Has someone done something to hurt you or the ones you love? Are you seeking revenge? Rumor has it that there’s a website that can service your needs. Titled “Hotline to Hell”, it contains a form that can be accessed only at midnight. Type in a name, and the Hell Girl will carry out your bidding – for a price. For though your appetite for revenge will be satisfied, your soul will also be condemned to hell after you die. But who is the Hell Girl, and does she care whether your revenge is justified? Apparently not, as long as she gets more souls…
StoryJigoku Shoujo is the latest in a long and celebrated tradition of "horror/suspense" titles that don't really have either horror or suspense. The anime tend to go for sheer style over things like character development or logic and generally end with gruesome deaths tinged in irony. In the case of some of the shorter works, the formula tends to work: Vampire Princess Miyu, Pet Shop of Horrors, and even the more recent and slightly longer Requiem from the Darkness are all fairly worthwhile titles despite having basically zero character development or coherent storyline. Unfortunately, this is where Jigoku Shoujo falls short: length. With so many episodes to fill, the show quickly dead-ends into the same exact formula. Just as a magic trick gets less impressive the more times you see it, Jigoku Shoujo's excellent premise is bound to lose appeal by the 17th iteration of the same basic episode. People might think I'm exaggerating, but not only is the plot basically identical for each episode, there are in fact entire stretches of dialogue that only change by one or two words. Feeble efforts are occasionally made to mix the show up a little, but adding different-colored sprinkles to the same goddamn cup cake does not make a new experience. This wouldn't be so frustrating if the first episode hadn't been so entertaining. The show's actual premise is delightfully creepy, a true example of a modern Japanese ghost story. If the creators had actually continued to come up with original ideas, the storyline could have really shaped up into something special. As is, we're left with a disappointing narrative some people might like but almost no one will love.AnimationThe show has a good stylistic feel to the entire thing, but falls short in a lot of areas when you compare it to other contemporary works. The designs of the one-episode characters all begin to blend together after a few episodes, and movement is generally choppy and minimal. There's a bunch of reused (albeit admittedly cool) animation from episode to episode, and the entire visual experience is tainted by an action scene at the end that looks like absolute ass.SoundOMG GOGOGOGOGO Noto Mamiko!!!!!!!1111!!!1 ...at least, that's what I'd usually be saying, as I love her work in just about every anime I've heard her in. In this case, however, all the director has her do with her character (Enma Ai) is speak the same handful of lines over and over again in a sleep-inducing monotone. The experience is somewhat comparable to hearing a master musician play one note continuously over the course of two hours - a freaking waste of talent. The rest of the voice acting is unmemorable either way, and the music does an ok job at setting the mood, but does suffer a little from overuse. I didn't particularly enjoy the OP, either.CharactersIn every episode, the anime focuses on a new set of characters, which translates to minimal development or depth. These characters generally fall into one of two archetypes: victim and villain. From there, it's a slow agonizing process of watching them sink into the dull abyss of inevitability. This works for a while, but after a few episodes the total lack of characterization makes caring for them extremely difficult. There is a small set of recurring characters, but most of these are even less developed than the ones that go away at the end of every episode. Enma Ai, the title character, remains an emotionless enigma until the final few episodes, at which point her back-story feels decidedly underwhelming. The sole beacons of light in an otherwise tedious cast are the "mortal" recurring characters, Shibata and his daughter. Their past actually ends up being somewhat touching, and is definitely the high point of Jigoku Shoujo's development. Unfortunately, this isn't enough to save the show.OverallThe old cliché is that variety is the spice of life, and it certainly applies here, where literally every portion of the anime is reused somehow. Even though the show starts strongly, this becomes irrelevant when the writers refuse to expand on their initial ideas. Imagine your favorite episode of your favorite TV series. Would the series have been half as good if every episode was merely a slight variation of your favorite one?
Story: The stroy is basically about human emotions, about revenge, sadness, anger, pity, hurt. For the first half, the episodes are fairly episodic, then the Shibata's make the scene. From then on, it's reason versus emotion, and emotion always wins out in the end. The anime shows that nothing is as black and white as it seems, but that human emotions cloud our judgment. It's a poignant message that often gets lost in the dynamics of the show. Animation: The animation is quite spectacular. Between the sweeping scenery and the interesting cast, the animators had their work cut our for them. While some parts are used repeatedly, such as the flowers blooming from Ai's kimono, the beautiful art work speaks for itself. Sound: The sound brings a melancholic tone to the anime. Considering the themes, that isn't surprising. Sakasama no Chō, the opening song, seems to be custom made for Ai Enma, while the ending song reflects a bit of sadness on the anime. The interludes, such as the dramatic music played during a vengeful death, set a tone well suited for such an anime. Characters: Much of the cast is made of the contracts with Ai. You have the contractor, often a young person, and the subject of the contract, their tormentor. These change every episode and display various human emotional states. Ai Enma is given a dynamic and interesting persona, as are the Shiabatas, whie Ai's helpers are rather flat when it comes to character formatting. Overall: This anime is similar to others I have seen regarding people getting their "just deserts", but it goes beyond that to show that often, revenge is unfounded and petty. The artwork is engaging, even when some of the characters are not, and the music brings the anime to life.
Jigoku Shoujo (hell girl) is a 26 episode long episodic supernatural horror anime about revenge, hate and abuse. It’s certainly a unique anime and one that makes the viewer think about the likes of bullying, blackmail, abuse and just outright being horrible. It does get repetitive a bit quickly, but is also a bit freaky and seems to rely heavily on the idea of heaven and hell: i.e. religion. It was certainly entertaining for a bit and reminded me of my own errors in the past. Animation The animation quality isn’t too great, it’s only available in 480p. But then again it’s a 2006 anime so I guess that’s average if not a bit below. The style is slightly unique however, especially concerning the main characters. The character designs reminded me of Ghost Hound, Ai’s big eyes looked a lot like Miyako’s big eyes and so forth. There’s some traditional Japanese art in the opening and here and there. It’s not bad, but not amazing either. It could put people off. The choice of scenery for some things is nice, but I don’t like how some scenes are very, very repetitive in each episode. I swear they show the same clip of the journey of the hellish chariot every episode, similarly for the boat scenes at the end and the candle. It’s like they just swap out the people/names. A bit disappointing but I don’t have much else to say other than expect to see some freaky shizzle. Sound The intro and outro were fairly decent, at one point I thought about getting the soundtrack and then realised it was average and I’d probably never listen to it. The soundtrack in the anime itself is rather good, very fitting and creepy music, similar good use of background silence. Silence can be unnerving if used correctly in a horror. The sound design was okay too. But after a while it gets very repetitive and not in the good way. I can’t remember any of the repetitive tunes right now, but that might be due to listening to music as I write this. While this anime is available in both English and Japanese, you’d be surprised to hear that I watched the Japanese version. I did give the English dub a try, and what little I heard sounded okay. Brina Palencia definitely got the stoicism and emotionless voice of Ai correct, makes sense since she’s voiced characters like that in other anime and she’s good at those types of characters. My reason for going with the Japanese is that there is no English dub for season 2 and 3 of this anime. Thus it’s kinda pointless to watch it in English if I’ll end up watching the Japanese anyway. I might as well get used to it and it’s not bad. I will note the English VAs below, I’ll do the Japanese VAs in my inevitable review of season 2/3. Of course, Ai Enma is voiced by Brina Palencia, who has also voiced Ennis in Baccano, the Kinoshita Twins in Baka to Test, Priscilla in Claymore, Yin in Darker than Black, Rei Ayanami in the Evangelion remake, Nina Tucker in FMA, Teruki Maeno in Mnemosyne, Juliet in Romeo X Juliet (name is too long), Holo in Spice and Wolf, Ahmey in The Tower of Druaga, Kaoru Midou in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase and Moro/Zashiki-Warashi in XXXHOLiC. Hone Onna is voiced by Jennifer Seman, she has voiced few noticiable characters in anime. Ren Ichimoku is voiced by Todd Haberkorn, he voiced Firo Prochainezo in Baccano, Raki in Claymore (character ruined a good anime), Yutaka Kouno in Darker than Black, Kazuya Shibuya in Ghost Hunt, Apos in Mnemosyne, Nagasumi Michishio in My Bride is a Mermaid (memories of LMAO), Death the Kid in Soul Eater, Jil in The Tower of Druaga and Kimihiro Watanuki in Tsubasa Chronicle/XXXHOLiC. Wanyudo is voiced by R. Bruce Elliott, the voice of Szilard Quartes in Baccano, Basque Grand in FMA, Conrad in Romeo X Juliet, Fei Wong Reed in Tsubasa Chronicle and Vigo in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase. The last 2 characters don’t feature as much. Hajime Shibata is voiced by John Burgmeier, he has voiced Tenshinhan/others in the Dragon Ball animes, Jeda in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase and a few other roles. Tsugumi Shibata is voiced by Luci Christian, the voice behind such lovable characters as Haruko Kamio in Air, Masami Iwasawa in Angel Beats, Nagisa Furukawa in Clannad, Ophelia in Claymore, Miyako Miyamura in Ef: A Tale of… Wrath in FMA, Medusa in Soul Eater, Haiji and Hikaru in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase and Hitomi Kashiwa in Welcome to the NHK. Characters The main character would probably have to be the titular Hell Girl, Ai Enma. ‘Enma’ is a Japanese word that means ‘king of the dead’ or ‘judge of the dead’ and ‘Ai’ is the noun for ‘love’. Quite an oxymoronic name. Ai is an immortal demon, eternally a child with long black hair and red eyes. She is also rather stoic, she shows no emotion and just does her job of forming contracts with those who use the Hell Gate website and banishing the people whom revenge is sought against. She often wears her magic kimono which has an animated pattern that comes alive to take people to hell. She’s not that interesting of a character since she doesn’t do anything besides her job and chilling at home, but at least the character is designed and portrayed well. It seems like she has no empathy or soul enough to care about others, she will take them to hell no matter the situation, even if they don’t deserve it. She does live with her mysterious grandmother whose silhouette is always seen spinning a wheel (some kind of ghost?). Hone Onna is a youkai (monster) who looks like a beautiful woman. ‘Hone’ is the Japanese word for ‘bone’ and ‘Onna’ is the Japanese noun for ‘woman’ or ‘female.’ Her name literally translates to bone woman, rightfully so since it seems that a skeletal/undead woman seems to be her true form. She is one of Ai’s helpers in the Hell Link business and plays the role of various women in tracking down the horrible people, for example she poses as an office lady in one episode. She never seems to get upset and seems oddly peaceful. Like Ai, we don’t see or learn much about her outside of her work, thus not an interesting character. She seems to have the power to makes eyes appear anywhere and see through them. She’s sensitive about her age, or rather how old she looks. Ren Ichimoku is a youkai who looks like a handsome young man, the male equivalent to Hone Onna. Unfortunately, I can’t quite figure out what sort of Youkai he is, Ren and Ichimoku are common names, ‘Ren’ has multiple meanings none of which seem relevant. Further inspection and splitting ‘Ichimoku’ up we get ‘one’ and ‘eye’, Ren does seem to only show one eye, the other covered by his long hair. To me it seems like Ren is the most normal of Ai’s helpers. He always seems to be smiling. As with the others, nothing interesting about him. The final member of Ai’s team is probably the most important, the bald old man Youkai called Wanyudo. He wears a red scarf and turns into a straw effigy, essential to the Hell Girl contract. It also seems his face appears on the chariot when Ai leaves to carry out a contract. As with the others, he doesn’t seem to have much of a personality or story behind him. Finally we get to some real characters, the journalist Hajime Shibata. This man used to work for an outlet, but quit. He lives with his little daughter, the only family he has since his wife died long ago. He’s poor and has bad habits, he smokes. He gets by, by some somewhat shady means. He’s almost a vigilante, a man who deals out his own justice. He catches celebrities in their wrongdoing and threatens to leak the photos. The people end up paying him in return for the photos of their evil. It’s blackmail, obviously wrong, but he gives the people a choice to own up to their misdeeds or pay up for them. This makes him an interesting character, especially as he is on the trail of the Hell Girl, trying to find out what he can about her and stop people from using her. Hell Girl’s helpers really don’t like him and try to stop him from interfering. He believes that revenge in the way Hell Girl offers, is unjust and that humans should be able to look beyond that. Could he be right? One particular reason why Hajime is interested is due to his daughter Tsugumi Shibata. This child is of elementary school age and gets along well with her troublesome father. She has seen hell-girl and occasionally enters an involuntary trance, almost as if she is possessed. Through these stupors, she is able to see the future. More specifically the future showing where Hell Girl will strike next. It’s as if she has some kind of connection to the girl. Of course, her father worries about this, but she uses this ‘power’ of a sort, to try and her father track down hell girl. Hajime tries to be a good father and treats his daughter sometimes. The strange thing is that Tsugumi doesn't agree with her father. In her opinion, Hell Girl is right to give people revenge in this way. Story The plot of an episode of hell girl revolves around the following. A victim being caused grief and seeking revenge can access the Hell Link website, but only at midnight. There, they will enter the name of the person troubling them. Hell Girl gives them a visit, usually temporarily taking them to some odd realm of sunset near a big tree. There, she gives them an effigy (voodoo doll) with a red string around its neck. The terms are that if the string is pulled off the effigy, the contract with Hell Girl is formed. The person causing them troubles will be immediately tormented a bit, then die and be taken straight to hell. But there is a price, in the words of Ai “curses come home to roost.” If the victim forms the contract, then they will also go to hell when they eventually die. They are marked by a permanent seal on their chest to remind them. The idea is very similar to the Death Note, where upon using the mystical item to kill somebody, an individual condemns themselves to hell. Unlike Death Note, the story isn’t wild and interesting, the characters are already mostly boring. Almost every episode takes the same sequence of events: victim is victimised, they use hell link, they are given the effigy while they think it over, something eventually pushes them to use the doll, the curse one is tormented, shortly before they die and are taken to hell, then the victim lives happily ever after. While the setting and individuals and overall backstories do vary, the formula gets stale very quickly and remains fairly predictable through-out. I was dead bored of it at the halfway point, even though there were a few interesting episodes and the Shibatas start to make appearances. But those characters don’t appear enough. Sure in the second half it gets better as the story goes shades of gray instead the simple black and white. Towards the end, even Hell Girl and her helpers are shown to have more personality and a real plot surrounding the identity of Hell Girl herself and boy it is good. But this doesn’t change the overall plots, people still use the curse and end up going to hell. I swear Hajime was the saving grace of this entire story, he tried to change things and make people understand. The more I watched it, the more I loved that character. He was the shining beacon of hope, not just for the anime but for humanity too. It's tricky to explain the feelings of this character, but I can't help feeling the same way he does. It's just he explains it better. Were this anime more concise and to the point, it would have been miles better. v-RANT INCOMING-v Can be ignored! Then there’s the whole concept of the story, it’s a bit reliant on the idea of hell. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does result in distancing the whole story from viewers who are atheist. What ticked me off the most was that the victims themselves were condemned to hell. Sure they kinda deserve it for effectively putting out a hit on the person causing them grief, but in most cases they were left with little other options and in a few cases I felt it was even justified. Heck in a few instances, people who absolutely didn’t deserve it were incorrectly cursed by the wreckless abandon of those in pain. Most of these people don’t deserve it, but they had no choice but to go hell anyway. But never does the story deviate from the formula. The conclusions are too convenient, coincidental and predictable, that everything would end up fine for the victim. Which is a load of nonsense, it seems like they are unfazed and uncaring of the fact they literally damned their own soul to hell, as well as somehow magically recovering from the horrible situation they were in. In real life, such victims end up with permanent psychological damage, which may be small, but it’s there. At the core is the theme of revenge. Initially it seems like this anime suggests that revenge is wrong, the anime then starts to contradict itself. Hell girl and her helpers seem to want the victims to pull the string in each scenario, which kind of makes no sense. Even though this is their job, they don’t seem to gain anything from it, financially or otherwise. It’s unexplained why they do this. It seems like Hell Girl is trying to teach the victims a lesson that none of them ever bother to learn. And then there are the exceptions. In one good episode, it was mentioned that everyone has moments of difficulty, when they might feel like cursing someone. That’s probably true. In essence, wanting revenge is only a natural and human thing to do. As Ghandi once said: “…An eye for an eye and we’d all be blind.” Thing is, that’s being allowed to happen with no issues, except instead of getting an eye back for an eye, the victim loses the other eye. The concept is kinda broken. It doesn’t make sense and there are many flaws to the individual stories by which the victim could escape their troubles. Often these solutions are as simple as telling the truth, not getting involved with bad people, being smart and getting evidence via a confession or many other things. Overall, the victims are the ones that suffer and continue to suffer. In some cases it’s even a choice between life or death, die or go to hell. Sure they get some temporary respite, but they get cursed to hell for it. In real life, you only suffer the once and there’s usually no way you can get revenge. The concept of his anime is a fantasy. In real life, people in these sort of situations would psychologically break down and do something crazy, for which they’d suffer. For example they’d commit suicide. Heck, some of the characters literally try that. At least that’s better than cursing oneself to hell. Unless the religion in this anime has the nonsense of claiming suicide is a sin. It’s not as simple as being right or wrong. People who consider, try or even succeed in committing suicide are troubled and need help. Punishing those who already feel punished won’t solve anything. Damn this anime is depressing. Conclusion Wow… I read too much into that. It’s obvious this anime had promise, but the repetitive, predictable story, the uninteresting characters and flawed plotlines. It takes too long to improve just slightly. This anime reminds me of School Days in that respect. It’s competent, but the plot just angers me and is just a depressing reminder of how horrible life can be. This would have been better as a 12 episode anime starting off the focus on the interesting characters of the Shibata family. Maybe with some explanations as to the origins of Hell Girl and her crew and why they carry out this revenge service. It’s very easy to say that hate and revenge is wrong, but it is still denying natural human feelings and emotions. It oversimplifies things that shouldn’t be taken lightly and makes things too convenient. I like the idea of and the concept behind this anime, but the execution left a lot to be desired. This anime is depressing, people who suffer have the option to remain that way or go to hell by magically stopping it via a curse. Who is this for? People who like drama and who can tolerate faults in a repetitive and predictable story. If only this anime were a 12 episode series, then it would have been much better. I don’t think I’ll be watching the next 2 seasons if they are like this. Especially knowing that they are each around 26 episodes long. I can't wait till the second half for the real story to start. Family-friendliness Rating: 4/5 Disturbing and upsetting themes (lower is better) Overall Rating: 6/10 (higher is better)
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