Hell Girl: Three Vessels (Japan 2008)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/21/16

Contains 26 episodes

This is the final chapter in the "Hell Girl" series, and arguably the best. Kikuri returns in the body of a doll and reassembles all of Ai Enma's former assistants. Meanwhile, Ai's soul somehow manages to return to the real world and possesses the body of a seemingly normal teenage girl named Yuzuki Mikage. Through her, Hell Girl is reborn and it's back to business as usual as she goes about sending souls to Hell. Yuzuki is aware of what's happening and desperately tries to fight against Ai's influence, but it's no use. A mid-season shocker takes the story off in another direction, and the style returns to the show's earlier roots. In the final episodes, Yuzuki's reality falls apart as she confronts Ai in an attempt to escape her destiny, and things get really confusing. It doesn't make much sense, but it packs a strong emotional punch and it's easy to empathize with the characters and their pain.

Having Yuzuki as a straight character in an otherwise macabre gallery of rogues lends a nice sense of balance to the show and gives it a strong anchor in reality (although that gets turned upside down towards the end). Ai's transformation scene is long and uninteresting, and becomes boring after 2-3 episodes, but it's only used for the first half of the season. Ai maintains her gothic and melancholic charm, but the show decides to have a bit more fun with the revenge sequences. Ai's troupe shows up as a 60's rock band at one point with Ai dressed as a go-go dancer, and one episode has a charming live action segment featuring paper cut-outs of the characters. The animation is very good and on par with the first two seasons, and the voice acting is excellent. The episodes are fairly formulaic, which falls in line with the rest of the series, but several are quite clever and twisted. One episode in particular has no resolution, and leaves you guessing who the client was. That was maddening, but very well played. Similar to the previous two seasons, the show's examination of human cruelty, social injustice, anger, hatred, revenge, and the hopelessness of everything is dreadfully depressing and is best taken in small doses.