Straight to Hell
The horror anthology series has a long history. Shows like Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and old comic series like Vault Of Horror and Tales From The Crypt, were all once hugely popular. Although the anthology format has almost disappeared in the US, it still retains its popularity in Japan, especially with horror.
“Hell Girl” (A literal translation of the Japanese title,”Jigoku Shojo”) is a great horror anthology series, steeped in traditional Japanese folklore. The Hell Girl herself, Enma Ai, has her name taken from Enma-O, the judge of the dead who balances the karmic scales and sends people to hell. She rides in Wanyudo, a flaming oxcart wheel with a man’s face in the center that is said to be the traditional method of transport to Hell. Wanyudo is also one of Enma Ai’s companions in meeting out vengeance, along with Hone Onna, the Bone Woman, and Ren Ichimoku who is a tsukumogami.
Each episode is essentially a new story, following a standard pattern. Someone is being victimized, and so they go to a website called “Hell Correspondence,” where they enter in the names of the person they want revenge on. Enma Ai then appears, and hands them a straw doll with a red string around its neck. She explains that if they pull the string, who ever they have a grudge against will be sent immediately to Hell, but in payment the string-puller will also go to Hell when they die naturally. This compact is sealed by a sign upon the string-pullers chest, showing they are hell-bound.
The stories range from common problems like stalking and bullying to irresponsible doctors and uncaring mothers. Some of the episodes are cut-and-dry, but some are more complicated such as when Enma Ai refuses someone because their “rage is not strong enough.” Later, some of the back story of Enma Ai and her group are revealed, such as how Wanyudo came to join the group and the relationships between the Hell Group. In Episode fourteen, Takuma Kurebayashi is introduced, who becomes a continuing character in some linked stories later on.
“Hell Girl” was a hugely popular series in Japan, with two more seasons as well as a being adapted into a comic book and a live-action TV series. The following series still have the anthology format, but go even deeper into the Enma Ai’s story.
Funimation’s “Hell Girl” release contains all 26 episodes of the first season, packaged onto four disks in slim cases. The presentation is really beautiful, as lovely as the animation inside. There are some nice bonus features, like a video character profile of Enma Ai that was used to promote the series, and a round-table discussion with the Japanese voice actors on what the series means. There is also a live-action music video, a “Making of” that video, and a textless opening and closing.
I thought “Hell Girl” was a great series. I love Japanese folklore, and it was great to see it so well-handled. I hope Funimation keeps up with the series and delivers the next two seasons!