It seems like the concept of the powerless being able to exact grisly revenge on people who think they have gotten away with their crimes is a rich source of Japanese horror manga – and the anime based upon it. Jigoku Shoujo in particular pivots on the idea. But Judge is considerably older, less concerned with elegant aesthetics and…well, sillier.
The plot of the 50-minute OVA is simple: an unassuming office worker has a secret – he is really the Judge of Darkness, damning those criminals who human justice has failed to pin down. Apparently mostly only the ones he happens to know. Luckily, he knows some really nasty pieces of work. One is dispatched easily, but the other gets some defence: a Christian priest with a bindi – or a mole that looks like one – who will defend anyone in the spirit world if they pay his price. After a magical confrontation the defendant gets taken to the spirit world to face ten huge Buddhist-style judges – and, yes, is judged.
Released in 1991, with animation from Animate, co-produced by a very young J.C. Staff, this was never going to be the pinnacle of beauty or sophistication, but I ended up surprised it was as good as it was. The start is slow, the main character uninteresting and the designs are goofy – the fish eyes of the main bad guy in particular were a constant source of amusement. But the clash between the judge and the priest, as well as the appearance of the ten true judges were genuinely fun to watch.
One thing the version we watched suffered from was the terrible translation and dubbing. The priest character could have been genuinely cool without the silly voice, the judges’ big reveal got undermined by lame acting and there were way too many unintentionally hilarious lines: ‘I’m good with love vibrations…’, (as an aside) ‘It’s made of human skin’, ‘Oh my God!’ It’s a pity, because it would be easier to take at least slightly more seriously with a better dub.
But even imagined well-translated and well-acted, this remains a frivolous, shallow story with little to engage an audience and some very silly aesthetics. It just isn’t as flatly terrible as it may at first seem. That, of course, doesn’t make it good.