Written and Illustrated by Miyuki Eto
Created by The Jigoku Shoujo Project
Del Rey Manga; $10.95
I gotta admit: I didn’t get all the way through Hell Girl. I don’t know if that means this isn’t a “real” review or whatever, but that’s for someone else to decide. I gave it a shot, read the first two chapters, then skimmed through to the end.
Hell Girl, Volume 1 is divided into five “chapters,” but they’re really more independent short stories than connected parts of a greater whole. The first one is about a girl named Mari who gets caught shoplifting and is blackmailed by one of the mean, popular girls from school. The blackmail gets out of control and Mari can’t handle it any more. When she hears about a website called Hell Correspondence where you can enter an enemies name and they’ll be immediately taken to Hell, she decides that’s her way out. The only catch is that you have to also give Hell your soul when you die, but like these stories always go, Mari doesn’t care about that in the face of relieving her immediate trouble.
There are lots of problems with this story. First, it’s never really clear whether or not Mari actually stole what she was accused of stealing. From the rest of the story, she doesn’t act like a thief and she certainly never admits to having done it. Apparently, her actual guilt or innocence is supposed to be secondary to her concern over the very accusation of having shoplifted. So, when the girls from school threaten to tell on her if she doesn’t do all their homework and buy them things, she caves easily.
What she’s so afraid of is that word of her alleged indiscretion will prevent her from getting into the school she wants. So, when she can’t afford to pay off her classmates anymore, she starts to steal money from her parents and contemplates getting a full-time job that’ll interfere with her schoolwork. It’s a hopeless situation and Hell Girl does a fine job of portraying the desperation in it. It’s just that the creation of the situation isn’t very believable, so I have a hard time caring. I can think of at least five, easy ways Mari could’ve gotten herself out of her mess without having to go a demonic website.
The mean classmate does indeed go to Hell and receives a just, eye-for-eye punishment that we can delight in a little because she was such a bitch. But then that’s the end of the story, except for the part where the Internet demon visits Mari and reminds her that she’s going to Hell too when she dies. There’s no other ironic, double-crossing payment exacted from Mari. Just the promise that at some point, long after the readers are through with her, her story’s not quite done.
The second story follows the exact formula except this time the main character’s a woman named Hiromi who’s opening a new bakery and the butthole is her former employer who wants to ruin her. This one’s even more implausible than the first one because the former boss goes to ridiculous lengths to take credit for Hiromi’s creations and pull away business from her shop.
He claims that an editor for a major food magazine wants to do a write-up on the new bakery and has Hiromi give him photos and recipes for her newest items; then he turns them into the magazine and claims they’re his own. When his customers express dissatisfaction at his selection and threaten to go to the new shop, he tells them he’s heard she puts rotten fruit in her baked goods. Naturally, they believe him and stay in his store.
Finally, pressed with a need for a new creation, he breaks into her shop and actually steals finished product to put in his own store. I’m trying to think of more ludicrous example of stretching a story to meet the needs of the plot, but I can’t. It was after this one that I decided not to keep reading.
But just to finish telling you about this one, once again the main character goes to the website and enters the bad guy’s name. The cute, goth demon shows up and takes him to Hell where he’s forced to receive the same kind of punishment he’s been doling out. Then the demon shows up once more to remind the main character that her soul belongs to Hell when she dies. The end.
I skimmed the last three stories and they all follow the same pattern. A jerk makes life hard for someone, that someone visits the website, the cute demon shows up to punish the wicked, then visits the main character again with the reminder. Maybe the other scenarios are more convincing than the first two, but I didn’t dig that deeply. I was afraid of what I might find.
There are two ways I could see the Hell Girl series redeeming itself. One is based on something I read in the first story, but the second is just wishful thinking on my part and trying to imagine what I would do to make it better.
In the first story, there seems to be a connection between the cute demon and one of the girls at the main character’s school. Whether this is a secret identity or a coincidence or something else isn’t explained right away, but the only thing that tempts me to read more is to figure out that one, little mystery. It’s not tempting enough, but if the rest of the series was better it would be a nice enticement to keep going.
The second thing that would improve the series would be to start making connections between the various protagonists. Instead of a series of completely independent and unrelated incidents, start getting all these main characters together to figure out how to reclaim their souls. Maybe Hell Girl does that in future volumes. Heck, maybe it does it in the last half of this volume. Unfortunately, I don’t intend to sit through enough more of it to find out.