“Anime Fans Are Eating Good This Year” – Hell’s Paradise Stars on Gabimaru and Sagiri

Alejandro Saab and Marisa Duran, the voices behind Hell’s Paradise’s Gabimaru and Sagiri, open up about playing these bloody besties

Hell's Paradise Gabimaru and Yamada Asaemon Ready For Battle
Photo: Crunchyroll

There has been a whirlwind of breakout shonen anime during the past year and Yuji Kaku’s bold, bloody survivalist series, Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, finally has a gorgeous anime adaptation courtesy of MAPPA and it’s truly hit the ground running when it comes to its blade-wielding, demon-slaying, immortality-seeking mayhem. Hell’s Paradise kicks off with an explosive start as legendary assassin Gabimaru finds himself joined at the hip to his cold executioner, Yamada Asaemon Sagiri, who becomes his escort on a hunt for eternal life on an island that’s full of murderous monsters. 

Audiences are already calling Hell’s Paradise one of the best anime of the season and a lot of this has to do with the effortless chemistry that’s present between this anime odd couple, Gabimaru and Sagiri. The casting of these crucial roles is paramount, but Alejandro Saab and Marisa Duran rise to the occasion and bring such energy to Hell’s Paradise dynamic duo. To celebrate the start of Hell’s Paradise’s English dub, Marisa and Alejandro get candid on the anime’s passionate fandom, what’s surprised them the most about their characters so far, and which of their other roles they’d like to see stuck on an island full of monsters.

DEN OF GEEK: Hell’s Paradise is still a relatively newer series, but it’s already one of the most popular manga in Japan. Were you aware of the series’ reputation at all before getting involved with it?

ALEJANDRO SAAB: Not to the full extent, no. I did start hearing about things as the show was coming out like the whole “Dark Trio” thing. I binged the manga afterwards, but I still had no idea of how big it actually was.

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MARISA DURAN: Yeah, same here. I remember watching the trailers in Japanese as they would come out and just visually they were stunning. I found them really quite captivating. However, I didn’t know anything about the story, so I remember watching the trailers and hearing Sagiri’s voice in Japanese and thinking that it sounded like something that I could feasibly do, but didn’t think anything of it. Then, I got the email, and it was like, “Hey, you’re cast!” At that point I picked up the manga and started reading it, although I still haven’t finished it. I don’t want to get like too far ahead. 

So it sounds like you’ve read the manga and know what’s ahead for your characters then to some extent?

AS: Yeah, I blame Matt Shipman there because he’s the one who told me to binge read it. Matt’s also in the cast, too, so he’s not just a fan. 

The Hell’s Paradise dub has just gotten started. Have you been able to see any live fan reactions or done any conventions since its premiere and are you excited for that side of the experience and really being immersed in the fandom?

MD: Oh, man, yeah. I’m pretty stoked. It has been funny every week when an episode releases to read the comments on Crunchyroll. I don’t always do it, but for this show it’s been pretty fun, especially with episode five. It’s been very entertaining.

AS: As for me, I did one event after the first episode came out and I had a few fans that were excited. For now I think that it’s one of those shows that will take a bit of time to find its crowd. However, the fan reaction that I’ve seen online seems to like what we’re doing. So I’m really happy about that and it’s always nice when it’s positive feedback.

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Gabimaru and Sagiri are such unique characters who still hold many mysteries, but at this point what do you love most about them and is there something about your characters that you were particularly surprised to learn?

AS: When it comes to Gabimaru, the fact that the whole reason that he’s in any of this right now is to get back to his wife is something that I love. I mean, how can you not love a murderer with a heart of gold, right? He’s not just someone who wants to be strong. He’s someone who just wants to go home, which is something that I think everyone can relate to. We all just want to get back to the ones that we love. Seeing him experience all those emotions is something that I like because he’s not used to it. He’s always been told that he’s hollow and that’s all that he’ll ever be. Expressing that emotion, rage, fears, and happiness is just everything. I adore it.

MD: The show is so interesting to me because it takes all of these typical stereotypes that we would see in anime and it subverts them. Instead of having what you would think would become a romantic relationship between Sagiri and Gabimaru turns into this great friendship where they learn more about themselves because of the nature of their relationship. Later on all of these beautiful women show up, but instead of it working like a typical harem it’s completely different. Then on top of that you have this hero who really just wants to go home instead of going out on this incredible adventure. 

For all of these reasons it’s been really neat to play a character like Sagiri who is so different from what we normally see in anime. She is up against gender stereotypes and what is expected of the society she was raised in. She takes those expectations and then turns them on their head a bit. It’s been really rewarding to voice a character like that who’s so different from the norm.

Alejandro, you mentioned the “Dark Trio” earlier, but there’s this growing trend with shonen anime that really push boundaries, feature more heightened violence, and even incorporate a lot of horror elements. Hell’s Paradise definitely fits into this category. Why do you think this shift is taking place and there’s a greater demand for this type of dark material? 

AS: I think it’s just the changes with the times, you know? It’s cyclical and there are sometimes occasions where we need stuff like this and other times where we need happy-go-lucky stuff from Shonen Jump where you’re just interested in adventure and that’s it. There’s fun and satisfaction, whether it’s through comedy or some other grand time. There are stakes, but they’re usually minimal and I feel like folks are at a point now where they want the stakes to be even higher. From my experience, just talking with friends and experiencing manga and anime, I personally want to see how daring anime can get. I want to see the risks that they’ll take. So often when we watch anime or read manga we just assume that all of the main cast is safe. So what are really the risks there? You know that they’re going to fight and that it’s going to be cool, but of course they’re going to win.

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However, with Hell’s Paradise, you really don’t know. It adds a whole different element to the storytelling. It’s like no one is safe. Someone could get sliced, or get eaten, and it makes people appreciate those characters even more if and when they do pass. You’re like, “Oh my God, that was my favorite character! I can’t believe that just happened to so-and-so and not so-and-so.”

MD: I feel like we’re seeing a trend across media in general where everything is becoming a little more cinematic in nature. In video games, we’re seeing really grounded cinematic worlds and I I feel like that trend kind of continues into anime as well. It reminds me of the movies and in Hell’s Paradise we have this beautiful, fantastical setting, yet there are these really grounded and relatable characters. We see glimpses of their backstory and these flashbacks and you’re like there is something different about all of this. There are relatable characters in this weird setting. It’s once again kind of taking the norm of what audiences expect and then flipping in on its head. It leaves audiences receptive to the mystery where they want to know more.

Hell’s Paradise is animated by MAPPA, who have built such a legendary reputation for their gorgeous artwork. Is it hard to not just get lost in the visuals when recording lines? Have you been able to properly see full episodes in action?

AS: Absolutely. I mean seeing the aesthetics in episode three when Gabimaru is about to kill Sagiri and it takes on that whole sketch look with the animation was incredible. I love the show’s style, its vision, and I feel like MAPPA–even with all of the properties that they’re involved with–each one feels distinctly different. Each show has its own identity. Even the style of coloring in Hell’s Paradise feels unique. I love that MAPPA can give each show such focus, detail, and its own identity. It’s just so cool. 

MD: From the moment I first saw the trailers for Hell’s Paradise I was really taken aback by the island itself. There’s a line in the trailer about how it’s such an otherworldly place and it truly feels that way through the animation. It’s just insanely beautiful and it captivated me right away. It made me want to know more about the story, too. In episode one when they’re still in Japan it’s all very dark, gritty, and not super colorful. Then we come to the island and I was just blown away by the contrast between the two and I knew that there was going to be more of a story here. 

Do either of you have a favorite scene or a moment that’s really stood out to you so far in the series?

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AS: We haven’t recorded it yet, but there’s an episode where Gabimaru just pins Yuzuriha down and shouts, “I’m married! I have a wife!” Yeah, that’s my favorite moment. I love that.

MD: I love the moment in episode three, towards the end, where Gabimaru is trying so hard to kill and then he just sees his wife and everything just dissipates away. I thought that was the most beautiful imagery for the transition that he’s undergoing. That moment will always stick with me. 

I love that. Both of you have been working for close to a decade as voice actors. Have you noticed any major changes in the industry since you’ve gotten started, both in terms of the shows that are now being dubbed and the roles that you’re auditioning for and playing?

AS: Marisa and I apparently both started in the same year, 2015, which I didn’t realize until today! Back in 2015, simul-dubs were the big thing that were starting to become the norm. However, back then, we were doing like maybe ten or eleven shows–maybe a little more or a little less. Now though we’re doing like upwards of 30 a season. Not only that, but the speed at which we’re doing these things–and while maintaining consistent quality–is insane to me. It’s funny though because fans now can be frustrated when a dub gets delayed by a week. I remember when we would need to wait years for a season. It’s cool that fans don’t have to worry about that anymore. They can just wait a few weeks and start off with the dubbed version.

MD: It’s so interesting because when I first started to record for what was then Funimation, I was being brought in more for background noises and we would come in as a group of like three or four at a time and record these group queues. Then, when I booked Horimiya, it was during the height of COVID and so I was walking in this building and it was literally just me and the security guard at the front desk. Then I’d go into the little booth to record and it was just me in there, so I never even met my director or my audio engineer in person. I only heard their voices over the mic. So now to be able to go back in the studio and have this whole community of people, walk in, and be friendly with everyone is so wonderful and something that I’ll never take for granted.

You mentioned Horimiya, which is one of my favorite series and I was so excited to see the casting of both of you in Hell’s Paradise because of your work in that. There’s more Horimiya coming though! Can you talk a little about your excitement for returning to those roles and the impact that show has had on people?

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AS: I’m super excited because one of the only things that I ever wished about Horimiya is that there were more episodes of it. Much like with Hell’s Paradise, after I got cast in Horimiya I just binge-read the whole thing. It was funny because when I first read for the show I didn’t think I’d be Izumi Miyamura. I thought I’d be Tooru Ishikawa. But I’m glad that Caitlin [Glass] entrusted me with Miyamura. It’s funny because at that point in my life I was getting to the point where I was about to propose to my now married partner and I’m just so excited because we didn’t get to cover so many of the things in the manga that I would have loved to have seen, like the school festival and the school trip. I’d love to get to do the ten years before and ten years after stuff, if we’re so lucky. I just can’t wait to see what we get to do and hopefully we get to do the dub because we still don’t even know yet!

MD: Yeah, anime fans are eating good this year! It was such an unexpected surprise to hear about more Horimiya. Literally the night before it was announced I was like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we got more Horimiya…” and then I woke up to all of  these texts and tweets about its return. I’m saying that I think we manifested it. It was wild and I can’t believe that we’re finally going to get to see some of these iconic moments animated. It’s going to be awesome. 

We’ve mentioned the island from Hell’s Paradise a bunch. If you had to choose any of your other characters to be stuck on that monster-filled island, who would you like to see in that situation and why?

MD: My first thought was my character Bridget Page from Sugar Apple Fairy Tale because she’s incredibly dainty and kind of spoiled. I think it would be hilarious to put her on an island where everything just goes really poorly right away.

I love that. 

AS: I voice a character known as Twilight in a show called the Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle. Twilight is the Demon King and–I don’t know why–but I think it would just be hilarious to see him on this island, screaming at the top of his lungs, as he sees things that he’s never seen before even though he’s also a demon. 

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New episodes of Hell’s Paradise air Saturdays on Crunchyroll.