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Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori 1-2

I'd originally wanted to wait until I finished the whole series before I said something, but after the first two episodes, I had to talk about this title -- it's one of those shows that's just going to compel me to.

Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori (Hell Girl - The Two Prisoners) is a continuation of the Jigoku Shoujo (Hell Girl) series that aired last year. Back then, I thought it was a very odd sort of sleeper hit, spawning not just a second anime season, but also a live action series and a manga. I'll be honest here. I haven't finished watching the first season of this show beyond the first seven episodes. The premise, watching what appeared to be (ironically up to around the time I left it) vignettes of often camp horror about people summoning the spirit of vengeance from hell through a website, over and over again, got to me in a real way, even though the idea was attractive at first. The first season was slow. Many of the horror stories presented were barely horrifying. Most were so camp I had moments of wanting to burn stuff. And yet, when it worked, it really was good stuff. It was so good, I'd still be compelled to flip through other people's anime blogs from time to time, just to see how it ended. It wasn't, however, so good I'd go off and download the show myself. But I should now.

Because: If the second season was what they were really trying to do with this show, I am really going to regret not seeing how it all started.

Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori has exactly the same premise and the same crew doing pretty much what they've always done. It follows Enma Ai, our Hell Girl in question, a petite, adorable middle-schooler with lovely red eyes and a habit of dangling upside down from people's ceilings or appearing in relief in darkened mirrors. Together with her loyal servants Ichimoku Ren (a gigantic eye), Hone Onna (a bone woman), Wanyuudou (an old man) and Grandmother (a black widow spider), she inflicts vengeance upon anyone whose name is written on her personal website. The only catch is that whoever summons Jigoku Shoujo must make restitution with her and offer their own souls to Hell when they die.

Her name becomes an urban legend among Japanese teenagers, sort of like Sadako's chain tapes in Ringu, as swarms of young people in the stupidest age of their lives summon her for pet hatreds. A recurring theme that appeared throughout both seasons is school bullying. A significant number of the cases involve a victim summoning Enma Ai to stop the school bully, where the reasons for bullying have usually revolved around issues of conformity -- which has made me wonder about the popularity and fanbase of this show in Japan. Jigoku Shoujo is not an easy show to watch by way of its subject matter. The bullying is usually quite horrible, though not unusual, if media on the subject like the movies School Daze and All About Lily Chou Chou are any indication. I have come to wonder if perhaps the reason this show resonates is because its target audience is able to sympathize with the stories presented in a real way. The show does often ask the question of whether the ability to seek vengeance on anyone we liked is something we'd really want if we were given the chance, and answers itself with a resounding yes. This alone makes the series fascinating in its study our priorities as human beings. Here are high schoolers and younger making the choice of spending eternity being ripped apart by wild beasts and repeatedly gashed with stakes (illustrated in detail within the show) than walk through whatever problem they're facing. The series often presents the bully victims as people who see themselves as having no other choice in the matter, but does take great care in hinting that this is only because the victims themselves refuse to see any other way out. In this way, Jigoku Shoujo can be read as a thoughtful discourse on rebellion in a highly conformist youth culture. Choosing to call Enma Ai is precisely what everyone in the peer group says is the right thing to do. What made the show painful to watch for me the first time around was watching people do precisely that repeatedly, without a break. What must run in the minds of others who watch this show? Do they get a kick out of watching the oppressors crushed? Do they wonder if having the means to inflict violent, torturous eternal vengeance on their enemies is the sort of power it's cracked up to be? Even when the vengeance appears to be well deserved and the victim truly pitiful, to what extent does trusting a power out of one's hands little more than the proverbial opiate?

One of the other appeals of this series is how vengeance is depicted in an almost zen-like order. Summoners throw their souls away for the sake of enjoying what short mortal life they have left, knowing that their lives are fleeting. The restitution Ai demands is the divine balance for living with hate. Not only does Jigoku Shoujo make happy with materialism, it seems to be poking a morbid bone at the concept of a serene afterlife too.

The first season ended with the history of Enma Ai's descent into her role as the Hell Girl. Jigoku Shoujo opens directly where the show left off, with Ai's first transformation into Jigoku Shoujo. It then goes right into a typical victim vs. school bully setup, complete with a laughably camp vengeance run involving high school lab equipment and miniature people. The ending's a nice twist, but it's not that nice a twist, and was predictable to boot.

Episode 2 is the episode they probably should've started this show on -- a girl becomes haunted and possessed by the ghost of her little sister, who demands she seek vengeance through Enma Ai on her behalf. The idea is catchy, and the execution truly creepy. The haunting was very tastefully done, with fear coming from the things that didn't make it on screen. The depiction of the elder sister was particularly disturbing. The episode did good work showing a natural-looking mental breakdown in such a short time. Her possessions and eventual fusion with her younger sister was believable to the point of eerie.

The first key difference between Jigoku Shoujo and Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori is the latter's speed. Jigoku Shoujo was slow from the start. It was obvious the series wasn't going to move at any pace faster than the first episode on any portion of the main plot for a long while, if ever at all. Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori dives into the main plot from the first episode. We meet the Hell crew like old friends. Rather than waste 3/4ths of the series mysteriously hinting at these people without offering anything worthwhile, the first episode alone wants us to see more of Ai as a person and her interactions with the three spirits. It's great to see Ichimoku Ren, Hone Onna and Wanyuudou discuss the case, worry about each other and especially the (interesting) mental health of their boss. It's great to see more of Ai as she is apart from a puppet who recites the contract for vengeance -- a young girl in an almost permanent catatonic state, often lost in her grisly memories, remembering bits of child's play and bits of living, but never quite connecting.

Which leads me to the second (and for me, the more appealing) difference between the two seasons. JSF finally starts on the backstories for the main characters. This is amazing when you realize Jigoku Shoujo had no history for any of the characters except Ai (and only at the very end) at all. It was a pity because the Hell crew are a nice set of personalities and easily likeable characters. The idea that they have past lives like Ai, and are not, as the first season suggested, merely spirits that have always existed, opens up a new avenue in the whole revenge gig. If, like Ai, they are vessels of the spirits of vengeance that can change hands after they have served their purpose, then they have the possibility of a second death (either as a reward or as a form of torture), the chance of accountability for the grudges of their previous lives and all the purgatory these imply as well -- a subject, as it turns out, in line with where this second season is going. They also help make the characters more involved in the cases, as opposed to being lackeys of Ai repeating the same tasks in every episode. Ai's connection with the people she "helps" is also more acute when it's clearer their stories are affecting her understanding of her original crime.

The camp is still there. It's not really that bad, take or give that miniature lab rat people bit from Episode 1. I like think of it as similar to the camp in the Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness movie -- a little chewy, but not indigestible. Might as well get a laugh while you can because who knows what they'll throw at you after.

Animation is doing well for itself. Like the first season, we still get repeated scenes when Enma Ai transforms into the Jigoku Shoujo and travels out of Hell. It's an essential part of the formula, like semi-naked magic girls on pink backgrounds are to certain other genres with more of an interest in saving the world. These stock scenes are still cool, featuring plenty of dramatic traditional drums and sudden silences. Again as with the first season, any and all scenery taking place in Hell/purgatory are gorgeous, stunning, wow. Ai is exquisitely animated in her catatonic imitation of life. I can't not be fascinated by her frustrated yet weary attempts to play with jacks, or catch a ball. The way she stares at us with those startling eyes can send shivers down one's spine. Little details, little cracks rather, in her otherwise emotionless face, say more than any pages of dialogue. The side characters aren't looking bad either. Hone Onna is a real looker. The kimono patterns are making me flail around. There needs to be laws against bone women being so darn pretty, you know, apart from the obvious cautions. Ichimoku Ren is still a pretty boy (he's got that rep, yep), and I'm this close to finding the giant eye sexy. (I really cracked a grin when his transformation sequence had him kissing his dogtag with an "Okay, Mistress," for Ai.) Wanyuudou is still a stately, funny old gentleman -- he reminds me of Takeshi Kitano -- just at a gut feeling level. It's amusing.

So far, animation and design for characters other than the regulars have been promising. Not terribly well known for consistent quality during its first season, I'm hoping animation quality stays a constant better-than-okay this time around. There has been some clever reusing, reducing and recycling in the first two episodes, where repeated animation has just scraped past without being wearying. This will very likely continue, so the best I can hope for here is that they don't overdo it.

Voice acting is brilliant. Enma Ai is a creepy little girl, and I've used creepy so many times in this review I'm wondering if my vocabulary's gone down the drainpipe -- but she is a creepy little girl and I keep wanting to hear her whisper to me about death at ungodly hours of the morning. Hone Onna is the proverbial Nee-san/seductress character, perfect for a bone woman. Ichimoku Ren is a lighthearted cad and at odds with himself on cue. Wanyuudou just has that Takeshi Kitano as Zatoichi feel. If you know how Beat Takeshi's Zatoichi has this little chuckle when he knows a joke only he fathoms, and how charming that was, you have Wanyuudou. Music is effective, albeit repetitive. This is another one of those shows with good silence punctuated by the appropriately eerie sound effect. The opening theme is buggering pop, not unlistenable, but still buggering. The ending theme makes up for it by being beautiful and soothing. Noto Mamiko, the voice of Enma Ai, sings like an angel (of death). Any amount of scary hauntings by mad little girls can be made well by comforting night music about endless suffering and sins that will never be forgiven. Did I say I find Ai completely adorable yet? Yes, yes I have.

Jigoku Shoujo and Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori are subbed by the gorgeous people at Shinsen-Subs. JSF is moving at a clip by SHS standards, being currently at Episode 20 of 26. This show does have sex and violence, although it's not gory. No, it's not for kids. I'm going to repeat the sex part. Yes, it does have sex. Soft porn sex, but yes, it has sex. Violence is limited to tortured (bleeding) souls being rended by metal stakes and the like. All things considered, the blood quotient is minimal. I rate this safe to watch at night.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 10th, 2007 01:34 pm (UTC)
haha, I just started watching Jigoku Shoujo this past weekend. I didn't watch much - the first five episodes, but I'll probably watch more later - and so far am unimpressed. But if the follow up is more compelling as you make it sound, then I'll sit through it.

I got side tracked though. I'm watching Kaikan Phrase, even though it's outdated and super cheesey. I should be ashamed. XD
Apr. 10th, 2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
that was me.
Apr. 10th, 2007 02:47 pm (UTC)
*stage whisper* Jigoku Shoujo S1 is reeeeeeaaaally slow, like watching teen Japanese horror flicks over and over again, for like at least the first 10 episodes. Then the plot, when it comes on, takes ages to get moving. You can actually watch S2 without having finished S1 (er, I'm still on Ep 7 of S1, for example), and cheat even more by reading an anime blog for JS for the lickle bits, as S2 kind of self-explains enough to get by. The cool people who subbed S1 just took down their torrents because S1 is licensed (I'll have to Youtube essential eps or such) too.

S2 has the benefits of being more compelling, and also a bit faster. The cases are also more interesting in general, more twisty, less... talking baseballs. ;)

I just looked up Kaikan Phrase on AniDB. My goth, it sounds like that Kaori Yuki manga...what was it...Kaine? Something like that. I am ashamed of your shoujoness, friend Countlibras. Horribly tempted to download Kaikan Phrase or something though.

Tangent: Have you seen the latest Scary Go Round? Compelling!
Apr. 10th, 2007 04:12 pm (UTC)
I've been watching it all on crunchroll which is like youtube but not uploaded in seven minute installments (yay), with cruddy sound quality (boo), and they only stream Asian related stuffs.

Maybe I'll just skip the first half of S1. I'm all "gawd, how many times can I watch angsting children? Is the Japanese teen culture this horrible?" *skips ahead 3 minutes and then another 3 minutes*

I have my unexplainable moments of "cheese". Like when I watched "The Lake House" with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock? ohohoho!
Kaikan Phrase is even worse I think. The dialogue? It screams for young girls to write bad yaoi fanfics. XD

re: tangent - When am I not keeping up with SGR? *flails around like only a fangirl can*
Apr. 12th, 2007 07:01 am (UTC)
I shall need to look up Crunchroll. I still have to look up that new version of Return of the Condor Heroes too!

The angsty children of Jigoku Shoujo are truly a social study. The teenagers are inevitably either bullied, picked on to conform or have demonic teachers. It's amazing how the show manages to repeat this theme, and it's even more amazing the show was so popular they had to make a second season of this! Hence, I still wonder how much of the show is based in reality.

Bad yaoi fanfics! *hides under bed*

Super Crisis Quests is awesome!
Apr. 12th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
I need more Esther! or Comrade bat!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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