Review: Jigoku Shoujo & Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori

So much for a particular comment back here – after looking at a few pretty pics and finding out a little bit more about the characters, I finally decided to try…Jigoku Shoujo. Everyone knows the concept, right? If you hold a grudge against someone, urban legend has it that a site known as the ‘Hotline to Hell’ (地獄通信) enables you to contact Jigoku Shoujo (地獄少女), who will exact your vengence. This service however, comes at a price – upon his/her death, the avenger will also fall to Hell to wander in agony for eternity. Each client is given a straw doll (Wanyuudou – one of the three helpers) with a red string tied around its neck. The client’s removal of this string signifies confirmation of the contract.

The concept makes the format of this series quite obvious – it’s very episodic, something that I’ve never particularly liked. However, episode 8 introduces two returning characters (other than the Jigoku Shoujo, aka Enma Ai, and her helpers) who offer the viewer a link to Ai’s past – Shibata Hajime and his daughter Tsugumi. A freelance journalist, Hajime-chan (as Tsugumi calls him) begins to investigate Ai’s work. When Tsugumi, for some reason, begins to observe Ai’s clients through the latter’s own eyes, he begins to track them down in order to prevent them from pulling the string. As most of the clients they encounter seem to have valid and deep greviences, this motive puts father and daughter at odds with each other. Then Ai discovers that the two are descended from a person against whom she has had a long time grudge…

Ai’s story is the main reason most people would probably sit through this series, but, interesting though it may be, that reward probably isn’t worth 26 episodes of time. But the grudges in some of the episodes are interesting to consider. It’s difficult to classify them – many are quite valid, but are they really worth going to hell for? Admittedly, some of the clients were left to choose between immediate death and pulling the string, but others put off pulling the string for so long that they were left only with the pain of wishing they’d been able to save someone or something else that was dear to them. As for the targets – whilst many were cruel and really deserved some punishment, what of the politician who acted to protect the way of life of the elderly? And the nurse whom Tsugumi acknowledged as a person who should not ever have become the subject of a grudge, who was sent to hell by a drug addict she didn’t even know? Plainly put, many of the outcomes leave a bitter taste in the mouth, so don’t watch it if you don’t like depressing things.

p.s.1. If you want to skip straight to the more interesting second season, Garten has summarised almost every episode at his anime blog, Memento.

p.s.2. The episodic nature of the series can be quite interesting for seiyuu fans. For me, this started with Non-tan in episode 3 (after hearing several of his voices in Code Geass, it was kinda difficult not to recognise this one…) and then Koyapi in episode 4. I was also surprised to pick the seiyuu who voices Kou Kijin in the Kokumono animes (Nakata Kazuhiro). As for FukuJun and MikiShin, I knew about them already, although the former would have been obvious had I not. I didn’t have any luck with the second season – should have picked Shou-chan in episode 9, but I was too freaked out by the character – talk about sister complexes…

p.s.3. Point 2, however, gave me a gripe with the subbers – they’d simply tacked on the first episode’s credits to several of the later ones, leaving me to use ANN to confirm if I’d heard anyone correctly. They stopped being lazy at some point, but I’m not sure when exactly that was.

Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori was an improvement. A couple of changes from the original – firstly there is a much greater focus on how much sadness this job brings to Ai. Each time she intones her trademark phrase (この怨み地獄へ流します), one wonders how she can bear it. Additionally, it is not only Wanyuudou who gets to become the straw doll (each of the helpers can actually be seen in Ai’s little hut as straw dolls when they don’t have a job) – he takes turns with Hone-Onna and Ishimoku Ren. Might this be an agreement reached after the episode where Wanyuudou was dumped into a barrel of dirty water (or whatever it was) in season 1?

Anyways, the episodic nature of the series doesn’t change, but the grudges are a little bit wilder, a bit more stupid, espeically in the town of Lovely Hills… Or rather, I should probably say that the situations that give rise to the grudges are a bit stranger – in one instance, it simply involves the matter of a stray cat whom two neighbours – who never meet, btw – ‘fight’ over… And what Hajime-chan probably feared in the first season came to pass in the town of Lovely Hills, where townspeople started cursing each other for the slightest issue, simply because they could lay the blame for the disappearances on the ‘Devil’s child’, Takuma, thus getting away with it in this life. Did any of them even believe in the existance of hell?

Takuma’s plight is a modern-day reflection of Ai’s own in the sense that both were used as scrapegoats by their neighbours – except that he does not have any unnatural powers. The only thing unusual about Takuma is that he is the one character in the series to decide against using Ai’s service based on moral grounds, believing instead that doing the right thing will eventually free him from his persecution. First introduced in episode 14, he sees his mother killed and father attacked by a neighbour, who disappears before he is able to attack Takuma himself. With no witnesses, Takuma, already blamed for his mother’s death, is believed to have attacked his father as well. When the townspeople discover Ai’s service, they begin to exploit Takuma’s bad name to relieve some very petty grudges, creating a cycle of hatred that has Ai’s helpers working until they are tired to the bone. Sadly, the cycle causes a person Takuma grows to trust to enter his name into the website. This finally causes Ai to break her agreement, refusing to take Takuma to hell. As a consequence, she is returned to life, but ages 400 years in the process. Nevertheless, Ai chooses to protect Takuma, and in doing so, both she and her loved ones are finally released from hell. Takuma gets the ending he deserves – he is cleared of suspicion as the cause of the town’s disappearances, and his father’s awakening from his coma enables them to begin rebuilding their life.

Garten lamented the fact that the Jigoku Shoujo series really “doesn’t match well (his) idea of justice”, as many of those sent to hell for sending another person there certainly do not deserve such a terrible fate. However, I wouldn’t say that Jigoku Shoujo is about what justice is. Rather, it is an exploration of what humans can be like, hanging onto petty (and not so petty) grudges even though there are ways that we can work to put them to rest. The consequence of having to go to hell isn’t the only retribution that people can get from getting revenge – as a serial murderer finds out in one episode, the people the grudge-holder loves can also be condemned to a living hell by his/her own actions. All up, Futakomori expresses this message in a more convincing manner – the question is, can you sit through the first season to get there?

p.s. Here are Garten’s thoughts on the series.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

One Response to Review: Jigoku Shoujo & Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori

  1. Pingback: Quick Review: Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae « opinionated? well…sort of…

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