Her voice whispers, “Time to die.”
This is no grim reaper.
This is vengeance.
Hell Girl, or Jigoku Shoujo, is one of the series that I purchased on sale last December at the beginning of my anime experience. It’s a serious anime (no swimmy eyes or nosebleeds here!) and I had my reservations when I saw that it was labeled as “horror,” because that term can mean different things. When it comes to American horror movies, a great deal of them involve screaming, helpless women running around half-naked (because they were just in the shower, of course) from some insane (usually male) slasher. “Blood ‘n’ boobs,” as I call them. Boooooring. (Here is where I could break off into a tangent about how American society is so repressed that we feel the need to turn any screen nudity into violence in order to make it “okay” for us to experience titillation in film, but I digress.) However, horror can also be fascinating and psychological, an experiment in how dark the recesses of the human mind can be. That’s the kind of horror that interests me. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief once I discovered that Hell Girl is indeed that kind of horror.
The series begins like a collection of short stories that all have the same ending: If someone has wronged you, and you cannot seek vengeance on your own, all you need is a computer. At midnight a website appears to those in need: the Hell Correspondence. Once there all you have to do is type in the name of the person who has tormented you or caused you anguish or pain. After that, a girl named Ai Enma will appear and hand you a straw doll with a red thread tied around its neck. Pulling the thread signifies that you have entered into a contract with Ai, also known as the “Hell Girl.” She will exact your vengeance for you and ferry the soul of your tormentor to hell. However, “curses come home to roost.” Once the thread has been pulled, and your grievance has been answered, you, too, are bound for hell. You will never know the joys of heaven, and you will be doomed to an eternity of suffering. Not until you die, of course. Ai’s parting words are always, “The decision rests with you.”
This series raises a lot of interesting questions, yet the most persistent is, “What would push you so far to the brink that you would be willing to suffer in hell for all of eternity?” Part of the horror comes from the vengeance that is exacted, but part of it is simply the situations that these characters are in. As you watch you can’t help but wonder what you would do in their places. Sometimes it’s very obvious that there are wrong choices being made on all sides, but other times it’s not so clear. One aspect that I found creepiest of all was how awful and devious some of the young schoolgirls were. Kids in middle school calling Hell Girl to exact revenge? That is messed up.
Ai Enma is quietly spooky in her own right, showing up late at night in darkened bedrooms, her deathly pale face lit by the glow of a computer screen that reflects in her abnormally large red eyes. She has three helpers who aid in her revenge business, and throughout the series we gradually learn more about their backgrounds as well as the origin of “Hell Girl.” This picks up steam in episode eight when the series finally begins to form a cohesive story arc thanks to the introduction of Tsugumi and Hajime Shibata, a daughter and father who have a strange connection to Hell Girl.
Overall this series is beyond excellent. Dark, certainly. Creepy, for sure. Disturbing beyond a doubt. But everything from the animation to the music is fantastic. Be warned, this is no happy tale. Many episodes left me feeling oddly quiet, and I cried more than once (always during the animal episodes!). But the sheer badass that is Ai Enma preparing for vengeance, tying on her kimono while the increasingly persistent and powerful drums of “Jigoku Nagashi” play in the background, that gives me chills every time I watch.
Hell Girl has been so popular in Japan that a live action television version was made as well as two more seasons of the anime. While I have not gotten to watch season two, I am in the midst of checking out season three right now. Stay tuned for an upcoming review once I’ve finished the series. As for the first season, this is the top of the line when it comes to real psychological thrills and horror in anime. You might want to watch it with a friend so that you not only have someone with whom to discuss the deeper issues that surface, but also someone to help keep you from getting freaked out. Say, it’s close to midnight right now…