Label: Revelation Films
Video: 16:9 Anamorphic
Audio: English 5.1, Japanese 2.0
Running Time: 125 mins approx
I'm a soul man.
If you are persecuted by another, and the desire for revenge burns in your heart, you can visit the Hell Correspondence website at midnight and ask the Hell Girl for help. She will give you a doll, bound with a crimson thread; pull the thread, and a covenant is made -- your tormentor will be dragged to hell for eternity, but in exchange your soul will join them at the end of your natural life. These are the stories of five people who are offered the doll: a young girl tormented by bullies at school... a high school girl stalked by a sinister figure... a baseball player framed for the murder of his best friend... a young dog-owner whose trust is abused... and a young woman used by a ruthless, power-hungry boss. All will be offered salvation, but will they all accept?
With ADV Films UK sadly passing into shadow earlier this month -- their European distribution will now be handled by Lace Digital Media Sales -- and stalwarts Manga Entertainment better known for their film licenses, many anime fans have been left wondering where their next fix of TV animation is coming from. But as the adage goes, as one star falls another rises, and for now, at least, Revelation Films seems to be assuming ADV's mantle with aplomb. As the chosen partner for US giants FUNimation here in the UK, Revelation first came to the attention of British otaku when they picked up the rights to FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST back in 2006; since then, they have made a fairly successful business out of releasing the kind of titles that their peers tend to overlook, delivering a pleasing alternative to the glut of big guns/big tits/big eyes anime that usually dominate the high street shelves.
With this in mind, it's with an open heart that we welcome HELL GIRL to these shores. Despite a title that suggests the contrary, it's possibly one of the most gentle and melancholic series on release in the UK, presenting a series of stand-alone tales connected only by the use of the supernatural website and the appearance of the eponymous Hell Girl, Ai Enma. Each episode presents a new set of characters, led by a protagonist suffering emotional torment at the hands of another human being. At some point in the story that protagonist will find out about the Hell Correspondence website and, in a moment of desperation, use it, calling Ai forth and thus being offered a choice; they can have vengeance at the cost of their own soul, or they can simply walk away without consequence. The remainder of the story details the protagonist wrestling with that choice, and the consequences of the decision that they make.
If this sounds simple or dull, don't be fooled; each episode is an entire world in itself, with characters as fully-rounded and well-developed as any movie or arc-plotted series you could care to name. Moreover, the stories on offer are thoughtful and intelligently-written, providing a real emotional connection to the viewer and inspiring a full range of sentiment throughout, whether it's anger over a bullied schoolgirl, heartache over the death of a beloved pet or disgust at a woman gaining commercial power on the backs of others. Best of all, the conclusion to each episode is never a sure bet -- there's always a fantastic air of tension as you wait to see whether the protagonist will pull that thread and make the deal.
Visually, HELL GIRL is stunning. The past few year has seen Japan's TV animation raise the bar in terms of production values quite substantially, and this is just the latest in a long string of beautiful modern series from Aniplex (FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST, BLEACH, BLOOD+) and Studio Deen (PATLABOR, KING OF BANDIT JING). The utmost care and attention has been taken when choosing colour palette, with the vivid colours of the real world contrasting beautifully with the eternal sunset of the spirit world and the dark, crisp hues that come into play whenever an antagonist is being dragged off to hell. Full marks for the audio, too; FUNimation have done such a bang-up job on both the dub and the 5.1 remix that even sub purists will feel compelled to give it a go.
This series has started with such promise, it will be fascinating to see how it develops over the remainder of the season. As it stands, these first five episodes represent the best two hours of anime released this year so far. Miss it at your peril.
A competent transfer, with only a little artefacting on the absolute blacks. No motion blur, no ghosting – wonderful stuff.
The original Japanese 2.0 audio has been adapted expertly into a 5.1 English track that makes good, atmospheric use of the rear speakers.
Two director interviews and textless open/closing.