Three stages, two girls, one hell.
Finding the truth can be a dark journey.
I’m not exactly sure where to begin this review for Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae, or Hell Girl: Three Vessels, because I did something very unlike me: I watched season three without having seen season two, Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori (Hell Girl: Two Mirrors). Usually I’m a stickler for watching things in order, but since my on demand offered season three and I wasn’t sure when I would get the chance to watch it again, I took the plunge.
The bulk of Three Vessels follows the same formula as season one of Hell Girl: when you need vengeance that you cannot exact yourself, all you have to do is contact Hell Girl online via the Hell Link at midnight. Ai Enma will offer you a doll wearing a red string around its neck, and once you pull the thread you have entered into a contract with her. She will ferry the soul of your tormentor to hell for you, but then you must pay the price: once you die, your soul belongs to hell as well.
As the season opens Ai returns and resumes her duties as Hell Girl thanks to the unwilling help of a young girl named Yuzuki. Like Tsugumi in season one, Yuzuki has a strange connection to Hell Girl. Ai is able to resurrect through Yuzuki: she kisses her in the bathtub (fan service alert!) and afterwards co-exists in Yuzuki’s body, emerging in what looks to be an excruciating back-birth every time Hell Girl is needed. Once again the series consists of individual tales of betrayal and revenge with the undercurrent of a sustainable plotline being showcased through Ai and her helpers. There are two new hell minions this time, a young boy called Yamawaro, and a spirit that possesses a creepy little doll called Kikuri. (Kikuri was apparently introduced in season two.) As the season progresses we slowly discover more about Yuzuki, and grown-up Tsugumi even makes a few appearances. Just as before, the underlying story doesn’t really pick up until the final few episodes when we discover exactly who Yuzuki is and why she’s so close to Hell Girl.
The final season of Hell Girl was… okay. I was initially taken aback by both the new levels of fan service and the strangely goofy hell scenes. In season one when someone was getting dragged to hell there were nightmarish sequences and hellfire burning and screams and horror. In this season it was as if they were trying to make light of those former intense scenes, and they would have Ai and her minions show up as members of a rock band or in giant Mighty Morphin Power Ranger-esque fighting robots. The whole thing was neither funny nor frightening, just terribly odd. Then there was the fan service, which, mostly being between two seemingly young girls, was unnecessary and more than a little creepy.
As the series progressed I enjoyed it more because the fan service and silly hell scenes were dialed down to make way for the actual story taking place between Yuzuki and Ai. By the end I felt just as invested as I did the first time around with season one. I was also glad that there was only one animal cruelty story in season three, and it was nowhere near as intense and heartbreaking as the animal stories from season one. Overall I’m happy that I got the chance to watch Hell Girl: Three Vessels, and given the chance I would certainly love to check out Hell Girl: Two Mirrors in order to fill in some of the gaps between seasons one and three. However, for my money, the best Hell Girl remains the original season.