When you first start Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, Yamada Asaemon Sagiri feels like a character you’ve seen before. She is rigid, but fair. A stickler for the rules and the only character to even touch the protagonist and make him bleed. And yeah, while she is cool to watch, it feels like a familiar trope and you automatically classify her as the typical ‘ice princess’ we’ve grown to see in Shounen. However, that is just the first episode, and Sagiri proves to be so much more.
Sagiri, to me, was the biggest surprise of the series. Not because she’s really much of a stand out or anything, because she really isn’t. As far as characters go in Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, there isn’t much to Sagiri that makes her memorable beyond the focus the series itself puts on her. But as the series goes on, we learn how much of that rigidness is a front for a brittle nature. And it’s unsureness that adds humanity into an otherwise supernatural setting.
I mean, that’s the core of Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, isn’t it? That in the pursuit of everlasting life, how we lose our humanity. How immortality is lonely, something that only glitters from afar. And it’s mortality that is bursting with life, true human spirit compared to the beautiful horrors of the mysterious island that harbors the ‘Elixir Of Life’. And while there are plenty of characters fighting for survival, none of them feel very approachable. And that’s not their fault. Most of them are criminals, after all.
But it’s Sagiri, the previously untouchable statue of tradition and finesse, that brings relatability to a cast and story that is otherwise so otherworldly. And it doesn’t feel apparent at first. In fact, I kind of hated how Sagiri went from this extremely competent individual in her first appearance, to an almost wet blanket in the second one. But with her, there’s genuine growth you don’t expect, a conflict of morals. So, let’s take the time to discuss Sagiri and the nuances she adds to Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku.
Who Is Yamada Asaemon Sagiri?
Yamada Asaemon Sagiri is the secondary main character, or deuteragonist, of Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku. She comes from the capable but feared Yamada Asaemon clan, known for churning out executioners that go into the employment of the Shogunate in Edo. Growing up in such a clan, she has become an excellent swordsman, following in the footsteps of her father, Yamada Asaemon Kichiji.
This also means that Sagiri is the heiress to a clan tied to a lot of spilt blood, a clan that doesn’t value her positioning because of her gender. Women are not traditionally Executioners or leaders, but Sagiri knows her fate is to wield the blade like those before her. And she does an exceptional job of it, but that strength hides insecurity. Eventually, she is tasked with the execution of Gabimaru The Hollow and becomes the first person we see to pose an actual danger to the famed Shinobi.
Afterwards, we learn that Sagiri’s true job wasn’t to kill Gabimaru, but to see if he is suitable for a mission to Shinsenkyō, a mysterious island that is rumored to hold the ‘Elixir Of Life’. And when he proves his merit, she is meant to accompany him to said island as his Executioner, to make sure that he comes back after completing the mission, or be executed upon his failure. If he does end up acquiring it and surviving, he will be pardoned and allowed to reunite with his wife, Yui.
Together, they must survive not only the other Death Row criminals that are on the hunt, but also the strange horrors of Shinsenkyō itself.
An Austere Sort Of Beauty:
Coming from a noble and respected family, Sagiri is a traditional beauty. Her features are refined, but soft at the same time. Her long brown hair are kept neatly in a ponytail to refrain from hindering in her duties, and her big brown eyes betray a sort of cold calm that she doesn’t feel on the inside.
Not even her built is particularly imposing, being of average height. By all means, Sagiri doesn’t cut an intimadating figure, but that is sort of her biggest asset. You wouldn’t assume this slight and pretty girl to be able to make the great Gbaimaru bleed with a knick of her sword. But there she is, surpassing her own limitations.
Duty Is Her Middle Name, But For How Long?
The main thing we learn about Sagiri is that her family is very important to her. The life she lives is very much dictated by the rules and traditions she has grown up with. As a Samurai, she is delligent in her work ethic, thourugh with her actions. However, no one can grow up in a clan known for being heartless killers and still not feel a little conflicted, right?
Which is why she is the first person to see Gabimaru beyond his facade of being an assassin. Because Sagiri happens to be an alert indiviual who knows how people react. She judges with the same eye as her peers do, but sees outside of it through her own individuality. It’s what makes her such an interesting character in the first place. Sagiri has a moral code, but she’s also torn between following it or the one created by her family. This leads her to overenforcing the rules her family instilled in her, even when other Yamada Asaemon agree that they only hinder the mission further. And that leads to complexity.
So, while Sagiri does appear to be sure and confident at first, we quickly realise that that is not the case. She is judged, unjustly so, for both being a woman and hesitating when it comes to making the kill. While she has the talent to back her position, she lacks the drive to complete the job. Sagiri was lethal in battle, but failed to deliver the killing blow, freezing up because she couldn’t go through with it.
And that remained her fundamental flaw for a while. Lacking the mental resolution to kill is not a great way to live if your entire job is beheading individuals. It’s why her own clansmen started looking down on her, claiming that she let her emotions get in the way. But Sagiri is exceptional, because instead of trying to overcome her fear, she embraced it. She took upon the burden of taking the lives she did, and made it a thing of respect.
Because the truth is, sometimes you don’t get over the mental block that is ailing you. Sometimes, you have to go through with a duty afraid, because that is the only way it gets done. And that’s okay. Being true to yourself is much more important than being a weak imitation of someone else. And Sagiri was determined to make her own path of it.
Skills Befitting The Yamada Asaemon Clan:
Just because Sagiri fears killing others, doesn’t means she can’t do a scary good job of it. After all, she is raised as one of the Yamada Asaemon. She is trained in the arts of the Samurai, wielding her sword like it’s a part of her. After all, you don’t get promoted to the title of Asaemon, if you haven’t shown the prefeciency.
Her Kenjutsu are simply unmatched, once she gets down to it. Sagiri’s main attacks include the Tameshi Ittō-ryū: Gusokuwari, which is used to counter the heaviest of attacks directed at her. But she also has a technique where she co-ordinates with another Ymada Asaemon in a two way sword attack that slices an enemy into two, known as the Tameshi Ittō-ryū Hiken: Futa wa no Tsuki. Of course, a lot of her energy also comes in the form of Tao which, in her case, is wood-attributed. She can use it not only in her combat skills, but also to precieve an enemy’s attacks before they even happen.
Her sword skills are pretty legendary, with lightening quick speed and reflexes to aide her. But Gabimaru thinks that she is even stronger than he is, due to her accepting her fears instead of internalizing them. It’s because she can be so sure of herself despite fear, that gives her the conviction to see every battle through.
The True Voice Of Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku?
The thing that intrigues me most about Yamada Asaemon Sagiri si the unique position she holds in Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku. I mean, it wuld’ve been so easy to have her be some throwaway love interest, doing things for Gabimaru as his personal cheerleader and nothing more. I mean, we’ve seen that trope play out with female characters in Shounen before.
But what’s interesting is how she happens to be the narrator of something that she doesn’t fully understand. And as the audience, we experience it all through in real time. Sagiri isn’t talking about the past when her monologues come in, things that are happening to her are very much in the moment. But we happen to have those realizations alongside her. Her view of things is sometimes all we get, and that ends up making her voice one of the strongest in the series.
Because who else would’ve taken the time to determine whether Gabimaru was truly immortal to all forms of execution, or holding out because he had a goal? Who else could’ve figured out that said goal wasn’t violent in nature, as would suit the violent man in front of her, but one stemming from an innocent love that he is trying to get back to? Fact is, no one has the same empathy as Sagiri does, no one has that humanity.
It’s what makes her so integral to the story of Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku itself. And it’s what sets her apart. Her mortality, fear of the unknown and hesitation, are a direct foil to themes of immortality and conviction in power. Gabimaru might be the face of the series, the motivation for it all. But Sagiri is the heart that pushes us to look beyond the show of power.
In the end, Yamada Asaemon Sagiri might not be your favorite character in Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku. But it wouldn’t be the same series without her.