Some Thoughts On: Hell Girl (2005 – 2006) Season 1

So on March 4, 2018 I finally finished the first season of an anime series called Hell Girl. Needless to say since a review of any kind is currently out of the question sharing some general thoughts on the first season would be fine for an anime post. It’ll also help me collect some quick thoughts of mine for the first season since right now my feelings on Hell Girl is scattershot.

Hell Girl is an episodic anime that for the first half focuses on Hell Girl dealing in a business to seek vengeance for its clients. Hell Girl clients are given a straw doll with a red thread around its neck, and if pulled the person they seek vengeance on will go to Hell. However, the subject also seeking vengeance will also go to Hell after they die. The second half of Hell Girl involves a permanent character in Hajime, a freelance reporter attempting to put a stop to Hell Girl divine punishment on those who seek it.

The premise was instantly alluring to me. Seeing what kind scenarios; both the silly, and serious, would be presented to me was a joy to experience. Offering not so much variety in the kind of characters it depicted. Early on in Hell Girl, it uses simple archetypes to make sure you sympathize for the person seeking vengeance leading to many who die early on being one dimensional. Doesn’t help matter either when some of them are just cartoonishly evil, like in one episode a woman drowns puppies. Yep, it’ll scoop to that level sometime to make viewers sympathize with the person seeking vengeance. This eventually changes as the series goes on, but early on the cartoonish, repetitive nature of these characters is still felt.

Everytime it showed someone death scene it was amusing to say the least. None of these death scenes are scary as 24 minutes is not enough time for this series to be scary. A couple of brief minutes to have Hell Girl, and The Three Straws (Hell Girl’s partners basically) to take a soul won’t set up a fearful atmosphere. It will give you some silly moments, like episode 6 death scene which hysterically boils down to shaming a person to death. There also episode 18 providing the sight of seeing a car driven by Dog people with a giant baby on top driving a woman to Hell will have you saying “what the Hell did I see”. While the “horrific” scenarios in how these people get killed off are silly the backstory behind them can be taken seriously. While it’s odd that mostly women use the website Hell Correspondence to contact Hell Girl for vengeance it does offer a good framing device to tackle to briefly touch on a variety of life’s conflicts.

Some of these life conflicts are decently explored, like in episode 10 a young schoolgirl is contemplating if her best friend whose currently neglecting her should be send to Hell. There’s also episode 19 where a young bride to be is being treated like doll against her wishes. Episode 19 does a good job making the viewer sympathize with its subject of suffering by not going overboard with its usual tricks. These episodes add to the anime ongoing discussion on vengeance to be viewed much more broadly. Unlike the first 9-ish episodes, the later half of the series begin to ponder the question if revenge is worth it regardless of the price.

Hell Girl doesn’t develop it’s recurring characters in charge of taking souls to Hell. Choosing instead to have it spotlight regularly on characters whom only make a single appearance in the series, and making their subject of vengeance easily hateable. Plaguing Hell Girl with an abundance of cartoonishly cruel people that negatively contrast with its mostly understated execution. Leading to both genuinely entertaining, and engaging moment to the equally unintentional hilarity of the tone quickly flipping the switch. It’s not until the final episodes that the title character herself finally receives some characterization. At that point it’s too late for anything substantially meaningful to be done with Ai Enma, but at the same time that’s what the other seasons are for. I’m hoping so at least because I have not seen them yet.

In terms of variety there are the nice break up of characters who get send to Hell by including some characters that attempt to make this sort of judgement seem grayish, but don’t happen frequently enough to even make up 1/4th of the total episodes in a 26 episode anime. The times the subject of vengeance who aren’t cartoonishly evil are refreshing, and allows the characters to talk about revenge, and Hell in a slightly broader sense. Some interesting questions, like in one episode it’s briefly discussed if Hell itself can be a paradise, are only brought up, and aren’t delved into beyond the surface level. If these sort of questions were given more exploration than overlooking some of its faulty character writing would have been easier to do. Also, the few actiony moments, like Hell Girl & the Three Straws battling what’s essentially a Ghost, or  seeing Hell Girl getting tossed around like a doll by Hellboy (not to be confused with the Mike Mignola creation) are a odd edition to the anime. Hell Girl, for the most part, underplays some of its more fantastical elements so when it goes for something without restraint it goes against the general intent of the anime direction.

For my first time watching the anime series I went for the English dub. I typically don’t consider the thought of viewing an anime when seeing it for the first time. Like with everything, it simply depends on my mood at the time. Sometime I’m want to watch an anime with the English dub, and sometime I don’t. With Hell Girl season 1, I saw the entire series with the English dub. Performances wise, there isn’t any actor among the voice cast that I felt stood out in any significant way.

If I had to choose one who stood out it would be John Burgmeier who voices Hajime Shibata in the English dub offers the best acting among his peers. This is wholly contributed to the fact his character receives the most characterization, and displays various emotions during his journey to stop Hell Girl from taking more people to Hell. Allowing Burgmeier to make Hajime ideals come across genuine when delivery speeches about how revenge is wrong on multiple occasions. From the onset, Burgmeier just clicks with his character perfectly. Hajime ideals are challenged, and explored as the anime goes on. Once Hajime comes into the anime, it carries with it a new repetitive nature, but also the dramatic, and thematic core that makes it work. He talks about the futility of vengeance to those who seek it in various conflicting viewpoints, and also witnesses the consequences of both routes.

Simply put, I liked Hell Girl season 1, even if it was formulaic/repetitive for more than half of its run. What kept me coming back to Hell Girl besides the allure of the title character herself were sometimes the story it told. I found it amusing to come back to the series whenever I did just to witness what kind of cheap trick it would pull to elicit an emotion from the viewer. The series biggest drawback is regularly having cartoonish writing, and imagery when attempting to create a serious anime. Hell Girl is an anime that demands you to take it seriously despite the silly visuals at times. Thankfully, the silly imagery isn’t a mainstay. Unfortunately, the cartoonish writing is a mainstay becoming a detriment for its entire run. Giving Hell Girl a B-movie type of horror movie quality to it. I was entertained through the entire run, and sometime engaged whenever it didn’t show Hell Girl take someone to Hell. It was a messy anime to get through, but I came out more positively on it even though it negatives strongly stick out.

Rating wise, I would give Hell Girl season one a 7 out of 10.

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