Hell Girl: Three Vessels Collection 1 (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, September 27, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ai Enma returns to ferry the cursed to Hell, this time through a slightly new means.

What They Say
You can take the girl out of Hell, but unfortunately you can't always get the Hell out of the girl. Just when it seemed that Ai Enma was finally at peace, innocent schoolgirl Yuzuki Mikage appears to become the perfect host for Ai. And that's host as in being physically possessed! Ensnared in the web of the Hell Correspondence, ridden by Ai's spirit and joined by a nightmarish new assistant, Yuzuki must now fight to maintain any hold on her real life and friends, even as the darkest secrets of the Hell Girl threaten to consume her! But in a malevolent world where any soul can be sent to Hell with the simple pull of a string, how can any mere human withstand the merciless onslaught of evil without being irrevocably changed? The cycle of damnation and revenge begins anew in the soul-chilling first collection of HELL GIRL - Cauldron of Three!

The Review!

This release contains only the Japanese language track which is in stereo and encoded at 224kbps. Like most shows of this nature, it’s almost entirely dialogue driven with a fair amount of music that blends into the background and isn’t overwhelming. The ambiance of the music utilizes a good full sound which adds a lot to numerous scenes while the dialogue itself is well placed when required, though often it's just a single character talking that's usually near the center of the screen. Overall, while there isn't anything that stands out here, this is a very solid track that represents the source material well that's free of problems. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and placement is spot on when required.
Originally airing in from late 2008 to early 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The release has thirteen episodes spread across two discs in a six/seven format. Hell Girl has a very strong visual design at times in each episode while the bulk of it plays in a real world setting. There's a lot of detail to be had here in the backgrounds which holds up well with little in the way of breakup or problems. Outside of a few areas where there's some line noise and some visible gradients, the transfer here looks really good. Colors are lush and vibrant when needed and dark scenes have the expected amount of noise to it that's pretty noticeable. Cross coloration is non-existent and line noise is very minimal overall.
Done up in a single sized keepcase, the cover artwork for this release is solid and it mirrors the previous season in its overall layout with the borders and logo placement. There's a very different feeling with the artwork on this one because of the cool green colors with the grass underneath the two characters. Having Ai and Yuzuki together is very appealing here as is the way they're reversed alongside each other. Putting a wreath of flowers on Ai's head just looks positively disturbing however. The black framing around it and the logo all give it a very solid feel overall though. The back cover has a similar framing and it has a strip of green through the middle where we get the listing that it’s the second season and the overall summary of what the show is about. The top half has a really neat piece of character artwork with Ai set against a house where she has flowers in her hands as well. The bottom has several shots from the show of different sizes that highlights the creepy factor. The remainder is given over to the usual production credit and a good clean technical grid that covers everything in an easy to read fashion.
The menus are fairly decent but they come across as a little misplaced by the somewhat upbeat and pop oriented vocal tracks associated with them. It conveys the wrong atmosphere after the first couple of seconds once it gets to the vocals themselves. The menu layout is decent with a strip through the middle similar to the logo on the front cover where it has a grid with the episodes that can be selected while the special features are accessible through a submenu below it. The strip is done in some nice shades of green with some black and white accents to it that gives it an ominous look. Behind it is the actual character animation that varies with each volume featuring different pieces. With this being a monolingual release, there’s little issue here with the player presets obviously. Everything is quick to access and the layout, while simple, is well laid out and easy to use.
The only extras included in this release are on the second volume with the clean opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When I watched the first season of Hell Girl, I wondered how they could carry it for too awful long before it would get far too predictable and lose what makes it fun. The second season of the series showed one avenue as Ai ended up being very in vogue within a city where everyone was getting into accessing the Hell Link and making their requests. That gave the show a good twist and made you wonder how it would all really be resolved. It also showed that the series was able to shake things up a bit even if they wanted to use a good portion of each season to tell the straightforward tales that it's known for. Ending the second season with Ai dying definitely wasn't something I expected and made it all the anticipation for the third season all the higher to see how they would resolve that issue. There's plenty of ways to work about it, but at the same time it's no surprise that they really don't delve into it at all for this first half of the season.
Ai's death is dealt with in the basic way here in that the season starts off with the reminder that she has died and her assistants have all gone on to regular jobs among the living for the time being until something changes. It's not that they expect her back, they just don't know what to do otherwise and go for what they feel makes the most sense until someone or something steps in and tells them otherwise. Sadly, the someone that steps in is Kikuri, as she's bringing everyone back together again, along with a young male man who is apparently a yokai himself, to bear witness to Ai's revival and serve her again. Kikuri frustrates me right from the start with her appearance and personality which is made all the worse this season as she spends her time riding a tricycle while having a big windup on her back that she has Yamawaro the yokai turn for her. Yamawaro essentially serves the same as the others in being the curse item but he's not given a proper introduction or any back story.
The main difference this time around is that Ai is bonded with a high school girl name Yuzuki. Yuzuki's a pretty average girl, gets along with people and has a good friend she spends a lot of her time with, but is otherwise unnoticeable. One of the main staples of the past seasons has been Ai getting purified, donning her kimono and coming to the world of the living. With her being mysteriously bonded to Yuzuki however, when she needs to walk the Earth, a beautiful blue butterfly spawns on Yuzuki's back and she transforms through there. And for Yuzuki, she's aware of parts of what's going on as when Ai uses her large magical eye to view on potential candidates, Yuzuki sees a lot of that as well. It adds a nice angle to things, but is reminiscent of the first season stories as well so it's not exactly completely original.
Yuzuki's connection to things is the main subplot of the first half of the season, which is just given a cursory nod in each episode while working into something promising with the final episode to help set the stage for the second half. What that leaves us with is twelve episodes of Ai and company handing out curses upon request and acting on them when they're taken advantage of. In the first two seasons, it was fascinating to watch some of the stories as people had a lot of troubles to be dealt with and many of them had good reason to use the curses. With the focus here a bit strong on a single area because of the connection to Yuzuki, we see how it impacts several students in the school but the Link is accessed by others as well. Not everyone realizes what's going on in general so there isn't a large growing use of the Link as we saw in the second season.
The main element of Hell Girl does come down to the request for vengeance based on various issues. The majority of them deal with high school kids, similar to previous seasons, but there are excursions to older characters as well. And like previous seasons, there is some really conflicting material here. In fact, I want to say this season has proven far more disturbing with the curses and situations than previous ones in what Ai is taking on. The requests she took before mostly seemed like ones that there was at least some reasonable reason for approving it and allowing it to go forward. Here, the curses seem to be far crueler and the people involved are a lot more innocent. Case in point is one young man who is fighting against using the curse himself and gets cursed by a girl he helps out after she reveals that she was cheated on. That was enough to get her to curse him to death. Ai's doing that doesn't feel like a request she'd actually take, but what makes it worse is how cruel she treats him afterward even though he truly has done no wrong. Previous cases in instances like this, Ai seemed to treat those people a bit gentler, if she took on that curse at all.
In looking at the Hell Link requests in total here, that's a very strong feeling I came away from. Going through the previous tales from the first two seasons, there's not even really a handful of stories where I felt that the people involved should not have been. There are certainly plenty of stories where I felt that the characters feeling wronged simply had to wait things out a bit instead of putting themselves in Hell someday, but their request itself wasn't entirely unwarranted for the kind of pain and suffering they were going through. A lot of the stories here really made me feel bad for the victims, something that did not often happen in prior seasons. It's the kind of angle that bad things happen to good people, but it feels like it goes against what Ai is about in how she approves which requests to actually take on. And that definitely impacts my enjoyment of the show since it adds that element of unease.
In Summary:
Hell Girl has been quite the favorite series of mine from the first season and that does carry through here. The discomfort felt by the stories is something that I'm curious to see how much of it is integral to the story since we don't have any answers as to the why of Ai's return from death herself. There are some good stories to be had about vengeance here which helps to balance it out some and I really like the visual of Ai's transformation, though it does wear a bit thin towards the end of the set similar to how it did in previous seasons. The show is playing in new territory here in a way by bringing Ai back and not explaining what's going on yet and that has me very curious, especially after we get to the final episode of this set which points to it really being a big part of the next set. Hell Girl offers a lot of familiar material, but it just comes across as more mean this time around and I'm not sure how I feel about that yet.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: 49.98
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hell Girl