Judge Bryan Byun is a dish best served cold.
Your Grievance Shall Be Avenged.
There is a website, HellCorrespondence.com, that can only be accessed at midnight. Those who have been wronged and desire revenge can type in the name of their tormentor. They receive a straw doll with a scarlet thread tied around its neck. Pulling this thread will summon a spirit, Ai Enma, who will transport the soul of your enemy directly to Hell.
But there's a price to be paid for retribution: those who choose revenge forfeit their own souls, and will themselves be sent to Hell after they die.
Hell Girl is a horror anime series that follows a simple anthology format: each episode features a hapless victim of injustice or persecution who's pushed by bitterness, anger, or desperation into an unholy bargain. Once summoned, Ai Enma, a spirit in the form of a spooky little black-haired, ruby-eyed girl in a black sailor uniform, terrorizes the designated victim and ferries him or her into the underworld. The plaintiff receives a black mark on their chest, a reminder that, upon their death, they too will be condemned to eternal damnation.
The series completed its third season in 2009, and is being released on DVD in the U.S. by Sentai Filmworks. The DVD offerings may be a little confusing, so just to (hopefully) clear things up a bit, the complete Season One set was released by FUNimation in May of 2010, but seasons two and three are being put out by Sentai. Season Two, entitled "Hell Girl: Two Mirrors," has been split into two releases, "Collection One" (the set under review here) and "Collection Two." Unfortunately, Sentai doesn't make it very clear that this double-disc set is only the first half of the season ("Collection One" is printed in contractual fine print sized type on the cover), so fans should be aware that this is not a complete Season Two set.
Hell Girl is clearly aimed at the high school set—most of the stories revolve around the travails of teenaged girls—but the stories are well-written and provide enough dark, twisty drama to appeal to a wider audience. Much of the backstory of Ai Enma and how she came to be Hell Girl was covered in the previous season, so Two Mirrors jumps right into action with these thirteen mostly self-contained stories of injustice and payback. Viewers new to the series can jump in pretty much at any time—each episode follows a rather ritualistic formula—and back up if they're intrigued enough to want the whole story.
Even if you're not an anime fan, Hell Girl might appeal to you if you're a fan of horror/thriller anthology series like Tales of the Unexpected, Tales From the Dark Side, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I was also strongly reminded of the old EC horror comics—the ones where some greedy, treacherous bastard screws over a hapless victim, and inevitably gets his or her gruesome just desserts. Hell Girl doesn't get that bloody—though there are some disturbing moments involving subjects like child rape and abuse and the death of pets—but delivers the same shivery satisfaction of seeing poetic justice handed to a deserving scoundrel, and quite a few last-minute shock endings.
Unlike those horror anthologies, though, there isn't a lot of variety in Hell Girl's storylines. The basic drag-to-Hell process doesn't vary, and although there's a modicum of suspense as to whether the revenge-seeker will actually pull the scarlet thread and seal the horrible bargain, unlike, say, the comic book series 100 Bullets that features a similar "will they or won't they" dilemma, the person nearly always pulls the thread. As a result, the episodes can feel a trifle repetitious, and are probably best consumed in smaller quantities.
What's most interesting—and most disturbing—about the nature of the revenge stories in Hell Girl is that they're not simply "bad guys get punished, good guys get justice" morality tales, but also about the cost people who've been wronged are willing to pay for satisfaction (or peace of mind). The "villains" of each episode usually deserve punishment—many of them are truly vile—but some are sent to Hell merely for cheating on their boy- or girlfriends. In addition, some of those seeking revenge have suffered so much that it's a little unsettling to know that their ultimate fate won't be that much better than that of their tormentor.
At first glance, Hell Girl seems to be all about justice, and punishing the guilty. But it's really not. What happens to all parties in these bargains is seldom what one might call just or fair. Any satisfaction one might receive in seeing some evil monster get back what they've been dishing out is negated by the ultimate knowledge that even the "innocent" party is now—by their own choice—damned to never-ending suffering. Ultimately, the message of Hell Girl is anti-revenge—no matter how satisfying, it's never worth the terrible, eternal price.
This collection of Hell Girl episodes—again, comprising the first half of Season Two—looks and sounds great, with strong, clear colors and clean digital stereo sound, but if you're looking for more of the English dubbed audio available on the first season set, prepare for disappointment, because neither of the second season sets offer an English language track. I'm also not very happy with the translations for the English subtitles; unless Hell Girl is actually a comedy, some of the dialogue (especially from Ai Enma) is unintentionally funny, breaking the somber, solemn mood of many scenes.
Extras are basically nonexistent, consisting of clean opening/closing animations and a set of trailers.
Despite being a little repetitious, Hell Girl manages to squeeze a surprising number of compelling, genuinely creepy and suspenseful stories out of a simple, formulaic premise. There's some solid storytelling here to please not just fans of anime, but anyone who enjoys revenge-based suspense stories.
And hey, if you check out the series based on my recommendation, hate it, and feel I steered you wrong, there's a certain website you're welcome to visit at midnightÉthat's right, the Verdict Feedback forum. What, you thought I was going to suggest something else?
The court has chosen not to pull the red string on Hell Girl: Two
Mirrors. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
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