Hell Girl Vol. #1 - Mania.com

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  • 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

Hell Girl Vol. #1

By Bryan Morton     February 18, 2008
Release Date: February 18, 2008

Hell Girl Vol. #1
© Revelation Films

What They Say
According to rumour, a mysterious message board exists, accessible only at midnight. Those who find the site have the ability to post a grudge they harbour 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.

Episodes Comprise
1 – From Beyond the Twilight
2 – The Possessed Girl
3 – Tarnished Mound
4 – Silent Cries
5 – The Woman in the Tall Tower

The Review!
If you could have instant vengeance on someone now, at the cost of some nebulous fate to be suffered in the future, would you take it? Ai Enma, the Hell Girl, makes just such an offer to those who ask for her help - but who will pay her price of eternal torment..?

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 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.

The cover artwork for this series goes for the simple approach, with a small image of Ai in her school outfit, the threads of her kimono closing around her, 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.

The menu is a simple, static affair, featuring the sunset & tree scene used when Ai is warning her potential contractors about their side of the bargain. 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.

There’s a decent selection of episodes on this disc – along with the usual creditless opening and closing sequences, there’s a live-action promotional video (more along the lines of a music video), accompanied by a behind-the-scenes look at its production. There’s also a set of character profiles, done in the form of clip sequences from the show with a voiceover describing the characters. Makes a nice change from the usual text profiles.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
On the internet is a site where, on the stroke of midnight – and only then – you can enter the name of a person against whom you want to take vengeance. With the help of her three associates, the Hell Girl will deal with your request – Ai Enma, at first glance an ordinary schoolgirl but who holds the power to carry her victims to hell. There's a price to be paid for her help, though – "all curses come home to roost", and if you make use of her services, then at the time of your natural death, you too will be destined to face the eternal torment of hell. Ai doesn't much care what your reason for seeking vengeance is – as long as you're prepared to pay the price.

This volume brings us Ai's first five "victims", with each episode taking the form of a standalone story that introduces a person that is being tormented in some way, their tormentor, and then leads them through the process of calling on Ai and taking their vengeance. If that sounds a little formulaic, it is - Hell Girl sticks to a very rigid format, right down to the use of a number of stock-footage scenes in each episode where Ai prepares herself for the task at hand, before carrying away the "grievance" of the week. The victims are mostly young girls – this time around we have one who's being blackmailed by a classmate, one being stalked by a corrupt policeman, one who's cherished pet died because of the inaction of an uncaring vet, one seeking revenge on the woman who arranged her father's murder, and a young man who's been framed for the killing of a classmate.

You could never accuse Ai of not giving her clients enough warning of the price they'll have to pay for her services - there are some wonderfully gruesome flash-forward scenes giving her clients a very clear picture of what their future would hold if they pull the string. Likewise, the "victim" begins to get the full treatment even before Ai takes them down, with some very surreal vision scenes that may serve the purpose of giving them one last chance to repent, or may just prove she's as sadistic as they come. That could go either way, and it's one of several parts of the "formula" that are open to the viewers interpretation – while on one level the series takes an uncomfortable pleasure in the suffering of others, there are also hooks in there to give you something to think about. Did the victim deserve to be taken to hell? Did the contractor suffer enough already that their end of the bargain seems harsh? Ai doesn't care about such things – she's just doing her job (although there are indications she's not exactly a willing worker) – but the audience is almost encouraged to think about these things.

Ai doesn't work alone, either, and her three sidekicks are a potentially interesting bunch who, unlike their boss, do seem to take a certain pleasure out of their job. Their main role so far is to help scare the bejeezus out of those about to face eternal torment (perhaps giving them one last chance to escape their fate, although no-one's had the foresight to own up to their misdeeds yet), but I can't help but feel there's going to be more to them over time.

Hell Girl's biggest failing is its strict adherence to formula – this isn't a disc you want to watch all in one sitting, as it would quickly become repetitive. An episode or two at a time, though, and the formula's able to work its magic, with the rich atmosphere created by the visuals and soundtrack working to make the show very easy to watch. I'd by lying if I didn't also admit that there's a certain guilty pleasure that comes from seeing some of the show's antagonists get the treatment they truly deserve.

In summary:
This is a strong start for Hell Girl, as long as you bear in mind that you shouldn't really watch it all at once. Watching each episode becomes a little game in figuring out who's done what (in some episodes it's not immediately clear who's going to be the contractor or victim), and how Ai and her helpers will deal with them, and it's presented in a way that has a lot on inherent appeal. Over future volumes, though, there'll need to be some variation in the formula, or the idea could become tired quite quickly. This disc, though, is well worth a look.

Japanese Language 2.0,English Language 5.1,English Subtitles,Promotional Video,Making Of Promotional Video Featurette,Main Character Profiles Video,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.


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