Hell Girl Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, March 03, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2008



What They Say
According to rumor, a mysterious message board exists, accessible only at midnight. Those who find the site have the ability to post a grudge they harbor against someone, and the Jigoku Shojo (Hell Girl) will carry out the revenge and then transport that person's soul to hell.

Of course, vengeance comes with a hefty price. Those who seek revenge must accept the fact that when they die, their souls will also be taken to hell...

Once a mother's mistake, this time a sister's. Tragedy both past and present. As a reporter struggles to stay a step ahead and stop the vengeance, even he will need to be saved. All will come within Hell Girl's domain...

Contains episodes 15-18:
Island Woman
A Night Among Traveling Entertainers
Glass Scenery
Bound Girl

The Review!
The overall story moves along slowly once again as Hajime tries to stop more acts of vengeance while trying to understand what it is that Hell Girl is doing.

Audio:
FUNimation’s release of Hell Girl is done in a fairly standard configuration for shows they have some faith in. The English language is presented in both a 5.1 and 2.0 mix while the Japanese is the original 2.0 mix. Both of the stereo mixes are done at a basic 192 kbps while the 5.1 mix gets nicely done at 448 kbps. The series isn’t one that is overly dynamic for the most part but it is atmospheric and the sound mix conveys is pretty well. The big moments get the most attention but there are some good quiet moments where the incidental music and background sounds work rather well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The production values for the series, even with the numerous repeated moments, are very strong with lots of great colors and a real sense of style with it. The series has a lot of quiet simple moments where there isn’t a lot of movement and these come off wonderfully, but the transfer is a mixed bag with what it’s presenting. The gradient issues from previous volumes have been minimized a bit here with some recent authoring changes so there aren't quite as many stark examples to work with. The increased bitrates have helped to smooth out some of the more active scenes but in general Hell Girl is still a show that doesn't have a ton of busy moments so the lower bitrates it does have at times doesn't hurt it too much.

Packaging:
With a black framed border with gold edges, the center piece of artwork is stunning as it features Ai from the side with her hair flowing and some very haunting colors used for the woods behind her. The logo is solid as well as it features the English version surrounding the Japanese version with a lot of gold to it. It’s highly attractive but it may not sell to a more general audience. The back cover is similar with its simplicity. The overall background image has the lanterns on the water in the night which is really striking with the gold foil that’s used around various areas. There are some good, if small, shots from the show and the summary covers the basic of the premise in a clean and readable fashion. The discs episode numbers and titles are clearly listed while the bottom is pretty tightly packed with the legalese and tiny technical grid. The reverse side cover uses the same artwork as the front cover but is expanded across both panels and looks stunning. Two postcards are included as well, at least in first pressing versions. One of them is the reverse side artwork which looks even better on the heavier cardstock while the other is of Ai laying on the mats in her house as the sunlight washes over her as she wears her special kimono. Both pieces are beautiful and it's really hard to decide which one is more appealing.

Menu:
The menus for the release though simple, set the mood right visually but come across as bit too big and loud due to the music used. The overall design is that of a white letterbox piece where in the middle we get the river view with the floating lanterns across it. It's dark and eerie with the colors for it and it has the series logo and navigation in white on top of it. It provides some good contrast to the white letterbox bars along the top and bottom. The music is just too strong for what should be a quiet and creepy piece. The layout is well done as it flows well and submenus are quick to load and easy to access. As is usual, due to the use of multiple angles, we didn't bother with player presets for our language selection and forced it via the menus.

Extras:
In addition to the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, an amusing chat with some of the creative staff about the origins of the show. Running about eleven minutes, they designed it so that it looks like you're watching a hidden camera recording as it goes through a basic Q&A session that's light and fun for the most part. There isn't anything too terribly fascinating but it's an interesting piece to watch as you get an idea of how they put everything together if you're into that.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Firmly past the halfway mark of the first season now, Hell Girl doesn't radically change much from what we've seen in the last few episodes. This isn't exactly a bad thing however as the show has a real charm to it in how it approaches the stories it tells. The larger storyline involving Hajime and his quest to figure out what's happening is still very much there, and it's a driving factor now, but the core of the show is still all about the grievances being avenged. If anything, it's gotten a touch weaker because we don't always see that vengeance extracted.

Following that larger story is quite important though as otherwise the series would really lose its appeal in being a vengeance of the week series. The first volume alone had me wondering if it would be worth watching after just those episodes because it was falling into predictability far too easily. With the addition of Hajime and Tsugumi as they try to unravel it all, it's become a lot more interesting. The link that Ai and Tsugumi has is an area that is getting a bit more exploration here as Tsugumi is getting more and more detailed connections with Ai. Hajime is having a difficult time balancing his desire to find out what's going on with making sure she's safe but the relationship that they have allows them to work through in an decent enough manner. What's more interesting though is that Ai's group is starting to wonder what the connection is and whether it's a subconscious thing on Ai's part.

When it comes to the actual individual stories of vengeance, the mix is generally pretty good and interesting enough. The stories do still tend to focus on school girls which is something that disappoints on some level as I liked some of the stories we got earlier on that moved up a bit in age ranges. The opening tale finishes off a story about a girl who is living with her aunt after her mother died and is intent on keeping her close to her so that she never leaves the island. The aunt is certainly nuts in her own mind and as the mystery of her actions becomes clearer you certainly don't mind seeing her undergo Ai's treatment. That treatment is something that is getting minimized though as the actual act of vengeance isn't given much – if any – time at all.

One particularly creepy episode involves a circus that Tsugumi gets a vision of as she sees a young girl calling out to be saved from the treatment she's getting from the ringleader. With such an obvious location to work off of, it doesn't take Hajime and Tsugumi long to find where they are and to try and save her before she enters the covenant. There's a certain creepiness to most circuses when dealing with this kind of material and it's apparent here throughout, though that may just be my own distrust of circuses over the years with lots of shows portraying them in a bad light. The mystery of what's going on as Hajime explores it is interesting enough but there's a certain kind of predictability here even when they try to throw you a curve ball about it. While there aren't any schoolgirls to be found here, it's only because they're not in school. That element is still the hardest for the show to seem to get away from.

There is something to warn people about with this volume as I learned from personal experience. The last episode on this volume involves a schoolgirl who has a pair of dogs as her best friends. Whenever shows like this introduce animals you just know nothing good will come of it. You can watch people undergo all sorts of awful things, see them torn limb from limb and be thrown into the gates of Hell, but should one hair come to harm for that cute little puppy? That will make some viewers cry. And not just one or two dogs, how about a mother dog who just gave birth to several puppies? It's episodes like this that serve to kick the crap out of many women's emotional states when they watch it. The episode has a really creepy flavor to it for several reasons and as it gets explored you wonder what the real deal is so it's definitely engaging on that part. But those poor doggies…

In Summary:
Even with very little in terms of the overall storyline taking place in this volume, Hell Girl is still a rather engaging show. When taken in small doses, it can be quite strong and captivating. It's when you watch it in quick succession that it starts to lose its impact and the predictability shows through more. On a weekly basis or even a nightly basis it stands out much better than taking the entire volume in on one sitting. FUNimation has continued to put together a great looking packaging and has started to tweak the video a bit more here as well which is giving it an overall strong feel. Hell Girl has a lot to offer and it doles it out in small morsels for those that will love it. I'm still coming around to how much I enjoy it but each volume it just seems to work better and better.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,A Past Revealed, 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: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hell Girl