STORY DELIVERY/PLOT DEVICES/CHARACTERS
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!!: JIGOKU SHOUJO IS one of those shows you really need to stick it in there for a bit before it becomes worthwhile past the 2nd episode. This is definately a show for a patient and/or, in my case, bored viewer scrambling to find any anime they could watch.
Jigoku Shoujo is one of those shows that starts off promising an unpredictable, fast paced, heart racing suspense from the get-go. What is unfortunate however, is that what the show promises from its first episode falls to the wayside as the storylines become predictable or the viewer is stuck feeling that the episodes all fall in the same pattern (maybe even morally frustrating when you are trying to wrap the whole hell deal and right vs. wrong). More precisely, it isn't until about 6 to 7 episodes in that the show picks up again. I say this because a good storyline has continuity, and those who have watched this show through to the end may probably agree that before meeting the Shibata's and after episode 3, getting there felt like a monumental task because there was so little continuity in the story; resulting in lack of attachment for the characters, lack of knowledge to base the mysterious Ai of, and the feeling that waiting for someone who doesn't want revenge was going to happen once in a blue moon, and possibly never. Very few shows can survive in the "Gintamaesque" fashion (and even then some can't keep up with or refuse to follow its near abysmal continuity and antics), and this I believe is remedied if you make it past the first third.
That being said, where the story hits home is the underlying message (again something that isn't clear until you meet the Shibata's *hang in there my friends* ><, can't say more due to spoilers), that revenge never ever ever EVER ends well. In fact the repetitive nature of the series beautifully supports the fact that revenge is a cycle, and that it IS repetitive in nature, and in this regard, the first few episodes do serve a purpose even without the usual continuity that holds strong stories together. Moreover, if one gets tired of the revenge stories and how predictable and inevitable the outcomes are, can you imagine how Enma Ai feels seeing this happen day after day after day O_O? That last question is what lead me to brave it through for two reasons: I need to learn more about Ai, and secondly can anyone break this revenge streak!?!?! Luckily for me following those reasons for watching the show has lead me to a satisfactory viewing when the continuity suddenly kicks in mid series and little by little, Ai's trail is being picked up and "told", albeit initially at a snails pace. The beautiful relationship between the Shibata father and daughter pairing also eases its way into the story slowly, and to me, as they are the window characters through which we can most relate and see in development, are the true main characters.
I Put Characters in the same category of the review because stories are the histories of characters and hence seperating them seems impossible in a series like Jigoku Shoujo. In particular the immaturity of younger characters and the frustration of adults in the series are well emphasized and captured in the way the individuals come to their conclusions regarding revenge. This was done splendidly and in my opinion is what really made the story believable. That being said a large amount of empathy must be given to the characters to reach that conclusion by asking questions such as "how would I think if I was a teen going through puberty", "do I know how childish I am if I AM a child", "how long do I have to live? A lifetime is a long time before going to hell, maybe it isn't so bad if I'm thinking of it from a childs perspective". You wouldn't expect an average pubescent teen to think about the butterfly effect and theories of relativity when they are angry, even adults make some of the dumbest decisions when humiliated and enraged. To me, the real suspense lies in the Shibata's interaction with Ai. These recurring characters add the much needed development/care factor needed for a long series as misunderstandings and mysteries come to light one by one. The only complaints I have about the characters is that there are so many transitory/temporary characters that I can see how some may get mixed up or confused between lookalike characters, and that their development in such small time frames often end up making these rather complex characters seem more shallow than they are (must factor in family backgrounds and culture by ourselves with large amounts of assumption going on :( ).
The Animation and Sound were done fairly well in my opinion, though some may not like the style if they are not into rounder features and faces (what I affectionately call the plump look) that are a staple for many characters (specially young girls) in the series. The voice acting was done well and convincing too as the emotions are well conveyed by the major characters. The desperation, anger, and disgust is well interpretted by the voice actors and that's really all you need to give the animation more life. Overall the presentation is strong because it comes neatly packaged and seems emphasized in terms of the shows budget.
I believe Jigoku Shoujo is a series that is very differently viewed depending on what age group, cultural influences, social networks, and/or education/experiences the audience has. It is a truly unique series in that it really requires a lot of empathy and understanding of ones moral values (not just what you're told is right or wrong, but your own reasons for believing in morals). The almost self-righteous Shibata Hajime thus provides a very good foil for his progressively distraught daughter, with whom many of us, that haven't yet come to grips with how to find our own reasons for understanding "right" and "wrong" in the many grey areas life throws at us, can relate. What about Ai? Well, from the view point of an almost godlike being, what is the value of a life? What attachments can one expect from someone so far removed from notions of time, and space? Also one's knowledge of religious references to revenge cycles and Buddhism in general greatly help ones understanding of lots of imagery thrown about in the anime, though the backdrop is largely Shinto related (you'll know what I mean when you think about the grandma endlessly spinning that spindle, the spider on the cobweb, and the large references to karma). What's really stopping me from giving this series a 9/10 is thus the amount of knowledge one must already have prepared for this series to really resonate with them. Although I find this to be a deep and complex anime... it is also true that one should be able to enjoy a show with only what is provided by it, and I felt that without a wealth of knowledge on japanese culture, buddhism, and life experiences, few would be able to enjoy it as much.