When a person has been wronged and is desperate for revenge, they can turn to Enma Ai, also known as Jigoku Shoujo (‘Hell Girl’, but without such cheesy comic-book connotations). Through a mysterious website, accessible only at midnight, they can name the one who wronged them, and have them instantly taken to Hell for all eternity. But two holes appear as you curse a person – you cannot have them damned without being damned yourself, although unlike them, you at least get to live out the rest of your life.
Jigoku Shoujo is an interesting piece. Most of its 26 episodes explore its concept in a way reminiscent of Shinigami no Ballad – we get introduced each episode to a new character with new problems, usually having their lives wrecked by some amoral person, from abusive parents to bullies, see them have a crisis of conscience, and then finally they decide to damn those who wrong them. Although there are some mis-fires, some parts that become daft instead of creepy, by and large the damnation sequences, where Enma Ai and her associates torture the miscreant are effective, and the budget is high enough here to show some really impressive art and animation. The character designs are excellent, and Jigoku Shoujo herself is iconic. The main flaw is that things get quite repetitive, with over 20 episodes generally built upon the same premise.
Only towards the end do important questions get addressed: except perhaps the vet, who was evil but hardly deserved damnation, all the revenges seemed justified, and ia few times delaying only causes more suffering for the innocents. It’s painted as a noble self-sacrifice, bearing damnation in order to rid the world of some horrible person. But what if the person doesn’t deserve to be taken to hell? Does Enma Ai refuse? This is addressed in the final arc, when a little girl with a strange connection to Jigoku Shoujo and her detective father investigate her. Soon, they learn of her past, which is very typical of Japanese horror.
What Jigoku Shoujo has in abundance is elegance. It’s stately, and pretty, and concerns itself with beautiful things and tragedies. It has something of a Poe gothic horror story in its juxtaposition of a refined way of living and the horrors of damnation. It is never rushed, never concerned about keeping its audience’s attention with bangs and crashes. It moves at its own pace, and concentrates on building mood.
As it is well-written, well-acted and well-animated, it achieves this all well. There is a second season to watch yet, and I will certainly be checking it out – at a slow, even pace, no doubt!
(originally written 15.5.08)