Jigoku Shoujo is one of those anime where you wonder what all that hype is based around. What really disappointed me the most was that for a 26 episode long anime, only 4 of those focused on the main plot, making me wonder why this anime was not made into an OVA or half season, since the format would’ve fit so much better. Further, I ended up with a bad aftertaste of Jigoku Shoujo trying to mimic Le Portrait de Petite Cosette that I think is a superior anime in that it achieved its goals, Jigoku Shoujo doesn’t. The similarities between the shows are striking, as well. We have a girl who is trapped within a liminal existence due to horrible events that happened in the past and now the girls are trying to exact revenge. Both shows espouse a rather gothic atmosphere and explore the dark sides of the human psyche, but what Le Portrait de Petite Cossette has in favor is its maturity that Jigoku Shoujo unfortunately lacks and instead often comes off as childish and silly.
This also reveals Jigoku Shoujo’s greatest weakness – Jigoku Shoujo generally felt aimless. Beyond trying to set up its premise about Enma Ai as Jigoku Shoujo who sends people to Hell that is achieved in the first episode, we are left with 21 more episodes of the same content but slightly different contexts. After a couple of episodes this quickly becomes boring, and the little story arc we are given in the last four episodes do not help to redeem the show as a whole since these episodes generally do not really change anything. Because Jigoku Shoujo also focuses much more on the feelings of revenge rather than the events and motivations that led to these feelings, all the characters generally felt rather flat and it was hard to sympathize with them. The lack of a differing perspective in many of the episodes in turn made all the bad boys and girls into carbon copies of evil, even though Jigoku Shoujo desperately attempted to carry the message that indeed, the world is actually more complex than that. Then why not show it?
The animation was not as bad as the story and partially redeems the show, but just by a little. The scenery surrounding Hell and the liminal world where Enma Ai is mostly seen to reside are beautifully done, but that’s about all there is to Jigoku Shoujo’s art. The extreme overuse of certain frames almost feels like poor attempts to make the episodes feel longer than they actually are, and while admittedly these frames are quite cool the first time you see them, they quickly become boring as the novelty wears off. Further, the character designs are often very bland and blend into each other. At some point you’ll start thinking; didn’t I see that girl before? Ah yes, she was in episode X too but with a slightly different hairdo! The large eyes of the girls in particular are also cringe-worthy, especially the close up shots.
The sound was even worse than animation. The tracks were few and way overused. At some point much of the music became obtrusive rather than adding to the atmosphere. The music also helped to enhance the constant over-the-top feeling I got while watching, especially as the bad guys and girls were being sent to Hell as this was often done in some silly macabre way. Poor Enma Ai’s voice actors barely got any lines to say either; they were the same in almost every episode. Hajime’s voice actor was also generally pretty bad once he started yelling and it really got on my nerves. Tsugumi’s voice actor wasn’t that much better although she got the job done.
However, the absolute worst part of all with Jigoku Shoujo was the characters. They were as flat as your flat screen, and there was barely any development at all. Because Hajime and Tsugumi were introduced so late into the series, all characters before that were also expendable and therefore receive zero development since we were never to meet them again. While the mysterious atmosphere that surrounds Enma Ai works for the first episodes, at some point that too becomes boring. Her sidekicks are beyond useless to boot, aside from the little comical relief they brought to the table.
Overall Jigoku Shoujo falls flat on all levels, mostly because of its length. Had it been shorter the concept might’ve worked fine considering that it still has an interesting premise, but not with this kind of storytelling. If the episodes had at least chosen to focus more on the actions that led to the feelings of revenge similar to how the mushi affect people within Mushishi, Jigoku Shoujo as a concept might still have worked well. Now however, all that we are left with is style without content, and without good content Jigoku Shoujo quickly turns into a snorefest not even the final arc can redeem.