’s vision of Hell is a unique one. In chapter one, we learn that devils are given sinners to “guide” during their stay in Hell, and that the relationship from devil to sinner is a violent one. Not long after this we learn that devils tend to have multiple sinners under their charge, which covers the question of how Hell might deal with the many sinners that fall into it. There’s also a queer implication by Koyori having an iPod down here, and in chapter two it’s revealed that Hell is a full-blown society.
Hell has some similarities to how places on Earth work. Devils and human sinners live in apartments, there are stores for clothing and stands for food, there are restaurants, tailors, and practically anything else you’d expect to find in a modern society (yes, that includes the Internet). After seeing a fully dressed sinner, Rintaro believes his first order of business should be getting some clothes (which he expresses in a calm, adult manner), but Koyori reveals that she can’t really afford to buy him any (letting us know devils are somehow paid, and that there’s some kind of economy down here). Koyori explains that there’s a way sinners can earn money so they don’t need to rely on their devils, and takes him to a class that orients new sinners to Hell. This is what he learns:
A devil’s job is to torture sinners, and a sinner’s task is to be tortured. The more pain they endure without dying, the more money (referred to as en, or grudges) they earn. Like this, they can afford a place to live, food, water, and clothing. Rintaro has every issue with this. He doesn’t believe he even belongs in Hell in the first place. While he didn’t amount to really much of anything in his life, he also can’t recall anything he might have done that could be considered a real sin of any kind. He refuses to be tortured, not believing Koyori even could torture him in the first place. He dares his devil to try hurting him. She gouges his eyes.
While he writhes in pain, Koyori gently assures Rintaro that there is no mistake: he was sent to Hell for a reason. She then explains one more essential aspect of his stay here: suffering is not something done just to be paid, it’s the way sinners are punished for their foul deeds on Earth and how they will eventually earn passage into Heaven.
And that’s the basic gist of how stuff goes in Hell, although over the course of the series things complicate further and more concepts are introduced. For now, Rintaro earns a few stamps on a card after recovering from Koyori’s torture indicating he has endured some suffering and earned some money. He basically gets about thirty yen for this (thirty cents).
I was genuinely surprised by how much thought was put into this setting. There are many questions you could ask about this society and you’d honestly be hard pressed to not have one of them answered just from reading. The way the world overall works, the culture of demons, the social dynamic between devils and sinners, what affects one’s rate of atonement, varying ways of atoning, varying ways of earning money, and so on and so forth: Suzumaru-sensei really thought about this place, making it clear that Jigokuren isn’t just a perverted, gruesome, gag manga. I mean, it is all of those things, but it’s also a surprisingly in-depth exploration of an imaginative world.
Furthermore, it has a pretty okay cast of characters.
Most of them aside from the main pair of Koyori and Rintaro are simple, but effective enough. I already described Momone (pictured above), and I’ll say that her blunt ways of speaking and acting are pretty reliably good for laughs. Her sinner, Matsubayashi Yukihiko (also pictured above), is a pretty boy with a bit of a selfish streak. The gimmick with him is he’s a masochist, so he enjoys the tortures of Hell to some degree. Pretty sure that’s not how masochists work considering the end result of most torture sessions is death, but hey, who am I to judge? Aside from these two there are several one-off characters and a few more recurring ones. Some of them are significantly more important and interesting than others, but most should satisfactorily get the reader laughing.
On to the main characters! Koyori is rather lovable. She has a lot of quirks of debatable levels in cuteness, and is a genuinely nice person. From the other devils we see she certainly comes across as a standout. She is as nice as a torturer could be to their subject of torture, I think. She seems to not only want Rintaro to atone, but to reform and reflect on his past actions. Of course, he doesn’t remember whatever actions those might have been, but she does and it’s at her discretion whether or not he’s ready to bear the full weight of his sins. She has a nice dynamic with Rintaro, even though Rintaro can totally be a shithead and often. In Hell, a devil and their sinner’s relationship is an oddly precious one for several reasons that are all pretty fascinating and interesting. For instance, it turns out they are put together depending on how certain inclinations and affinities align, so even for the more violent devils their sinners are usually “satisfied” with how their torture goes. In Rintaro’s case, he really can’t deal with pain well, so Koyori’s gentle ways are helpful. She eases him into increasingly more intense torture over the course of the series, eager to get him into Heaven.
On the other hand, as should be clear by now: whether or not Rintaro really did anything to deserve falling into Hell, the man certainly has a despicable streak. He’s perverted, aggressive, stubborn, and fairly mean. He teases Koyori often, and could pretty easily be called a scumbag. But you may have figured out by now that the “romance” aspect of the series is between him and Koyori, yet I’m just describing him as terribly negative. How could a guy like this and a girl like that have a romance? Well, thankfully he has some good points, and they’re pretty darn good.
You could actually call Rintaro a tsundere. He is tsun tsun (bitchy) with Koyori and much of the world, but dere dere (shy and somewhat cute in a loving way) in private and under certain conditions. He doesn’t like his feelings being known, which seems to be because much of his life was spent in introversion, staying away from others to avoid getting hurt emotionally. Nonetheless, he actually has a sense of justice and does some nice things throughout the series. He is at heart a decent person, which is probably why he takes such issue with the idea that he was sent to Hell. Either it’s just some strange unfairness, or he is guilty of something. Second or first, it’s a painful reality. Hence, he ends up very much admiring Koyori, who seems to be the first person he’s ever really connected with. and is someone who obviously cares about his well-being. As for Koyori: she knows the good qualities of Rintaro and witnesses most of his admirable actions, growing fond of him in turn.
So in spite of the almost horror-like aspects of this series, Jigokuren can be pretty pleasant. You may have gotten the impression from how I described the characters back there that the series can deal with some dark subject matter, though. If you did, congratulations! You’re right. Jigokuren has tragic elements, which I mentioned in passing at the start of this review. They can get very tragic as well. For example, it is very likely that the lead up to the ending will make you feel genuinely miserable. Worry not: it’s all handled incredibly well and doesn’t feel jarring. Worry: sadness.
Since I mentioned the ending, let’s finish up by explaining why the ending bothered me. This series was canceled. As it was unpopular and was not selling well, the series was rushed to a conclusion at three volumes. Jigokuren ended, and I was pretty pissed off. I was especially pissed because the ending was really good.
Basically, all the ending did was make me think “WOW, this series was great! And that was the ending? That’s what the author was planning? GOSH, I sure wish I’d ACTUALLY BEEN ABLE TO SEE IT PROPERLY!”
Most axed manga end badly, which is only natural because the mangaka didn’t have time to develop anything the right way. Jigokuren does not. Although it is very obvious that the series was ended prematurely, Suzumaru-sensei didn’t stumble once and pulled through with a fantastic ending that feels right and surprisingly doesn’t feel like it’s out of nowhere. It’s brilliant, so I was furious. I wanted to see more of Suzumaru-sensei’s Hell, I wanted to see more of his ideas, I wanted to see Koyori and Rintaro developed further as characters and as a couple, I wanted to see certain other characters given focus, I wanted to see where some dropped plot threads continued on.
But no. Suzumaru-sensei’s first work basically crashed and burned and I just felt bad.
So naturally I was ecstatic when I head about Jigokuren – Death Life (地獄恋 DEATH LIFE).
In 2015 the first volume of Suzumaru Reiji’s sequel to Love in Hell was released. He’s been publishing it online digitally for a little while already (through the same publisher as before, which is a surprise). It goes without saying that I’m very excited for this, although as I implied at the start of this review the devil for the new protagonist of the series is younger looking than Koyori, so steer clear if that might offend. That said, Suzumaru Reiji-sensei doesn’t seem to have lost his touch.
You know, I think what really makes all this work is Suzumaru-sensei’s art style. I’m not going to say he’s an AMAZING artist, because he’s not, but he’s definitely a funny one. His blend of cuteness with violence really works, he has a great sense of timing with punchlines, and visual gags are strong. Also, I didn’t really post many examples of it at all, but he can get pretty creative with how demons look (i.e. , ). All in all, it’s good stuff, and is probably the largest contributor to why a big ol’ puss like myself was able to stomach most of the brutal details present.
I think if you can stomach the gore and find most everything else on display in Jigokuren to your taste, you’re probably going to enjoy it a great deal. At the very least, that seems to be the general reception to this manga. The series was licensed for English translation and put out in full by Seven Seas as Love in Hell (and Love in Hell: Death Life) I didn’t recommend the official translation for citrus, but citrus wasn’t canceled in its home nation. If the series wasn’t super well received in Japan, why not here in the West? Then again, I’m betting you’ll give Suzumaru Reiji more money by importing the volumes instead (Jigokuren – Love in Hell: Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), ebookjapan | Jigokuren – Death Life: Bookwalker, CDJapan, honto , ebookjapan).
I formally encourage you to check this series out. Next time, something anyone can read.
In the meantime, thanks for reading this.