Happy Halloween, or that is what I would say if this were October 31st. But following modern traditions of celebrating holidays two or three months before they happen, a new section for this blog has arrived. From here to Halloween night, I’ll be reviewing every two weeks horror anime and manga. I have expressed before that horror/terror are one of the most difficult genres to translate to Anime. While there are great manga and light novels in the genre, most horror anime falls flat and either comes as clumsy, nonsensical or even as an accidental comedy (I’m talking about you ‘Another’). So given the new season, this section will be inaugaurated with the review of the first three seasons of Jigoku Shoujo aka Hell Girl to see if it still holds as a horror trilogy or becomes a laugh fest. Revenge waits for nobody, let’s begin the review.
About the show
Jigoku Shoujo (地獄少女) is an anime series produced by Aniplex and Studio Deen. The first season of the show aired between October 2005 to April 2006. This season consisted of twenty-six episodes. With the success of the first season, another one was announced, entitled Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori (地獄少女 二籠). The second season aired between October 2006 to April 2007, also with twenty-six episodes. A third season was aired one year later, known as Jigoku Shoujojo Mitsuganae (地獄少女 三鼎), its running was from October 2008 to April 2009. As you might guess, it consisted of twenty-six episodes too.
The basic premise of the show follows the stories of people who seek revenge against someone who has been tormented them. The rumors of a site that only opens at midnight and only for those with a strong grudge, lead these people to access “Hell Link”. To their surprise, Ai Enma, the Hell Girl, appears, and presents a doll with a red string on its neck that can send the named antagonist to Hell. When the string is pulled, Enma and her companions then torment the antagonist, offering a last chance to repent (which is usually refused), and transport them to Hell. The price of the contract is that the person making the request will also have to go to Hell after his or her life is over.
Each season also include side stories of people who encounter Hell Girl and her minions and want to stop her from taking people to Hell. The first season shows a freelancer reporter and his daughter who has visions of the people who request the services of Hell Girl. The second season features a boy who is wrongfully accused of perpetuating the disappearances and is shunned and feared by the community where he he lives. The third season is seen through the eyes of a middle school student in a tiny town where people being to disappear. All these have a relationship with Hell Girl closer than they think and will help to unravel the mysteries behind Hell Link, Hell Girl and themselves.
As an introduction to the mythos of Jigoku Shoujo the first season does a decent job. The grudge aspect of the show is well planned and we get to see with each episode the story behind those who are willing to let her soul roam hell just to accomplish revenge against other people. The first stories are presented from the point of retribution: Bullying, cheating, taking advantage of others, etc. Most of the early episodes are divided in three parts, where the punishment takes the last third of the airing time. There’s always a struggle of our characters before sending someone to hell, not only for the price they have to pay but because they feel those who did them wrong can be persuaded to redeem themselves which never happens. One of the strongest topics within the show is that most humans are assholes.
The portrait of society in Jigoku Shoujo, at least this season, it’s almost black and white. The good people are tormented by the bad ones. No exceptions or gray areas. Humanity will always repeat the cycle of hate and nothing can stop it, that’s the lesson we got at the end of each episode. One of my main gripes with this season is that by not approaching the topic more than good and bad, it gets repetitive. After four episodes you can guess what will happen with the characters, the punishments are all similar and you are left wondering if something more interesting is near. This also degrades all the horror elements on the show, it stops being scary when you repeat them over and over again
The reporter subplot added another story to focus, it also fell in the same trap that the main story. Through the eyes of the reporter we discover more clues about Hell Girl and her origins while he tried to stop those who contacted her. That’s fine but also repeats itself and, in my opinion damage the show more with the ending. Without giving too much away about the ending, it suffers from over-exposition. It stops being a mystery the origins of Hell Girl and it is reduced to a tragedy which it could be done right (the second season helps with that) but the execution is clumsy and too verbose to the point you it devolves into a weak melodrama.
Overall the first season of the show gets the point across, but unless you are willing to watch the same gimmick for 26 episodes, you might get bored and probably would want to skip some of the episodes. The big reveal is totally anticlimatic and leaves you with an unsatisfaying conclusion, and one that is easily predictable. I do not recommend watching the first, unless you really want to.
Now, I was very hesitant to continue watching this show, after twenty six episodes what else you can do with the original premise. Well, you go bananas and make it weird, bizarre and interesting. Who would have thought of that? Just with the first five minutes of the first episode, the show recons itself and tell the backstory of Hell Girl as it should be: Short, to the point and without pointless drama. It is as if the show erased the development of the previous season just begin clean this new one. The first couple to our old characters and new ones too that will affect the story later on. This is a perfect introduction for those who are curious about this “franchise”.
Although there are some parallels between the first two seasons, the second does better what the first could not. All the punishments are creative and creepy, leaving the audience with dread and terror of the consequences of being punished and sent to hell. It does not stops here. The cases are more gray, where those who seek punishment are not always in the right and it is left to the audience the morale judgment of the episode. The most creepy episode for me was one where a girl wanted to be with his childhood friend who lived next door. You might already think how the story went, she either sent to hell another girl or the friend itself. No, the episode goes from mediocre childhood love to psychotic obsession similar to the one presented in “Misery” without breaking legs. That’s the kind of story you want to tell with this premise and one that will hook up your audience.
The second season also has a subplot that could work as its own separate show. A family in a closed community is targeted by someone who wants revenge on the father, while the usual Jigoku Shoujo hijinks ensue, the episode takes a twist where almost all members of the family are killed before they can be sent to hell and the one who wanted to vanished the father is sent to hell by a different person. The only survivor is the only son of the family, but the community thinks he was the one behind all the kills and disappearances and ostracize him. This will set up the grand finale and it’s all worthy. Something is rotten in the Japanese suburbs and it’s a wonderful conclusion for this season.
When all it’s said and done, if you want to know more about this show and the story of Enma Ai, begin with the second season. You will get the whole picture of the show and also a surprisingly well written horror Anime, those are really difficult to find, I wish it wasn’t attached to Jigoku Shoujo or that the show ended here, but there’s another season to watch.
Alas someone thought another season of Jigoku Shoujo was a good idea and we got it. This time abandoning all the things that made the second season special and also leaving the city or suburbs to enclose the story in the country, but only some parts because say goodbye to the creative punishments or interesting subplot, we are back to the episodic punishment of the week and also got more backstory of Enma Ai and the other characters because they might get replaced with new characters. I really wanted the show to take another route but it ended up being the same boring show we left in the first season.
There’s nothing much to said about the third season, and from what I have seen from the fourth season that is currently airing, there’s little to catch up that you might have already seen in the first two seasons. Avoid the third season all together, don’t even try to waste your time.
Jigoku Shoujo is a perfect example of a Horror anime that has all the elements to succeed in its genre, but fails at it. If we only consider the second season, you get a decent show you can watch and recommend to others, but because it’s tied to this overall universe of revenge, you might think twice before spending your time in this. Anime is available where anime is.