I never thought that the first time I’d write about anime would be in such a terrible light. Believe me, it pains me a great deal to do so but sometimes writing helps get rid of residual emotions that you have no use for. If I manage to make it through this blog without breaking something, I’ll reward myself with a gummy bear.
Let’s get this straight, I have loved anime since as long as I can remember. All sorts of animations made by Walt Disney, Pixar, Tim Burton and DreamWorks have caught my attention and had me hooked since I was a little kid. For most people that kind of attention wavers and recedes once you mature. For me, it never did. For me, it heightened to obsessive levels. Anime, (by that I mean Japanese animation) itself was my biggest influence as a child and one that I couldn’t ever get enough of. What most people mistake for cartoons, true anime fans know is definitely more than just animated figures chasing each other around the screen like cats and mice. From a very young age, we realized what good shows should be made of (not just sugar and spice and all things nice), we knew what is a plotline, character development, complex emotions, sarcasm, satire, humour, love, desire, death all those things that many claim only a television show with living, breathing humans could display.
By now you can tell that I’m a huge anime fan and I feel like I have achieved a considerable level of fangirling with which I can discern and nitpick the good from the bad. Yes, there are some rotten ones as well so we can appreciate the plenty good ones. For many years I was a closeted anime lover. No, I wasn’t ashamed or actually hiding my obsession I just didn’t know anyone else who shared the same interest. Honestly, even right now I only know one person who has watched more anime than me and I should have listened, should not have watched Hell Girl: Jigoku Shoujo, should have saved myself the torture… should not have been so adamant… should not have… Groan.
A lot of anime I’ve watched in the past aired on the cable TV on channels like Cartoon Network having segments called Toonami and such. However, you’ll only find select anime here which are mostly dubbed in your native language or worse, in English where the translations are so literal it’ll make you barf. Animax Asia is an absolute delight because here is where you’ll find more categories, better quality shows and of course, beautiful AMVs (Anime Music Videos) in the intervals. If you’re lucky they’ll all be Japanese dubbed and even though that means constantly running your eyes over the subtitles you’ll find it more enjoyable because they have the most amazing voice artists, ever.
One fine day when I was doing my usual channel surfing from Channel 1 directly to Animax, I came across a well-drawn anime which seemed to be of the horror and mystery genre. Now let me tell you if you don’t already know, Japanese horror is easily the most terrifying, spooky and fright-inducing flavour of horror. Whether animated or not, it leaves you gasping and worrying about too many things that may have never crossed your mind before. Japanese horror takes urban legends to a whole new level.
So this show I fleetingly caught a glimpse of fit the bill. There seemed to be a solid storyline for the episode I was currently watching combined with a deep undertone of rage and revenge. The show had gory and vivid images of hell which is what it was mostly centered around. A young girl, named Enma Ai with long black hair and blood red eyes was the link which ferried a person to hell. Ferried, literally. The episode ended. I felt oddly intrigued like I do when I watch something good and then feel the urge to watch more of it so as to quench my curiosity and pass a well-rounded judgement before I move on to something else.
I went ahead and acquired all three seasons of Jigoku Shoujo (Hell Girl). I was very proud of myself for having discovered a great show without even searching. I waited for the right time and right alignment of the universe for me to delve into this show, prepared and pumped. Nothing could’ve prepared me though for what I was going to watch. Even after being forewarned by a very trustworthy source, I knew not how and why and what I was going to experience. It took me a few days, a vacation and detox juices to get back to normal to even write this blog. I do not exaggerate, my friends.
There are some animes that follow a fixed plotline in every episode. Each one can be broken down into a few parts the same way you could a letter into Salutation, Introduction, Body and Valediction. You know, like Ghostbusters and Scooby-Doo and other such shows where you already know the basic premise of the show. There is an obvious lack of continuity from one episode to the next except for the main character interactions and showdowns. You can sum up and say every episode is based on a fixed formula and even though you might know all too well how they will conclude you keep coming back to the show for those 25 odd minutes of riveting entertainment. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t even mind such shows because you can just hop on to the wagon from anywhere and still understand the goings-on perfectly. What bothered me is how confusing, repetitive and superfluous Hell Girl/Jigoko Shoujo was even though it had the full potential to be something scary and awesome.
Every short story includes a protagonist that has, in some way, directly or indirectly been wronged by another person. This wrongdoing usually takes place in the first ten minutes of the show and is often very predictable. Things like this happen every day in all parts of the world. People get cheated on, used, betrayed, laughed at, ridiculed for being different, abandoned, killed in accidents, and the list of heinous crimes is endless. Somewhere in between these few minutes, there is always a random conversation that comes to light exactly in the wake of the emotional crisis. It is so funny because I mean, how often does this happen that you’ve been hurt badly and a bunch of school girls pass by at precisely the exact moment talking about a website called Hell Correspondence that delivers immediate revenge to anyone who has wronged you. Once? Twice? Okay, okay, maybe thrice. Wait. Every damn episode? Are you honestly kidding me? I understand that there is a need to bring forth the concept of the website and the medium of obtaining revenge but can there at least be some kind of variation to the way it is disclosed.
Like that is not stupid enough, said protagonist is easily swayed and without any further ado duly returns home to their computer and logs onto Hell Correspondence, which only connects at midnight. If only I had a penny for every time I asked out loud to no one in particular, “Seriously? You want vengeance and the first thing you do is log onto a rumour of a website called Hell Correspondence?” I could still forgive the giddy-headed teenagers looking for an escape from their petty issues but when fully-grown adults sit before their computers, eagerly waiting to connect to Hell Girl I had to shake my head and resist from swearing in exasperation. (I don’t like swearing unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.)
Take a brief moment and imagine watching that exact scenario repeat itself every time only with different characters and how much it’ll hurt your brain to watch it over and over and over. Good, now read further.
After you log onto Hell Correspondence, you enter the name of the person you wish to exact retribution from. If your request is accepted, sometimes you’ll get a random update on your phone, all in red. Sometimes, you won’t. Sometimes, a little girl in a school uniform with dark red eyes and an expressionless face will randomly show up in your room, over your shoulder maybe, scaring the living daylights out of you. So what I’m confused about is, why this particular phenomenon does not follow a fixed pattern. How do you know your request was accepted or not? In some episodes, the protagonist is never given any response for days on end and is left wondering if Hell Girl was really just a rumour after all. There is no explanation to this, don’t look for it.
Let’s now be curious and ask what is it that Hell Girl does? Who is she? Where does she come from? What does she even want?
Sadly, I am only in a position to answer the first question here. The rest of them remain unanswered and I could only watch half of the first season till I figured I would take those unanswered questions with me to the grave, unless someone condemned me to hell and then I’d get to ask Hell Girl firsthand.
So after you contact Hell Girl, (depending on when she chooses to show up and scare you for no good reason) she offers a brief introduction stating her name, which is Enma Ai and that she is here to take revenge on your behalf because that’s obviously why you summoned her. What follows next is a fixed monologue which I have now rote-learned and can never shake out of my mind.
You’ve summoned me. My name is Enma Ai. [gives a straw doll to the person seeking revenge] Take this. If you truly wish revenge, just untie the scarlet thread from his neck. Pulling the thread binds you into a covenant with me. I will ferry the soul of your tormentor straight into the depths of Hell….however, once vengeance is served, you will have to deliver your end of the bargain. There always has to be a price. When you die, your soul will also belong to Hell. You will never know the joys of Heaven; you will be left to wander through a world made of pain and agony for all of eternity. The rest is upto you to decide.
Here is the part I have a huge problem with. At the start of the show, Enma Ai was extremely descriptive with this monologue. She’d appear at twilight against a bloody crimson sky and explain to the client who contacted her in vivid detail about the contract they were making with her and then hand over the straw doll with the red string. She would clearly state the consequences and even give them a glimpse of their fate once they made the choice. It was amusing to watch hell’s black hands emerge from dust and pull the protagonist into the earth with them or other such parallels, if only for a brief moment. I’m not being morbid here, what I mean is she was showing them what they were in for if they condemned someone to hell. It seemed fair. An eye for an eye, the supreme balance of the universe, to every action an equal and opposite reaction, etcetera, etcetera. But only a few episodes through, Enma Ai would appear, hurriedly hand over the straw doll and just when they were about to pull the string casually drop in a “However, you’ll go to hell as well when you die”, with a rather boring, no big-deal voice.
It’s understandable from the kind of trauma and distress the characters on the show continuously face that they’re desperate and want immediate revenge, period. Without giving them a proper explanation about their eternal damnation, I began to think Hell Girl just wanted them to pull the string already and be done with it. Thereby giving them no time to ponder over what happens to their soul later. Even the half decent things about the show were quickly falling through the cracks.
There’s another aspect about this show that cannot go unmentioned. Hell Girl’s sidekicks. Alongside Hell Girl, here are three more characters who act as her assistants and apart from passing random remarks and casually checking in on the client’s actual circumstances have no other real role to play. I am usually very good with Japanese names but for the life of me I couldn’t be bothered to remember theirs. A bald old man, a punk boy with hair covering most of his eyes, a strangely beautiful woman resembling geishas if they existed in an alternate world with off-shoulder and deep V-neck plunging kimonos. The old man has absolutely no other part except saying this one line at the end, “Revenge will be granted.” The punk and the lady step into the real world sometimes to ensure that the client’s circumstances are genuine and the revenge is not a ploy to deliberately hurt someone for no fault of theirs. What are such an odd combination of people doing together on this journey of hell? Is there anything more to their characters? Are they dead or alive? Have they got nothing better to do?
Once the string is pulled, revenge is unleashed on the antagonist with great pomp and circumstance bringing true their worst nightmares. The punk and the woman sometimes step in to role-play so as to make the whole Hell experience more…lifelike, I daresay. They really have nothing better to do, of that I’m sure. Once all the drama is over, they ask the person to confess to their sin which they obviously never do (because this show is full of vile, ruthless and awful characters) they turn to Enma Ai and I promise I’m not making this up, this is what they actually say, “That’s what s/he said, Young Miss.” Oh my goodness, the way it cracks me up. Every time.
The person then wakes up crazed on a boat being ferried along a river with floating lanterns. Enma Ai tells them, “This revenge will ferry you to hell,” as she emotionlessly rows the boat along the misty stream.
Afterward, there are a few minutes of epilogue where everything magically becomes right in the protagonist’s life and no one ever questions the missing antagonist’s whereabouts. All’s well except for the fact that the protagonist gets a crescent shape mark on their chest which serves as a constant reminder of their fate.
I’ve run you through what happens in every episode but I still cannot explain well enough just how contrived the show is and how many stupid loopholes there are that anyone even with a faint understanding of how this world functions could confidently bring up. These people who have been damaged by someone’s actions never, not even once, for the sake of God, ever consider contacting the police and letting that serve as their revenge. Whether or not Hell Girl wants more people to be condemned to Hell remains a mystery. I guess after a point, the only reason to watch the show is to find out if they pull the string or not. Spoiler alert, they always do.
To the persons who managed to watch all three seasons and believe that I was too quick to bash it up, please give me a good explanation as to how the show redeems itself, I’m honestly all ears. To the person who warned me about this show when I expressed my desire to watch it, I love you, you were right. To everyone else, keep in mind he who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves, you know, just in case Hell Girl forgets to explain that to you in detail.