This being the show I "enjoyed" the most this Halloween with A-P (which was filled with great shows, btw), I just had to write something about it. First of all, calling Jigoku Shoujo a horror anime is only addressing one part of the show. More than anything, it’s a collection of revenge stories, centered around themes like bullying, family problems, manipulation and alike, a bloody good one at that.
The first seven or eight episodes passed very slowly for me. While I thought those stories were mostly brilliant (safe for one or two), they felt like they lasted an hour each. After this point however, several things slightly changed for the better. No longer were all the stories loaded with heavy tragedies, but they alternated between lighter revenges, often with a spoiled or generally unlikable main character with likable side characters and genuine tragic tales, which made watching it a whole lot easier. From this point on, a new duo also entered the plot, creating a small, consistent story that continued throughout the otherwise entirely episodic story.
The animation in this show is good, although a little simplistic. They managed to make everything look realistic with very few details; it created a sense of realism, but won't awe you. I personally think this was a great decision from the animators. Let me elaborate: the character designs in a show change (for me, at least) how easy it is to relate to a fictional person. It’s not the aspect that determines wherever or not I relate to them, but it “amplifies” the effect for better or worse. With their choice of reasonably simplistic, yet real looking characters and environment, they made a cast of easily relatable characters, without killing their budget (it’s a 26 episode show after all) within the first ten episodes.
The sound, sadly, left a lot to be desired. The OP was, while not being a terrible song on itself, unfitting to say the least. It’s a reasonably "happy" pop song, and if you replaced the lyrics, it could've been easily made into a fitting generic shounen opening theme. My only compliments for the OP would go to the singer herself, who is one of the few I’ve heard so far that sung her English lyrics in between the Japanese ones fluently and convincing. The ED was the opposite of the OP, but not in the good way. While the tones and flow of the song were fitting for the show, the song itself just wasn’t good. I know everyone will have their own opinion about what is enjoyable music and what is not, but I’m sure the majority will agree with me when I say that this was far from. The music used throughout the show was luckily better, although still far from being excellent. It complimented the suspenseful, the sad and the mysterious moments with fitting sound, but almost always could've been better.
The characters in Jigoku Shoujo are a bit hit-and-miss. With the show being episodic, there comes a new set of characters into play each episode, making a lot of development impossible. They do manage to put a whole lot of development into these characters every episode, making you relate to them, but there’s only so much 20 minutes of time can do. This is however also it’s one big problem. You will not relate to each and every character and situation. While this is usually something that gets better over the duration of the show, this is not the case with episodic ones like this, making characters and episodes being either really good and engaging, or just dull to watch. Luckily, there are a couple of recurring characters. We have the Jigoku Shoujo with her “crew”, who all remain fairly shallow, the emotionless Enma Ai being my favorite of the one dimensional bunch, who despite her repetitive and almost mechanic way of doing her job, also did a few surprising things on the background, as opposed to the rest of her predictable crew. After a couple of episodes, a father with his daughter come into play, who are by far the most interesting part of the recurring crew of this show. They´re trying to find out more about the Jigoku Shoujo and her motives and bit by bit their past gets explained and their personalities deepen. They´re both determined, strong willed characters and are one of the reasons that made watching the show a lot easier after those first seven or eight slow episodes.
Overall, Jigoku Shoujo is an excellent collection of revenge stories, definitely one of the best I´ve seen so far. However because of the episodic nature of the show, it´s something that I´d only recommend to hardcore fans of these tales, and not to fans of horror flicks or thrillers. Yes, it gets repetitive, but the stories stay interesting and engaging nonetheless. In the end, it´s very good at what it does best, telling tales of human (mental) cruelty, but that’s all there is to it.