If there’s one thing I learned from watching Jigoku Shoujo its that persistence pays off. After seeing the artwork and reading the premise of the show, I watched a few episodes and almost dropped it. I’m so glad I didn’t. After watching the entirety of the first season I can honestly say I loved the show despite its obvious repetitive nature. Hooray for Ai! Spoilers: There are recurring characters in the show besides Ai.

Ai and her helpersJigoku Shoujo is a traditional Japanese ghost story with circumstances beyond anyone’s control but yet still under the control of other humans. There is a website, accessible only at midnight, called the Hotline to Hell. If someone who feels like they are a victim goes there, they can type in the name of their antagonist and to have sent to hell. Enma Ai then appears and tells them that they must untie the red string on the straw doll she gives them for the contract to be complete. However, should they untie it, besides their antagonist being taken immediately to hell, they too will be condemned to hell when they die.

Perhaps I should point out now that this show is extremely repetitive. The above scenario plays out in basically every episode. Victim shows up and feels wronged, they contact Ai, they wrestle with whether or not to pull the string, then they pull it anyway. Seriously, this happens in every episode. Even I, who ended up loving the show, almost quit watching at episode 3. It wasn’t until I made a crucial change of perspective in episode 5 that I began to love the show.

Ai’s emotions are the core of the storyThe real story in this show is not the people who appear for only one episode and act out their vengeance. The story in Jigoku Shoujo is all about Ai. From the start it seems she is an emotionless girl who just keeps doing the same thing over and over. However, this is her job, her duty, and her curse. Once you realize that, you begin to understand the gravity of the repetitiveness. It has a purpose: to make you empathize with Ai. In every episode you see something new about Ai, something subtle and small. Sometimes her eyes get big, she betrays a tiny bit of emotion, or she says something with a slight inflection that wasn’t there before (like when she asks the person if they would like to see death). In the wake of the overwhelming repetition of vengeance, the tiny insights into Ai’s feelings make her all the more mysterious and intriguing. When she does finaly display emotion explicitly it is powerful, beautiful, and terrifying. I personally began to question why Ai would follow her contractors around silently, why she contacted the Shibatas (the recurring characters who show up in episode 8), and why she seemed so sad all the time. Her character became an all encompassing mystery that I wanted to solve.

Ai betraying a tiny bit of concern.Ai’s sadness, and the overall theme of the show, is simple: the human desire for vengeance. Every episode you see the same tragedy play out even though you think “this time maybe they will see the error of their ways.” Before they are left to decide, Ai always shows the victim a taste of what hell will be like when they die. Despite this, they always pull the string anyway to exact vengeance on their antagonist. Trivial matters like stealing or betrayal seem to be far worse than an eternity in hell. Some victims are relieved of abuse for one lifetime to be carried to hell when they die. This trade off is a result of the delusion of vengeance, that nothing could be worse than the situation at hand. This is the driving force behind everything you see and everything Ai feels.

Ai being subtly out of characterIs it right to send someone to hell when they have done wrong? This drama plays out between the Shibatas through the series. The daughter believes that the antagonist probably deserves it and that being sent to hell in the long run to be relieved of a temporary pain is worth it. The father disagrees and wants to stop Ai from continuing her work. Ai all the while stays silent about her feelings but betrays them in her actions. At the end of the season the point is made: no one is immune from feeling vengeance but we all have a choice to act on it or not.

Overall, the unraveling of the mystery of Enma Ai is what makes this show so good. Granted there is a fiercely repetitive nature to this show, but if you can get past that in get into the heart of the story there is a hidden jewel in the silent red eyes of Ai. The emotion and drama of Jigoku Shoujo (as well as the 2 nights of constantly restless sleep due to my mind trying to decipher Ai) garner this show a 4 out of 5 stars. Heres to an equally Ai-filled second season. いっぺん、死んで見る?

Rating: ★★★★☆

« »