What They Say:
Whenever there has been Hell to pay, Ai Enma has been the collector. Whatever damnation you wish on another, she can deliver… at the cost of your own soul, of course. This is why she is known as the Hell Girl. Remorseless and implacable, she is the physical embodiment of revenge. But now, after endless years serving the depraved demands of vengeance obsessed mortals, cracks have begun to form in her once emotionless facade and she must take a journey she never expected to answer the question she’s never dared to ask before: when you’re already in Hell, are you allowed to die?
The release for the first season of Hell Girl was released by a different company and unfortunately it seemed to have underperformed as the sequels were left in limbo for years. Sentai Filmworks stepped in and picked the series up but also unfortunately the title was judged to not be viable to receive an English dub. Due to this the only audio track present on the release is a stereo Japanese track. Thankfully the track delivers solidly on its material bringing in all the nuances of flames flickering, chains rattling and tires squealing to complement the action on the screen. The dialogue also carries over well and is presented clearly while the audio track has a nice fullness to it that is free from dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing on Japanese television during the late part of the 2006 and early part of the 2007 Japanese television season, Hell Girl season 2 is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and it includes an anamorphic widescreen encode. Hell Girl is a series that spans quite a divide in terms of environment as it isn’t limited to any single setting in particular and it even crosses over into fanciful interpretations of Hell. In this it uses some very bright colors as well as some very dark and many of these come across well, but a few look like they are a bit muddy which given the encode leaves one wondering if it is an intentional decision of the creators or the result of something else.
And does this encode have a lot of evidence pointing against it when it comes to that possible “something else.” While the encode doesn’t exactly look like it came from Hell it certainly isn’t a product of Heaven either. There are a good number of issues that pop up during playback which include minor interlacing at transition points as well some speech points where it causes trouble with mouth movements, dot crawl, very minor bright red bleed except in Hell where it can be quite a bit and where there are some additional problems including looking like background freezes. Also present is some ghosting, noise, jaggies, shifting colors along lines, some aliasing, banding, some haloing as well as characters in white can have the background transparent through them. Finally there is some compression artifacting, moiré and some pops from the material. None of these are horrific in and of themselves taken together it is a pretty below average presentation.
The packaging for this release contains four discs which are presented in a Stackpak case where all the discs stack on a center spindle type holder. The front cover of the release feature Ai Enma and her three assistants dressed in the cloths they typically wear in the series that is placed against a very colorful striped looking background while the foreground has some circular, almost flower looking ornaments in the front and placed just out of focus. The picture is surrounded by a gold boarder which is then surrounded by a red boarder and the bottom quarter of the image has the series logo placed over it. The spine of the release contains the series logo in white at the top while the bottom has an image of Ai from one of the discs where she has some flower images placed over her. The back is a mostly red hue with Ai on the right carrying a katana with the copy written in white against a black background just to her lower left. Bellow that are nine images from the series and the series credits as well as the disc’s technical specs.
Each of the discs features a different image which contains Ai in the top portion and then a black band that contains the series title and logo as well as disc number with a red bit underneath containing the various companies logos and copyright information. The first disc contains Ai in a bright red kimono lying in a field of red and white flowers that are present outside the house that Ai resides in in Hell with Kikuri peaking out of the flowers. The second disc has a close-up of Ai against a background that looks to be reflecting a sunset against a water background with some floating flowers. The third disc features Ai laying on a leaf filled plot of ground and with some fallen leaves on her. The last disc features an image of a sorrowful Ren Ichimoku on the left and the tip of a katana dripping blood in front of him while the right side has Ai standing in her kimono and carrying a katana with a large eye in the background behind her. Also present with the release is a piece of plastic foam filler that helps keep the discs from falling off the spindle.
The four discs use the same set ups for the screens in which the majority of the screen uses a red background with yellow gold leaf accents in the left corners while episodes numbers are written in yellow-gold and are stacked in black boxes and the episode names are presented in white behind them as a portion of the opening song plays in the background. Each of the menus uses a different image in the right third of the screen- Disc one a close up of Ai from the disc label, disc two uses a full image of Ai from disc label, disc three uses an original image of Hone Onna & AI sitting together with Onna who is sitting with her back against the wall and Ai right next to her with her head on Onna’s shoulder. The final disc uses a close up of Ai with the katana and giant eye behind her from the disc label.
The Special Features menu present on the first disc use a purple and white alternating wheel design for the background image with the selectable options presented in white with yellow gold arrow type indicators on either side. For the main menus a little silhouette of the circle mark Ai’s contracted people receive is used to indicate which item is currently highlighted and the menu is quick to respond to selection changes and to implement the changes when chosen.
The only extras present on this release are a clean opening and closing which is a bit of a shame considering the richness of extras the previous season’s release had from a different company.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The second series of Hell Girl picks up where the first left off by opening with the scenes that show the sins Ai Enma committed in her life that have lead to her being placed into the role of Hell Girl by an undisclosed power as punishment. The previous series showed how Ai’s 400 year long lock on her emotions was breaking which placed her in danger of violating the covenant she signed and this season has her three assistants- Wanyudo, Ren Ichimoku and Hone Onna- taking a bit more of an active role when it comes to investigating those who have accessed Hell Link in an attempt to take some of the burden off their beloved Ai.
The problem is that though Ai may have gone through a great trial humanity is still the same selfish, vengeful and damaged species as it ever was and Ai is continually called into service to avenge their grievances. Along the way an additional and mysterious girl named Kikuri appears whose powers are unknown but she interacts with Ai and her group- occasionally in a manner that interferes with or exacerbates the current situation that the group is watching over. While her assistants often seem to clash with the willful and unknown girl, she generally responds to Ai’s quiet yet forceful statements when she has decided the girl needs to be reined in.
The addition of a new character isn’t the only change to the new series as Ai’s assistants will now have their pasts explored in addition to the increase in their roles. Their pasts are ones that help reiterate just how little humanity has progressed over the centuries and help explain some of the cynicism they have when it comes to humanity in general and those who either contact their mistress or are the cause behind the contact.
As Ai interacts with humanity her carefully maintained mask stays in place until a series of events start to wage out of control. When one particularly heinous individual’s machinations bear fruit it will in turn fuel a wild fire of as the rumors of Hell Link allow many of the townspeople to let their worst nature run wild as they have a designated scapegoat to take the blame for everything. Will this explosion in work overtax they seemingly emotionless Ai or is it possible that the resonance to her own past will cause Hell Girl to do the one thing she is absolutely forbidden to do?
With the return of Hell Girl in this second season a number of the issues that made the first season a bit grueling to watch return though the production staff makes a few changes to shake things up a bit. The basic problem that the series has is it is more than a little formulaic as the viewer is introduced to a character and then watches as they are put through the emotional wringer until they end up in so much pain that they are willing to spend eternity in Hell to alleviate that pain.
While some of the episodes broke up this pattern but by in large that is what the series is about and to an extent it comes off at times as feeling almost like a ghoulish voyeuristic journey into watching the pain of someone else, even if they are just a fictional story character. Some of it feels like an attempt at demonstrating and pointing out some of the lesser qualities of humanity but it can still feel overwhelming. The second season continues some of this nature but the producers wisely mix things up and give the viewer a break at times from the oppressive nature of the stories as on occasion there may even be some hope offered.
What also sets this series apart is the reduction in the stock footage of Ai readying herself and departing from Hell to service a grudge which leaves more time for some added work with the characters. Along with this the producers chose to show the past of Ai’s companions which helps deepen the connection that can be created with these beings who largely otherwise seemed to exist just to help Ai carry out her task. Additionally the producers work more humor, even if a good deal of it is dark, into this season which helps break up a bit of the oppressive feeling that can hang over events, though is sometimes feels like gallows humor.
About the only real two complaints I have about the series exist in two separate, but semi key arcs. Frankly the new character of Kikuri did nothing for me most of the time as her capricious nature kept me from enjoying when she was around and just made me have flash backs to Sailor Moon’s Chibi Usa (Rini in English dub). At times it felt she was simply there to get a rise out of Ai’s companions and as often as not I felt that they were capable of playing off each other well enough without this new and semi obnoxious character.
Additionally there is a story in the series whose punch, particularly later in the series, exists only if one assumes that the Japanese police force is using all the forensic skills of an early 1800’s police force. This incongruity just grated on me and left me unable to really enjoy the punch as I kept flashing back to how the event shouldn’t have happened the way it did and how with a bit more work on the author’s part they could have arrived at the same place without this annoying feeling.
Still, the second series was one I enjoyed quite a bit and one who’s ending leaves me desiring the third season so I can see how these events will finish playing out.
The second season of Hell Girl builds on the work of the first and while it continues in the same direction it makes a number of changes in some places to avoid being just “more of the same.” While the basic premise of the series forces the stories to continue in a certain manner the season adds in a good bit of humor that the first often lacked while also growing the role of Ai’s companions-including the addition of a new character whose role is seemingly even mysterious than Ai’s. Where this series really shines is in the work sent establishing some of the characters that may only appear in a particular episode but who may tie in to either Ai or her friends past- and the final arc of stories is a particularly delicious one showing off both the worst-and best- of humanity.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: C
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 18th, 2011
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.