Notice: This review covers all three seasons of the franchise, as they are practically the same show.
Hell Girl is a mostly episodic show that aims to attract you with some of the easiest tropes anime have invented in order to sell. Those would be young people suffering, while doing the whole thing as fast as possible and with no cathartic endings so there will be as much SHOCK EFFECT (people screaming in agony) as possible to awe you, while in the mean time leaving you to stare at some haunting moe leading-chick as an extra bonus. This is the most interesting aspect of the trilogy, and if you don’t like it don’t bother even watching a few episodes.
So basically each episode is about some youth or kid suffering for some reason or another, by bullies, uncaring relatives, assholes, jerks, and other affiliated types of unlikable characters. Then they will find this site on the internet where you can ask for the person you hate to be taken to hell, with the price being your own soul going to hell after you die.
Any reasonable viewer at this point will wonder what kind of an idiot would sell his soul to the devil just to get a pitiful revenge on some random asshole. The answer is simple. NOBODY! But since the stories are short and the bad guys are presented as the incarnations of Satan himself, you are made to think that it is indeed worthy to waste these suckers, even if it costs your eternal soul. You don’t have time to think an alternative solution; the worst things happen one after another so fast and so hard that in just 15 minutes you scream KILL THAT BASTARD, YOUR SOUL IS LESS IMPORTANT THAN TAKING REVENGE!
Of course as soon as that happens, the show then tries to make you rethink what you just did. Was it worth it? Really, was it? You just killed someone, and condemned his soul eternally to the pits of hell, and you will join him when you die, and until that happens you need to live with the guilt, and the dreaded knowledge of where you will go when you kick the bucket.
And that is pretty much the concept of the whole franchise. It remains as such for most of the episodes, so it is reasonable to say the shock factor will start to get dull from a point on. It’s expected after a point on for the show not to be creepy anymore, as the mystery starts to be revealed and the repeating formula doesn’t work as it did at first. And as expected with any franchise that tries to outlive itself, eventually all the main characters become silly caricatures with less depth and far more fan service in a cheap attempt to keep you interested past the point they have nothing else to show in terms of personality.
It is true that some cases play around the premise, like NOT condemning a person or falling in for your own trap. The focus also changes as the seasons go by in pretty much the following way:
Season 1: Horror, episodic, no character development, waititng sadistically to see assholes being sent to hell.
Season 2: Mystery/detective, semi-episodic, the recurring characters expose their backdrop stories.
Season 3: Slapstick humor and moe-moe, silly cases without much importance, gets a rather big arc towards the end.
But aside from the aesthetic differences, nothing changes in the basic formula and it is always about condemning people to hell.
So what else is there in this show besides this SHOCK FACTOR (people running around in panic) that will eventually grow stale and become boring and just another generic softporn? Well there is also Ai and her assistants. She is an eternal loli responsible for taking all the victims to hell and pose all mysterious and charismatic with her unknown past. The second hook of the show is just waiting to see what is going on with her, what is her story and why does she do all that. And boy will you wait a lot for it. The first season is offering very little about her, while the second pretty much reveals everything in a the last episodes but doesn’t result to the whole revenge thing stopping. It goes on in the third season which by now has lost its mystery, and the SHOCK FACTOR (people jumping off rooftops in their despair) doesn’t work anymore. It is also cheerier and has more fan service so it clearly shows how it outlived its prime and just desperately tries to get a hold of you with retarded ecchi jokes.
Anyways, the story part of the franchise is piss poor and one should not try to watch it if he wants a great scenario with unexpected plot twists and complicating intertwining subplots. It’s just a Revenge of the Week show with different people every time as protagonists. As for the characters themselves, just like any other show heavily based on SHOCK FACTOR (people chewing their own hands while eye rolling) they are easily forgotten or overshadowed by the tragedy of the events they experience, so they are all nothing but plot devises rather than a likable cast you will care to cheer or boo. Also, you will never see again most of them getting involved in a later case, so it becomes even easier to forget them. And even if you try to like them for those few scenes they are part of, they are still quite stupid to be honest; like in most thriller shows they do some really stupid things just for the sake of the drama/tragedy to work in the worst way imaginable.
The thing that eventually most will remember is the trippy visual effects; the whole show is filled with cinematics that boost three times the tragedy of each situation. It helps not to get bored right away with it, despite realizing its formulaic structure early on. It is still a show made by studio DEEN though, so chances are you will dislike it just for that. Despite being one of their better titles, it still looks amateurish in many parts and still bases its appeal on cute young and eventually sexualized people. And as usual, they are too lazy to draw faces properly or have fluent animation. They do increase the budget in each season but in overall, this is their standard treatment of “Hurr durr, too bored to draw but it has shocking stuff, cute people, and creepy colours all over the place, so nobody will notice.”
Hell Girl would be a great anime IF it had far more plot, and far less episodes. It was like a good punch line you heard so many times that it stopped being funny no matter how much they tried to flavour it. It is not a show I recommend, aside from a few episodes just to get the basic idea. Beyond that, I enjoyed far more other similar shows such as Hundred Stories or Mononoke. They lasted far less and had a lot more memorable cases and interesting characters.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: Improves with each season by one point.
Season 1: 6/10, Season 2: 7/10, Season 3: 8/10
SOUND SECTION: Has small variations to the soundtrack in each season but in overall the quality remains equally high. (8/10)
STORY SECTION: Has a different feeling in each season (horror, mystery, humour) but in overall it is mostly episodic and formulaic, with a finale that makes things a bit more interesting. (4/10)
CHARACTER SECTION: Most are just appearing in one episode, the recurring ones are only Ai and her team. Each season has a different feel about them, with the second being in overall the best.
Season 1: 6/10 (tragic but not developed), Season 2: 8/10 (serious and developed), Season 3: 4/10 (erotic, moe-moe, stupid)
VALUE SECTION: A very famous franchise as a whole but I can’t find much replay value in it, since most cases are too formulaic and eventually predictable. (6/10)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: Too bent on shock factor and has very little plot. Otherwise, it has its silly charm.
Season 1: 4/10, Season 2: 4/10, Season 3: 2/10
Season 1: 5.5/10, Season 2: 6/10, Season 3: 5/10