Monday, July 4, 2011

Intermission: Hell Girl

So we're still having technical difficulties. It's looking like we won't be able to podcast until this coming weekend. Due to the delay, we'll be doing another double header podcast session, and this time, I'll make two separate posts so iTunes doesn't weird it up.

In the meantime, let's talk about depth. It's no secret that I don't think anime is as smart as it and fandom tends to think it is. I think it works better when anime works with its craziness that turns things awesome. The best way to describe it is that I really like G Gundam but think that all the other Gundam series, save one exception, are boring and muddled in poor writing. From time to time, though, there are shows that actually manage to pull off deeper ideas without me looking at the screen and laughing at the attempt. Sometimes this is on purpose, usually when Shinichiro Watanabe is involved, and sometimes it's on accident, like with Hell Girl.

I mentioned on the last podcast that when trying to find a terrible show to watch, we watched an episode of Hell Girl, and it was a surprisingly positive experience. For those unaware, the premise of the show is that people have problems, and if you have enough hatred and desire for revenge, there's a website where you can enter someone's name and magic people will show up and take the person to Hell for revenge. In exchange, you will also be taken to Hell once you die and have a mark on your body to serve as a reminder. It's an interesting concept, and works rather well when the show is focusing on the people who are driven to the depths of despair so much so that they're willing to give up their eternal soul just to escape. The beginning of the show does go out of its way to make the villains so overly evil that it's easy to want them to suffer, but it works because it slowly pulls back and starts having less clear morality. You begin to think about how maybe sending people into the pit, no matter how evil you may perceive them to be, may not be as clear cut as it seems.

The reason this intelligence is accidental is because the writers made the mistake of giving the supernatural Ai Enma, the titular Hell Girl, the story focus and a backstory. This takes it away from the more interesting victims and users of the Hell Correspondence so we can have magic laser beam fights and ghosts. They try to tie the "revenge is wrong" theme to her personal revenge story, but I think the show works better when the Hell Correspondence has no humanity to and is more of an evil influence. In a story arc that is introduced way too soon for its own good, a reporter starts tracking the revenge deals through his magic daughter and trying to stop people from damning each other. When he interfaces with the users to show them that revenge will leave them feeling ultimately empty, the show does a good job of contrasting his ideals with their desperation. When the two are caught in a sanitarium with the vengeful spirit of a little girl's doll that tries to kill them with her power over plants only for Ai and her entourage to save them for... reasons. It only very tangentially fits in with the theme of revenge and doesn't make sense since the Hell Correspondence saves a person they actually want to get rid of for interfering in their business. It's like the writers needed a break, so they just decided to have a magic ghost fight. Then they did it again with some psychic weirdo.

I think the real problem with this show is that it doesn't have enough good ideas. This show would work better if it's a bit more compact, maybe thirteen episodes rather than twenty-six. The reporter trying to stop people story comes in very soon, so he ends up not accomplishing anything for a while before any significant developments happen. It's too bad because it's a good idea that's just not executed as well as it deserves. Giving Ai Enma a backstory where she's a transformed human soul of vengeance extends the show with a bad idea. It gives her humanity, and the story works better when she's just an inhuman device through which character psychology is analyzed, sort of like Silent Hill. They even screw this up with the art. Ai is described as being beautiful despite her appearance being very creepy due to her lack of emotion and giant eyes as though she lost her real eyes upon death, so someone gave her some decorated baseballs as replacements.

Largely, Hell Girl is a positive experience. The conflicts of the show do a good job pulling you in and presenting the moral quandry without completely bashing your head in with it. It's just too bad that it has less to work with that it thinks it does. It's like the Dynasty Warriors of anime. It's cool and a bit fun at first, but after a while, you just want to get it over with.