Japan has always understood the value of its folklore. Its cultural subconscious has provided a rich vein that writers continually return to constantly finding new ways to explore, reinterpret and repackage. In the late nineties appeared the Ring, films attaching modern technology to its urban legends creating the J-horror genre. It’s as if Japanese storytellers inherently understood that folk tales required a modernisation pass. Cautionary tales about the dangers of wearing red and visiting grandma in the forest lacked contemporary relevance. However make our beloved entertainment and communication devices fatal – answering the phone or popping a tape in the VHS – and people will be shit scared. By attaching veiled warnings about techonology to horror a new form of folklore was born: techlore
Hell Girl continues this tradition of techlore. With a title like Hell Girl it probably doesn’t come as much surprise that demons are updating their processes. Seeking revenge? It seems a midnight meeting at the crossroads with the devil does not provide the necessary flexibility or convenience to their user base. Moving forward, the denizens of hell have identified online as the best way to service their customers.
Each episode of Hell Girl takes a familiar structure. There is an innocent victim tormented by a remorseless oppressor. Having reached breaking point, the victim hears of a diabolical website. A Google search later proves the rumours to be true. With terms & conditions condemning them to Hell in payment for revenge, the victim momentarily costs their immortal soul while the arrow pointer hovers over the ENTER rollover. Then, accepting their fate, a left button mouse click sets the process in motion.
There is nothing wrong with the formulaic nature of Hell Girl. The intrinsic pleasure comes from the tingly foresight that a cruel and unusual punishment will be meted out to the oppressor. In these stories justice is a dish best served straight off the grill. Sadly, it is in this crucial area Hell Girl really lets itself down. In the case of an unrepentant high school extortionist, the worst these little devils can conjure is a generic vortex that sucks in kinda screamy, kinda faceless, blobby people and a classroom full of skeletons. A sadistic baseball pitcher struggles to prevent a skeleton from making a home run. Skeletons? Twice? Come on! Where is the retribution so exquisitely fitting that their eyes are opened to their hearts of darkness, a darkness they will spend an eternity contemplating as Charon express delivers them to Hell’s check-in? While the demonic hell spawn of today may be extremely techno savvy, boy are they lacking in generating fates worse than death.
With a fantastic premise but very little in the way of satisfactory pay off, Hell Girl feels like a missed opportunity. But then, just when I thought I was stranded in my own anime purgatory, there, tucked away, is a glimmer of promise. In the final episode a golf-loving veterinarian finds himself, not dishing out, but on the receiving end of some ‘animal cruelty’. Ah, the delicious irony.
Maybe there is hope for this little devil after all.