Hell Girl

Genre: Drama
Length: 26 episodes
Score: Good (but a bit disappointing)
Rating: 15 for violence and emotional content

There is a website that can only be reached at midnight, and only by somebody with a grudge. If you enter the name of the person you hate, Hell Girl will appear and offer you a contract. If you accept the contact – by untieing the red string around a straw doll she gives you – then that person’s soul will be instantly dragged down to hell. The price is that when you die, your own soul will go to hell as well.

The premise is similar to that of many recent Japanese horror stories, connecting aspects of modern life (video tapes, cellphones, the net) with the supernatural and horrific. Each episode focuses on a different set of characters, and in particular on the person who summoned Hell Girl and their decision of whether or not to accept the contract. Depressingly, most of them do, and for some incredibly stupid reasons. The characters are very Japanese in that, whatever sins and crimes may be involved, they’re far more willing to resort to desperate supernatural means than they are to actually talk to the police, their parents, their friends or whoever it is they hold a grudge against. The concept of a fatal grudge is also one embedded deep into Japanese culture.

Connecting the episodes are a reporter and his daughter, who by means of the daughter’s visions are let to try and track down Hell Girl and confront her, and so witness many of the cases themselves. The last few episodes finally deal with Hell Girl’s own origins and motivations, but they are ultimately a bit disappointing – many answers are missing, and her own motivations don’t quite make the sense you wish they did.

The show is steeped in Buddhist concepts and imagery, and it is indeed a Buddhist hell that the sinners are consigned to. However, there is an important different: traditionally, Buddhism has not regarded hell as eternal, but merely another stage in the cycle of rebirth, with the torments created by your own mind; as a state of being it’s characterised by loss of the reflective human faculties necessary to free yourself, forcing you to continue suffering until your being has been naturally changed to the sinless state allowing you to escape – which may take millennia, but not eternity. That said, the show’s premise is never explicitly put into context.