“This is vengeance, and so I am to ferry you to hell.”
After finishing Hell Girl, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Even when I was halfway through, I found myself missing it. Fiction is what keeps me going, and when a story I love is over, I always feel kind of sad. It’s true that I can return to it whenever I want, but it’s not the same. I miss having something new to look forward to. Anime and manga often has this effect on me. I don’t know why, but there’s some quality to it that makes me kind of melancholy. I hope that I never become too old and cranky for anime. It gives me a feeling that nothing else can. By that, I don’t mean to say that it’s better than any other art forms; they’re all equal to me. (Or rather, they’re impossible to measure against one another.) All I mean is that it’s unique.
Hell Girl is haunting. Though it never goes as deep as Serial Experiments Lain (which has become the ultimate work of fiction in my mind), they do share a lot of elements and themes. Even their protagonists are similar. Ai Enma, like Lain, is silent and self-contained. She seems emotionless, but her personality is not as still as it appears on the surface. She is a supernatural being for the modern age. Ai has no problem with using technology, and the series mixes the creepiness of the internet with the eeriness of ghost stories beautifully. Even Ai’s outfit shows this; despite being centuries old, she wears a school uniform, something associated with modern times. One of the reasons why Hell Correspondence, the website used to contact Ai, is such a scary concept is that it sounds exactly like one of those urban legends you come across from time to time. Hell Girl understands what makes stories like that so chilling and effective. In some ways they’re clichéd (Hell Correspondence can only be accessed at midnight) and over-the-top, but that adds to their atmosphere. It’s almost like they’re confirming why these horror tropes are used so often- because, according to such stories, they happen in real life. The thing about urban legends is that they should be laughable. They’re absurd, after all, and any sensible adult can assure you that they’re not real. But, they still scare us, because of how extreme they are, and because there’s the slightest sliver of a possibility that they might be true after all. (Being the sort of person who worries constantly about every little thing, they terrify me, though I can assure any other sensitive people reading this that they’re all completely false.)
And then there’s also the element of nastiness to them. Urban myths are mostly directed at young people. They focus on young people’s problems, on how petty young people can be to one another, and on what could happen when such pettiness is taken too far. In Hell Girl, people (usually teenagers) summon Ai Enma when they want their tormentor banished to hell. However, doing this means that they too will end up in hell, though only after they die. Many of the characters who choose to do this are otherwise sweet people who end up forced into horrible situations that seem impossible to escape from. I usually don’t like social commentary, but I have to applaud this series for showing that bullying is a disgusting, petty thing to do, and can easily ruin somebody’s life. The media often depicts it as something harmless, but as Hell Girl shows, it really isn’t. I found the first episode difficult to watch because it reminded me too much of my own experiences in school.
The main focus of Hell Girl isn’t really horror, though. Again like Lain, there’s a strong feeling of urban alienation to it, and a sort of melancholy. Its opening and ending themes are both mellow pop songs, and it contains as much slice-of-life elements as it does supernatural. Hell Girl is actually quite beautiful, with some gorgeous artwork. Despite her job, Ai always maintains a calm silence that comes across as more poignant than creepy, and her three assistants are almost like a family to her. The moments when they act like normal people, or show their concern for one another aren’t done for comic relief, but are genuine and make their characters more believable. It’s actually quite touching, and is one of the reasons I feel so fondly for this series. (Though there was one moment in episode two where Wanyuudo and Ichimoku cruelly taunted one of their clients that made me extremely uneasy.)
It’s true that Hell Girl does have a lot of mediocre episodes, though. The exposition was often quite clunky, and the premise was worn a little too thin. A good few episodes were rather…episodic, and there were times when the characters didn’t act like real people would. However, I still couldn’t stop watching, because Ai herself is just so fascinating. I love her monotone, the mystery that surrounds her, and the eerie scenes where she calmly ferries a new soul to hell. Luckily, around episode eight, a plot begins to develop, rather than focusing on individual stories, and we get to learn more about her, as well as see some variations on the usual formula. The final three episodes were extremely heart-wrenching, and Ai’s back-story will not disappoint you. I can’t wait until I have the chance to see series two and three. Until then, I will have to be patient.