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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, May 12, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What They Say
Beyond the veil of midnight lies a website, Hellcorrespondence.com. Type in the name of one upon which you desire retribution... and it will be served.

If you truly desire to take revenge upon those who have wronged you, just untie the scarlet thread from the totem's neck. Pulling this thread will bind you into a covenant with Ai Enma, who will ferry the soul of your tormentor straight into the depths of Hell. However, once vengeance has been served, you will have to deliver on your end of the bargain. There always has to be a price to pay. When you die, your soul will also belong to Hell. You will never know the joys of Heaven. The decision rests with you.

As vengeance loses meaning, perhaps it's best to put it all behind. But fate has other things in mind. Drawing the past into the future and the accused into the path of the damned, all will come within Hell Girl's domain...

Contains episodes 23-26:
The Light of the Hospital Ward
Home in the Twilight
Hell Girl
The Ephemeral

The Review!
Vengeance doesn't take a break but it becomes more focused as Ai's past finally comes to the surface with surprising ties.

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.

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 the early 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.

With a black framed border with gold edges, the center piece of artwork fantastic as Ai is in a throne with a very royal and regal look to her both in expression and in the outfit she's wearing. The detail to it is fantastic and it's a gorgeous piece of work overall. 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 imagery from the waterfall that's key to this volume and it has a very detailed lush look to it which is very striking. 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 in her flowing robes holding onto the younger version of herself, both with very sad looks in their faces.

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 a view of the cherry blossom tree and the waterfall with all the natural glory around it. It's a very soothing piece with beautiful colors whose layout 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.

In addition to the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, a new video extra here entitled "Office Kitchenette of Hell" is included. This eleven minute feature is quite amusing if only because it puts some of the staffers together to talk about the show while in the office kitchen in a very relaxed and informal manner. For such a serious show, having these kinds of extras really helps to lighten the mood afterwards and provides a different look at how the production staff is.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One double edged part about reviewing any series is that when it's bad, you still have to stick with it to the end in order to see whether they can save it. Hell Girl, when it first started, was an intriguing show but one that was heavily working through the vengeance of the week mentality which really throws up a lot of red flags about sustainability in a home video format. Like many shows that deal with weekly issues such as crime dramas and the like, having a lot of it on hand can diminish the impact over time and leave you feeling empty. When seeing it on a weekly basis, it's fresh and new and over relatively quickly which leaves you with a positive feeling about it that gets you to come back.

It took a bit for Hell Girl to get past that point, but once the repetitive moments started to drop off, it became a fascinating show to watch. The vengeance of the week storylines continued on throughout much of it, but as the show began to examine Ai more and it started to tie Hajime into it, the focus became sharper and you have someone to sympathize with instead of just watching the cold dispassionate Ai dole out vengeance. You could connect with the victims within each individual episode, but that was fleeting at best since it's over quickly and often you were left wondering why people would throw their lives away for such vengeance. Where the show took an unusual twist was the use of Tsugumi as a connection to Ai who also has a few issues of her own that need to be cleaned up.

The relationship between the main characters has been growing slowly, but the one that I found the most interesting is the one between Hajime and Tsugumi. From moment she was introduced and calling him by his first name you could tell that there was something more to this. As Hajime's past was explored alongside his seeking out a way to stop Ai, he became far more sympathetic and it was easier to understand what was driving him to do so. The pain of losing his wife in the way he did would be enough, but seeing Ai doing what she does only has him try his best to stop more from falling for her scheme. But along the way, he ended up dragging Tsugumi into it because of her connection to Ai. Against his better judgment, but with a need to use her apparent ability, Hajime brought her into all of it and found that the two of them were really getting closer overall, even with the disagreements that come from the different worldviews of a parent and a young child.

Their relationship has been going through rocky times because of this as Hajime sees what Ai is doing as wrong while Tsugumi has come to believe that she's doing the right thing. In her young eyes, many of the things she's serving vengeance on are easily justified since she can't understand or even think of the kinds of issues involved. This is fairly tragic - and underused - as what Hajime has gone through is a prime example of where vengeance could be used in an improper manner. Tsugumi's mindset does start to change a bit as the first episode introduces a short storyline that examines a woman that has been targeted by Ai who simply should not be. Tsugumi's vision of Ai as a positive force in the world is seriously challenged by this and it sets the stage for the next three episodes where the past comes full circle.

And that's where some people are likely going to be unhappy with the show, depending on how they felt about the first half of the show. If you wanted to just have the weekly vengeance episodes, the last there episodes deal with just Ai's need for vengeance against those that sinned against her when she was human. Her origins are gone over in rather good detail and it makes very clear the ties to the present which are surprising at first but then make a lot of sense as you see the progression of time some four hundred years prior. What left me feeling a bit less than happy with the conclusion is the way that Tsugumi handles dealing with her father and that she doesn't offer him any sort of verbal forgiveness for how he feels about what happened to her mother. After everything that Tsugumi had seen in the opening episode of this volume with the young woman who didn't deserve to die, I had hoped that she would have understood that forgiveness is exactly what she needed to pass on to her father in order to help them both move on.

In Summary:
With how this series had started, I had little hope for it being enjoyable as it went on, especially since many people who loved it at the beginning disliked how it changed along the way. It was those things that I found the most appealing though as the introduction of Hajime and Tsugumi gave it a purpose and more of a connection to people not consumed by thoughts of vengeance. Hell Girl certainly has its weak areas and it takes it a fair bit of time to find the right balance between the mythos stories for Ai and everyone and the general weekly revenge pieces. There's a certain predictability that's evident throughout but it does manage to rise above it as it progresses with some nice twists and storytelling devices that are used. Hell Girl was quite the surprise overall and this volume has me anxious to see the second season picked up and released.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Ending,Office Kitchenette of Hell

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 14
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