Hell Girl Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)

Review Date: Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Release Date: Monday, May 19, 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 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.

Episodes Comprise
6 - Early Afternoon Window
7 - Cracked Mask
8 - Silent Friendship
9 - Sweet Trap
10 - Friends


The Review!
Four more missions of vengeance for Ai to undertake - and this time, misunderstandings cause problems while someone is taking an interest in the Hell Girl's actions. Can the works of the underworld be interfered with by mere mortals, and will such intervention provoke a response..?

Audio:
Audio is presented in English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 versions. I listened to the Japanese track for this review. Hell Girl relies quite heavily on atmosphere for its appeal, and the soundtrack is used to good effect to help get that across, with good use of background effects and music helping to create a suitably ominous tone. There are a number of "stock" scenes (such as Ai's "Would you like to try dying?" speech) where particular effort has been spent on making them sound just right, but overall it's still a good soundtrack. There were no obvious encoding problems.

Video:
Video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and as with the sound there's been a good amount of effort put in to make sure the gloomy atmosphere that the stories require comes across just right. The stock scenes again get the best treatment and really look the part - away from that the animation quality doesn't appear quite so good, with a lack of detail in some places, but overall there's not too much cause for complaint. There were no obvious problems with the encoding.

Packaging:
The cover artwork for this series goes for the simple approach, with a small image of Ai in her school traditional gear, standing against a tree, placed in the centre of a dark frame with the series logo above. The rear has the usual promotional paragraph, screenshots and technical information. The reverse has a larger version of the cover artwork, visible through the clear keepcase used for the release.

Menu:
The menu is a simple, static affair, featuring the river into hell in all its ominous glory. A piece of background music plays over the top, and options are provided for Play All, Episode Select, Audio and Extras. Different pieces of background art are used on each screen. There are no transition animations, so it's all quick and painless to use.

Extras:
Along with the usual creditless opening and closing sequences, there's a curious 'montage episode' - a bit like a recap episode, it cuts the stories seen so far down to the bare minimum to fit into the time of one episode. It comes in Japanese only, with English subtitles.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Five episodes on this volume, and while the usual Hell Girl formula underpins them all, there are two things about these episodes that really made the volume that bit more interesting. The basic stories are simple enough - a daughter protecting her mother from harassment, a jealous actress, revenge for a violent attack, and others - but as the disc goes on, Ai's contractors shift from being the genuinely wronged to people who are using her for selfish ends, or who may not actually want her services after all. What happens if the string is pulled accidentally, when the bearer no longer wants their vengeance? What happens if the doll is used by someone other than the contractor? These are the sort of questions that get dealt with in this volume, and it's a very good way of keeping the idea fresh as none of the stories end in quite the same way.

More interesting, though, is what's going on under the surface. Journalist Hajime has heard the stories of the Hell Link website and wants to know more - no easy task under normal circumstances, as Ai keeps her business to herself, but Hajime's young daughter Tsugumi has a unique connection with Ai: she can't control her ability, but from time to time she can see through Ai's eyes, see where she is and what she's doing, and that gives her the ability to tell Hajime where and when she'll strike next. So suddenly there's the issue of what Hajime's going to do, and with someone on screen judging Ai's actions there's more of an incentive for the viewer themselves to judge her. Given the circumstances around some of the contracts on this volume, that's not exactly easy thinking.

Most of the disc, though, will be familiar if you've seen volume one - introduction of the characters, the reasons why they've seen fit to go to Ai, and the eventual carrying out of the contract. Some episodes are more watchable than others - where the victim truly deserves it, usually - while others are more difficult, where genuine revenge is replaced by hatred. Ai's clients are usually too young to understand the true horror of what they're about to unleash - Hell is an abstract concept, and their own deaths too far in the future to really figure in their thinking - and that also feeds into the examination of whether Ai's actions are "good" or not.

My biggest complaint about Hell Girl last time out was the danger of the show getting stuck in a formulaic loop. The small changes made with this volume - Tsugumi and Hajime's arrival on the scene, and the tweaks to how each story plays out - have meant that the show can keep to the same basic idea without it becoming tired or overdone. Still means there's not so much to write about, but enjoyable to watch? Absolutely.

In summary:
Sticking to a formula is a dangerous thing - it's not easy to keep a show that does the same thing week in, week out from becoming stale. Hell Girl tweaks the formula enough here to keep that from happening, and throws a few genuinely intriguing possibilities into the mix as well. The end result is definitely worth a look.

Features
Japanese Language 2.0,English Language 5.1,English Subtitles,Montage Episode,Creditless Opening & Closing Sequences

Review Equipment
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Revelation Films
MSRP: £15.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hell Girl