Hell Girl should not be missed, finally a show where everyone receives their "just desserts"!
Hell Girl is an anime that focuses on the (after)life of Ai Enma. Ai, for reasons unknown without spoilers, is tasked with essentially becoming the Japanese Grim Reaper/Harbinger of Vengeance. At midnight, there exists a website (hellcorrespondence.com) through which a person can enter the name of anyone that they wish to die. If their request is accepted, they will be visited shortly after by the Hell Girl. During their visit Ai offers them a straw doll with a red string around its neck. If they untie the string, the person they hate will be ferried by Ai to hell immediately, but there always has to be a price. The cost of this service is that when the client pulls the string, they bind their soul to Ai and Hell, so when they die, they will be taken to Hell no matter their deeds throughout life because of their contract.
This contract arrangement allows the show to take an episodic approach for much of the series. Each episode has a different individual, with a new tormentor. Initially, the only recurring characters are Ai and her three assistants. However, shortly after the story starts, a reporter named Hajime and his daughter Tsugumi start to discover Hell Girl's trail.
The story is quite enjoyable, stringing the audience along throughout and leaving them to wonder the motives of the seemingly stoic Hell Girl. Each individual that contacts Ai throughout the show has a completely believable story. Through some means or another, each evil person has managed to damage either their reputation, their life quality, or someone close to them. I found myself wondering throughout the story about the themes it presents. It frequently presents vengeance as a quick fix solution, but it makes one wonder would it be better just to let things go and move on? Anyhow, the story has a heavy influence of Japanese culture, it's literally brimming with references to traditional folklore. For instance, the doll that Ai gives to all of her solicitors are a traditional Japanese voodoo doll known as "Wara Ningyo". Ai also wears traditional kimono with a floral design. Also, torii gates appear in every single episode, most notably when people are ferried into Hell.
The music, voice acting and sound made this series absolutely superb. One of my favorite voice actresses, Brina Palencia starred in the role as Ai Enma and plenty of other well known voice actors made cameos throughout the series on multiple occasions. Musically, the tone is set quite well with a mix of calming eerie songs and boisterous orchestral swells overlaid with choral chants. I cannot stress enough how great a job Funimation did on the sound for this series. They really rolled out the red carpet for the whole affair and did a phenomenal job. I'll list some of the more known voice actors that have been on other anime shows in the past that have done well.
-Ai Enma: Brina Palencia (Holo - Spice and Wolf)
-Ren Ichimoku: Todd Haberkorn (Raki - Claymore)
-Hajime Shibata: John Burgmeier (Shigure -Fruits Basket)
-Tsugumi Shibata: Luci Christian (Miss Yukari - Azumanga Daioh)(Kaname -Full Metal Panic)
-Mayumi Hashimoto: Laura Bailey(Tohru Honda - Fruits Basket)
Hell Girl is captivating and enchanting, you will regret missing this! It has some mature themes but those same themes are used sparingly to accentuate the somber tone of the anime. It presents humanity in two distinctly different fashions. Choosing to show the darker side of human nature defeated by the lighter side after succumbing to their darker urges for vengeance. Hell Girl is available from Funimation and was just released in S.A.V.E edition for I believe 17 bucks Section23 films (ADV 2.0 basically) is releasing Hell Girl season two and three but it's only available subtitled >_>. Ultimately, I think that makes it fairly likely that Funimation isn't going to be picking it back up, which means my journey with Hell Girl ends here (Once you go Brina, you don't go back, take it from Holo "Stupid Potato!"). This takes some of the ideas of more popular shows like Death Note and instead of playing up insanity, plays on the morality of revenge. It's truly a feast for the senses, it has earned a high recommendation from me for its stunning quality, both through vibrant visuals and stellar acting. As Ai would say, "Now, the decision rests with you... ^_-".