Hell girl, perhaps better known as Jigoku Shoujo, is the anime for the masochist but who still wants a little justice here and there. It’s beautiful to look at in both its design and the way it personifies our helplessness against certain forces, you also get to see cruel people get their asses handed to them through mental torment woooooo. Gather round kid’s time for some sweet vengeance, at a price.
The story goes that Hell, eternally searching for more souls, has come up with a really crafty way to collect them. Introducing the Hell Correspondence, which to me sounds like a saucy postage system, but is actually a website and direct line to Ai Enma. I think Japan must be the land of urban legends because when I was at school we never had these weird rumours going around, but somehow the website’s purpose has been leaked to the general populace through mostly teenagers. However only those who truly desire its purpose can access it at midnight. All you have to do is input the name of someone you wish to be dragged to Hell, I’ll ignore for a second all the problems with this because it’s clearly meant to be derp anime magic. After this Ai, a girl with eyes so massive daily life must be a struggle without protection, comes to visit and explain the deal. Of course as this is Hell we’re dealing with its a Faustian bargain, you will get your chosen asshole down to Hell but in return you too will go to Hell but only when you die, so you could live a long, happy life before eternal damnation, so win?
Like all devil bargains, Ai gives the person sometime to think it over, handing them a doll with a red string around their neck. Once the string is pulled the contract will be made and there is no take backsies, Ai even gives the person a small vision of what Hell will be like so they are perfectly clear what they are getting into. I should mention that Ai herself is not necessarily evil but has been forced into being a shepherd of the damned as a sort of atonement which as she made a deal with the devil may also be never ending bullshit.
Here’s where the hurt happens, each episode is its own self-contained story and follows a similar formula, something bad is or has happened to a generally decent person, things escalate to the point where the person is in danger or breaking point, they go to the website and have the deal explained, they struggle over the thought of Hell, then pull the string anyway. Nooooooooo T^T yes it’s all about exploiting the weak and hopeless, the only good thing is you see Ai and her companions perform an elaborate nightmare set up to torment the asshole before dragging them to Hell. The episode will then end on a happier note for the victim but with the huge overhang of their eternal damnation.
There are some twists and turns for example SPOILERRRRRR one episode has us follow a young actress that desires revenge after she is outshone by another actress, she hires thugs to force her rival to drink something nasty that ruins her voice and career, hoping that now she will get a lead role, her adopted mother (head of the theatre company) cancels the show suspecting foul play and the actress then proceeds to send her to hell. But wait, the straw doll has changed into just a normal straw doll. She then finds herself trapped in her own nightmare as the rival in her sadness and rage has banished her to Hell first. There are a few episodes which have a twist like this which keep it fresh and interesting but most are tragic cases of someone with no hope looking for any way out. These people don’t deserve the bad things that happen to them it just happens, and usually they don’t intend to use the doll either but things escalate so bad that it becomes the only way.
It is an interesting concept, and as Ai’s grandmother once asks, don’t these people have anyone to talk to? I found myself constantly frustrated with how backed into a corner these people got, when surely a word with the police or at the very least an angry tweet could have done something! But I have a feeling this is a statement of Japanese society where it is the norm to keep things to yourself and endure, but it still sucks. Ai herself is given an onlooker role, she shows minimal emotion and does not take sides generally but wants to make it clear to the victim what is in store should they take the bargain, so she’s at least fair. She has three companions who are very loyal to her;
Wanyuudou, who used to be a carriage wheel but appears to look like an old man, is the calmest out of them and the doll she uses most (her companions turn into the doll the victim uses). In Japanese mythology once an object has lived for a 100 years it is said to have a life of its own and become a Tsukumogami which is what two of her companions are. Wanyuudou also turns into Ai’s Hell carriage as she rides out to kick ass.
Ren is another Tsukumogami but originally a katana that was looking for something and decided to join Ai to try and find it. In his current form he looks like a young man. He is the most interested in humans and is quite sympathetic to the victim’s plight, even thinking of interfering with them. He has a hard time understanding illogical situations but has become fond of humans regardless.
The last companion is Hone Onna, which is a Japanese yokai meaning skeletal woman that sucks the life out of men and so Hone Onna can become skeletal, but most of the time she represents an attractive woman in a kimono. She is more temperamental than the others and will show the most concern for victims, possibly from being human herself at one point.
Before I conclude I have to comment on how pretty this anime is, Ai herself lives with her companions in a pocket dimension known as the Realm of Eternal Twilight which means the sky is always red and it just looks gorgeous. Ai herself is very ethereal and while mostly wearing a school uniform, when reaping souls she changes into a beautiful black kimono. When in this world everything seems more slow and deliberate and it really set the tone for Ai’s detachment.
I only watched the first season (there are 3) but I found it very good, if you can handle the bleak outlook it shows you. The best parts were waiting to see how they would construct the nightmares which reflected the person’s cruel nature or revealed their worst fears but overall there were really no winners here. As the series progresses you do find out more about Ai and why she is the way she is which is interesting, but the main focus is on the theme of vengeance and can be summed up by Confucius;
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”