There is a website called Hell Link that only appears at midnight. Type in the name of the person who have a grievance with, and Ai Enma, the Hell Girl, will appear. She will offer you a straw doll with a red string tied around its neck. Pull off the string, and the person who offends you will be instantly transported to Hell. But there is a downside, as Ai carefully explains: when you die, your soul will also go to Hell. Despite this warning, there are many who are angry enough (or, more often, desperate enough) to keep Hell Girl busy.
And the above was very much the formula for the first six episodes or so. We meet particularly horrible specimens of humanity making the lives of others unbearable, and those others using HG's special method of vengeance despite the eventual price they must pay. Something like this gets old after a number of repetitions, and one might think about giving up on the series as late as the middle of the second disk.
And then, something remarkable happens. There are certain variations on this scenario that might occur to a thoughtful viewer, and damned if the show doesn't actually start exploring them. What if the string is pulled accidentally? What if the offender is not the only, or even the chief, malefactor? What about when one of the people who has used HG's services finally does reach the end of life and has to honor the dreadful bargain? (It turns out that HG has actually been providing this service for a very, very long time. There is also an interesting use of a visual "candle" metaphor for those HG has made her contract with.) And most dreadful of all, what if the "grievance" only exists in a deranged mind, and the "offender" is actually a blameless, compassionate Angel of Mercy?
Besides this interesting consideration of the implications of its premise, the show introduces two new characters: Hajime, a down-on-his-luck reporter who we first see as getting by through blackmailing celebrities with embarrassing photos; and his daughter Tsugumi, who seems to have some psychic connection with HG herself. When Hajime finds out what is going on, he resolves to stop HG's hellish vengeance, and Tsugumi's psychic link provides him with the clues he needs to find the next one to be cursed.
It turns out that Hajime has personal reasons for opposing revenge, and Ai has reasons just as personal for wanting to carry it out. We sense there is going to be some showdown between Hajime and Ai, and while it's not over what we might expect at all, but rather something pulled out of left field, that "left field" includes the full story of the rather horrifying fate that the living Ai suffered. It all ends with Ai, who is supposed to be just a facilitator of people's vengeance, suddenly actively trying to persuade another to take revenge against someone (for Ai's benefit, much more than for the person she's ostensibly trying to "help"), and a very powerful scene involving remorse and forgiveness. (In one of the interviews included with the series, the participants talk about the series being about forgiveness, but you have to watch it to the end to see what they mean.)
The character designs are very good, especially Ai herself, a forlorn black-haired waif with very large red eyes. The backgrounds are often simply beautiful (especially the meadow where Ai's memories begin), or beautifully melancholy (the red-tinged twilight world where Ai's current "home" seems to be.) Ai's entourage is pretty interesting too (three individuals who help her in exchange for being paroled from Hell, plus "Granny," who is only seen in silhouette.) The music could have been better; it's not bad, just not up to the standard of, say, Elfen Lied, which the series, in its darkness and its obsession with the worst aspects of humanity, rather resembles. And I have to admit, I haven't enjoyed a horror series this much since Elfen Lied.
I'm giving it 2 stars for the very repetitive first six episodes, 5 for the rest of the series, with a weighted rating of 4 stars. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: I seem to recall a couple shots of full 'dorsal' (back) nudity, and there is considerable cruelty and violence, especially against animals, but the very concept of someone being arbitrarily sent to Hell is, in its way, one of the most nightmarish things one can imagine. Ai and her 'posse' enhance the unpleasantness of the experience for the 'banishees' during the process, too. Older teens and adults only, please.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Hell Girl © 2005 Jigoku Shoujo Project / SKY Perfect Well Think - Aniplex
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