What They Say:
Just when it seemed that Ai Enma was finally at peace, Yuzuki Mikage appears: the perfect host for Ai’s damned spirit to possess! Now, as the darkest secrets of the Hell Girl threaten to consume her, Yuzuki’s attempts to maintain her own humanity become ever more desperate as the world around her slowly shatters into a terrifying series of riddles. Why has she been drawn into the world of the Hell Correspondence? What is her relationship to Ai? And has her ultimate destiny already been predetermined? As the powers of the Hell Girl continue to grow inside her, Yuzuki’s very existence is now at stake. Who and what is she, really? The shocking secrets of her past will be unlocked, the tragedies of Ai’s will be revealed, and the torch of the Hell Girl may be passed in the shocking conclusion of the Hell Girl saga.
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 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 insect noises, chimes as well as more dramatic effects 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 2000 and early part of the 2009 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, and very minor bright red bleed except in Hell where it can be quite a bit. Also present is some ghosting, noise, jaggies, shifting colors along lines, some aliasing, banding, some haloing as well as characters can have the background transparent through them at times and a bit of moiré can rear its head as well. None of these are horrific in and of themselves, but taken together it is a pretty below average presentation.
Also a very minor note-a few translation issues sneak in during an early episode, either that or there is some weird grammar being used in two lines by a character who then doesn’t use unusual grammar (or it isn’t translated the same) again.
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 features Ai Enma the left side of the cover in profile as she looks at Yuzuki Mikage who is on the right with both looking directly into the other’s eyes. In between them at the top is a colorful butterfly while just below their chins are some of the flowers that play a prominent background role in the Hell Girl series, though the banner for the series looks to cover up the new colored flower that manages to work its way in during this installment of the franchise. The picture is surrounded by a blue-green boarder which adds a bit of a ethereal air to the cover. The spine of the release contains the series logo in white at the top while the bottom has an image of Ai and Yuzuki standing close to each other as both are wearing kimonos and are facing the viewer by looking almost over their shoulders. The back is a mostly blue-green backdrop with Ai on the left in her dark colored school uniform while wearing a crown of orange and red flowers and lying on the ground while Yuzuki is positioned laying next to her (though inverted) while wearing a crown of white and yellow flowers. Bellow that is ten 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 blue-green bit underneath with the various companies logos and copyright information being at the bottom. The first disc contains an astonishingly pale Ai in a white school girl uniform as she sits on the ground with her head leaning to the side against a veil of hanging pink shaded flowers. The second disc has an image of Ai on the right in front of a bunch of Hell Flowers with her almost emotionless look being present while her friends/servants are in the background on the left against the traditional Japanese house that serves as home in Hell. The third disc features an image that uses a dull grey background with Yamawaro and Kikuri on the left side looking in opposite directions against a red and orange flower while Ai is on the lower right side in her black school uniform with a rather wistful look on her face and a purple and white flower as backdrop behind her. The last disc features a close-up of a naked Ai with her hair flowing around her against a yellow backdrop along with a number of red-orange flowers that look to be semi-falling and semi-draped over 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 basic set ups for the screens in which the majority of the screen uses the blue-green color as the backdrop while episodes numbers are written in yellow 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 while the right side has its own image- Disc one a image of Ai and Yuzuki lying next to each other on the grass from the back side of the cover, disc two uses a gorgeous full image of Ai as she stands against a purple wall and she stares up into the rain that is falling around her while he holds the closed umbrella she carries in her hand while its top end is on the ground, disc three uses an original image of Ai standing against a stained glass window with her usual kimono open and looking just draped over her shoulders, exposing her white under kimono as she looks out to the side over her right shoulder. The final disc uses a larger image of the image of Ai and Yuzuki in their kimonos from the cover’s spine.
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 original season’s release had from a different company.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The third series of Hell Girl picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the second season ended with the shocking decision by Ai to challenge her role as Hell Girl and she appeared to have given up her life in the process. In the time that has past her three servants have taken up jobs in the real world to get by- Jobs which they abandon when they learn that Ai has returned, though perhaps not in a form they recognize yet.
Her return also brings the return of Kikuri who has now had to possess a windup toy to have a physical form as well as a young boy named Yamawaro who joins the familiar ranks of her straw doll servants. It turns out though that Kikuri isn’t the only one lacking a form as Ai is currently moving about in the form of an electric blue butterfly and she is also going to be forced to find a new form. Ai does this by possessing a young woman named Yuzuki Mikage who is living apart from her parents and who has an unusual bond of fate with Ai.
Yuzuki’s life is going to be thrown further into imbalance when one of her friends makes a pact with Ai to banish a teacher she is certain has it out for her and Yuzuki finds she now has the ability to hear a chime when around people who may be thinking of using the Hell Link as well as to see who Ai is dealing with. Yuzuki then decides that she is going to try to use this knowledge as best she can to try to convince people that they should abandon their grudge much like a character from the first series did.
Along the way though the cyclical nature of the series and its themes repeat as humans continually use the Hell Link to solve grievances which in turn can cause more grievances to appear which then the Hell Link is used to try to solve. As Yuzuki is confronted with this sad fate she tries numerous ways to deal with her knowledge but none of them is giving her peace. Even the appearance of a familiar character can’t save the spiral her life seems to be in as those she knows become victims and predators using the Hell Link, but something even worse may be in store for her. Ai didn’t just choose Yuzuki to gain form for no reason and the destiny that lies ahead of her may be the only thing that out weights the tragedy of her forgotten past. In the world of Hell Girl happy endings are few and far between and the price one pays for any piece of mind doesn’t come cheap for anyone-not even those who would be Hell’s messenger.
The third season of Hell Girl comes from out of left field in a way as the previous season had freed Ai from her role as Hell’s servant seemingly at the cost of her life. Now however she comes back and suddenly the new twist of her having to possess a human host to go about her role is added along with yet another out of the blue servant. In some ways this is one of the things about Hell Girl that can be so daunting to understand- the staff seems to relish the idea of taking what the viewer knows and then knocking that knowledge about to keep them off guard.
This layer of mystery perhaps is done to keep the viewer tuned in every week (in airing, or for every volume on home video) as the series travels down its rather dark path of human misery. It is this formula actually which makes Hell Girl so difficult to watch but also difficult to just walk away from. The writers seem to have a pretty good feel for how to lure their audience in episode after episode to what may be some of the psychologically darkest material one can find in a mainstream commercial venture.
Every week the audience watches as someone is put through the ringer. Just to double up on that emotional punch, this time not only is that person put through it but so is Yuzuki as she bears unwilling witness to events. Given the emotional heaviness of the end of the first season showing Ai’s past, and then the second where she tried to walk away from her role one can see how it may be difficult- if not impossible- for the third season to deliver a similar payoff, yet this season’s is on a level as powerful as those others.
After watching Hell Girl for three seasons I find myself in a very odd place of both wanting more stories but also not really having much of a desire for them at the same time. After a bit of thought I think I have come to the conclusion that what I really don’t care to see more of is the kind of stories that tend to appear early in the season where it seems to be almost a ghoulish endeavor watching these characters suffer seemingly at random. The third season stretches this premise a bit further as Yuzuki comes into contact through coincidence with a number of characters just to suffer as she watches them make pacts with Ai through her eyes (though perhaps this coincidence nature was too much even the staff as they later give her a power so that it doesn’t just seem she is some sort of misery magnet).
The thing is that the second halves of the seasons seem to be where the writers start wanting to build to something and craft more of a narrative which can then be used in a successful payoff. If they could just do this in 13 episode arcs I would have much less reservation with the series as the appearance of a narrative at least mitigates a bit some of the truly horrible things that happen during the series, sometimes for no reason.
Perhaps the randomness is the true message of the series though- no matter what humans have a darkness inside them and sometimes bad things just happen because of it, but that is surly not an easy message to swallow over the course of three 26 episode long series. Hell Girl can be a powerful series when done in moderation but when taken in large quantities it can make it a series that is just easily written off as too much angst and the formulaic approach can wear a person out, much like a steady stream of water can wear down even a mountain and the attempts to break up the formula aren’t quite as successful here as in the second season.
Be prepared to take one last trip through humanity through the eyes of Ai Enma and as such experience some of the worst the species has to offer. With its stories that range from major wrongs to petty grievances or even misunderstandings the third season again presents a world where people can have their desire for vengeance quenched at the low price of their eternal suffering. Hell Girl isn’t a series that treads lightly but it also tries to do justice to its characters by showing who they are and why people should care about their plight. Along the way it may attempt some humor to break things up and try to change the pacing but one may be left with the gnawing question of who is to be pitied more- the people who reach the end of their rope and are desperate for a temporary salvation or the poor, centuries old girl who is stuck offering it to them. In either case, the final season closes out with a hell of an emotional ride that fans of Ai would be remise if they don’t see.
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
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 14th, 2012
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.