Hell Girl (Japan 2005)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/19/08

Contains 26 episodes

By visiting a mystical web site called "Hell Link" at midnight, you can air your grievances and ask for revenge. If your request is accepted, you get a visit from Ai Enma, also known as Hell Girl. She'll carry out your revenge and send the target straight to Hell, but you must also surrender your soul as payment. It hardly seems fair considering the atrocities that the offenders commit on their innocent victims, but those are the rules of the covenant. Each episode of "Hell Girl" tragically sets up a poor innocent victim to be tormented to the breaking point by some awful person, which is followed by Hell Girl turning the tables on them and ferrying them off to Hell. While seeing the revenge played out is quite satisfying, it's uncomfortable seeing what leads up to it, and it leaves a bitter aftertaste knowing that the victim will continue to suffer after their tormentor is banished. There is no justice in Heaven or Earth. It's all rather depressing and makes you long for something lighthearted after watching a few episodes.

The mystical aspects of the series are fascinating and Hell Girl reminds me a lot of another tormented young girl, "Vampire Princess Miyu." For the most part, the animation is quite good, but some of the effects are poorly rendered and the amount of recycled animation is criminal. The character design for Hell Girl is brilliant - her huge soulless eyes and expressionless face are downright creepy, but also invite pity for her eternal melancholy. Her soft and breathless voice is also unsettling, and overall the voice acting is extremely good. Who is she and how did she become Hell Girl? She lives in another dimension with her grandmother, passing the time by playing games and observing nature until someone summons her on her Mac Classic with a request for revenge. As a horror show, it shies away from scare tactics and gore to focus more on theme and atmosphere. While some of the imagery is unsettling, it's never actually scary or horrific. It's also nice to see a series that doesn't feature girls with enormous breasts for a change. Maybe the anime tide is finally taking a turn back towards normalcy? Unfortunately, the series is overly predictable and nearly every episode is exactly the same - even down to the dialog. Only at the very end does it diverge from the formula and explore Ai's tragic past. While the conclusion doesn't make any sense, it packs a powerful emotional punch and sets the stage for a second season.