What would you do for revenge? To send your worst enemy to hell? What would you sacrifice?
In the case of Jikogu Shoujo, what you get is your enemy sent to hell immediately. The price you pay is your own soul goes to hell at the end of your natural life.
The person you send to hell could be a saint and you yourself twisted with evil. Or the
person who is about to murder you and your family. You could be a saint your entire life except for this one time. Or it could be the wrong person entirely and you send someone who was trying to help you. Someone could ask to be sent to hell and will be waiting for you, a suicide pact. It doesn’t matter. The Lord of Hell wants his souls and Ai Enma is the one who procures them. There is no fairness. It is just a matter of how the rules work.
Jikogu Shoujo has a website. It appears at exactly midnight and no other time. You enter the name of the person you want to send to hell. You get a communication back indicating the job was accepted. At some point Ai Enma contacts you in person. You are taken to her world in limbo where the rules are explained. One of her helpers turns into a straw doll which she gives you. If you untie the red
string, the spirit confined within the doll is freed and your vengeance is granted.
The victim enters a nightmare world derived from what they did. (In Japanese Buddhism this is Meido, a place of judgement.) Their sin is presented to them. They have an opportunity to repent. They never seem to repent and it is not clear how much difference it would make. Soon each lost soul is on a boat being rowed across the Sanzu River by Ai Enma to a hell relating to their sin. (Similar to Styx and Charon, only no fee required.)
Some do not have a great sin but go to hell because someone evil wished it upon them. Ai seems very sad about transporting these people but it is her job. We don’t have any idea exactly what happens to good people who are sent to Hell. She seems without choice but eventually shows resistance to doing this.
People who are fundamentally good usually go to Tengoku (Heaven) by a different route but we never see that.
This is the world of Hell Girl, Jikogu Shoujo.
This isn’t the Shinto Hell, Yomi-no-Kuni. Yomi is very similar to Hades in the Greek
tradition. (Even has its own version of the Persephone myth.) Jigoku is the Buddhist Hell, much more akin to Christian Hell in its suffering.
One would think of Buddhism as a gentle religion focusing on reincarnation. That’s true but if you were a bad person you’d go to hell before being reincarnated. You
could be stuck there forever. When and if you were reincarnated would depend on your life balance of sin and how well you repented in Hell. Dante imagined 12 levels of Hell in his Inferno, organized by what your sin is. Buddhist Hell has anywhere from 8, 16 or 64,000 Hells, depending on which priest you talk to. Each Hell is crafted for a particular sin.
Lets say you murdered someone. In the “8 Hells” version (which also has 16 lesser Hells) you would go to the Toukatsu Jigoku (Reviving Hell). You would be beaten
to death by demons, revived and then beaten to death again. There seems to be some differential in suffering between Hells, like the Screaming Hell vs, the Great Screaming Hell. Every so often you get a chance to leave hell if you are judged fit. A fascinating article on the Japanese versions of Hell is here:
In this show, Ai tells the customer that when he/she goes to hell, they will be there for eternity. She doesn’t tell the client that the target may repent their sins and after enough punishment be reincarnated. This would be an “out” for people unjustly sent there.
The anime has 4 seasons, Jigoku Shoujo, Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori (Two Cages), Jigoku Shoujo Mistugunae (Three Cauldrons), and Jigoku
Shoujo Yoi no Togi (Fourth Twilight).
Season one’s arc involves a newspaper reporters investigation of her and his son’s mysterious connection to her.
Season two season concerns a boy who has the most horrible luck. He and his father act like saints but evil people still send the boy to Hell. Ai refuses and big conflicts take place with her master.
An alternate pops up but Ai won’t condemn anyone else to take her place. Season three
involves such a person.
A mysterious & ghostly girl appears advising Ai Enma she shouldn’t be doing what she is doing in season 4.
Each season has stand alone episodes that have nothing to do with the overall arc. After a while, the plot of, “kid gets bullied or otherwise seriously wronged and sends a bad person to hell” gets boring. Most of her clients are schoolkids – but I guess that’s anime for you.
The opportunity to repent stops being shown – not that anyone took advantage of it when it was there. They work thru some backstory but not as much as I’d like. The plot lines gradually become more complex as the season goes on and the art improves a little bit.
These are the characters to be found thru the entire season:
Ai Enma is the name given the Hell Girl. (Ai means love. Enma is the name of the God of Hell.) She lives in a house in perpetual sunset and twilight
with an old lady who is constantly spinning. She looks like the perfect doll with pure smooth skin and long jet black hair. Before going on a job she is often found bathing in a pond in a white tunic. She dresses in a beautiful floral kimono, then she rides through the sky to her destination in a carriage driven by a flaming face on a wheel.
She was chosen for this for her sin. As a prepubescent girl, she was sacrificed to a local god for the village’s future well-being by being buried alive. In her terror and fear, somehow she caused the village and all its people to burn. (It is a pattern we see repeated later.) In the western tradition, we would say to forgive her for she was but a child and not of the age of accountability. We would say to forgive her for she was in absolute terror and not in control of herself. We would say forgive her for she was acting in self-defense against a village that was vile and evil to do such a thing. But then, she also killed the innocent with the guilty, including her own family.
In this tradition, one must accept what life deals one. Neither youth nor extreme fear nor pain is a valid defense. If the village really wants to bury you alive, then that is what ought to happen. Fight them too hard and you go to Hell. The guilty village members may eventually go to Hell later for what they did to you but it isn’t yours to decide. Your job is to have faith that justice will eventually prevail in the afterlife.
For her punishment, Ai must live thru the centuries ferrying people to Hell. The Lord of Hell will decide when she has done enough. If she refuses, her family’s souls are being held hostage. Perhaps being the procurer for Hell is actually a lesser sentence than being in Hell.
There is often an investigation phase to determine if someone is a good prospect. It wastes time to accept jobs where the customer never follows through with the doll. And sometimes they need encouragement. She has helpers for this.
Wanyuudou is the face on the carriage wheel but looks like an elderly man the rest of the time. He was a carriage driver. He was carrying two high-status women in the carriage when they were attacked. He was being chased up a narrow twisty track while the enemy set fire to the carriage. He overestimated his ability as a carriage driver and went off the cliff with all concerned plummeting to their deaths. His distraught soul wandered the earth ever since until being enlisted by Ai to help her.
Ai Enma’s helpers are capable of all human emotions, including love. Wanyuudou is no exception. Most of the time, tho, he comes off as very gruff. Most commonly he goes undercover as a janitor.
Onna Honen was once a beautiful geisha. (She wears her obi tied in front as a prostitute.) She tried to escape but was ratted out.
As a result, she was drowned in a river. Her soul was stuck in this world and eventually found by Ai and taken in. Onna can be seen as a skeleton when she wishes and can contort into impossible shapes.
During the series she is very sympathetic to women and children, often coming off with a very modern feminist vibe. She is also capable of pouring on the sex appeal as part of the investigation and the condemnation processes.
Ren Ichimoku is often seen as an eyeball spying on people. He was a katana that reached the age of 100 and gained a soul, a tsukumogami. He is the most compassionate and at the same time the most logical of Ai’s helpers. As a sword he lamented over the stupid and senseless violence he was put to use in.
One of his unique skills is the ability to project his eye anywhere to see anything. This is extremely useful in sizing up potential clients. Women find him extremely attractive, so in a way he is a male counterpart to Onna.
“Grandmother” is an elderly lady we only see in silhouette, always spinning. She also lays out Ai’s kimono when she is going out on a job. Most of the time the only person she speaks to is Ai.
The God of Hell, is often seen spying on Ai in the form of a spider but can assume any form he wants. In Hell he is seen as 4 petal-like lights. He doesn’t completely trust her and briefly took control of Kikuri. He does nothing to assist her. Her and her family’s fate are in his hands. The Japanese would refer to him as Lord (or King) Enma but they may also call him “King Yama”. No word yet of any Yu Yu Hakusho crossovers.
Ai eventually gets two more associates whose purpose is not clear yet. (And probably never will be since the anime is no longer in production.) One is a quiet little boy (Yamawaro) and the other an obnoxious and imperious little girl (Kikuri). Yamawaro is quiet and polite and considerate. His intelligence is the highest of the group and often surprises everyone with his knowledge.
Kikuri is the opposite. She is loud, demanding, and cruel. She seem to be an animated doll that has been given awareness and movement. Perhaps she is also a tsukumogami? We don’t find out. For a while Lord Enma himself takes up residence in her. Yamawaro ends up treating her like a beloved but exasperating little sister, essentially being her servant.
By season four I’d say the opening theme has a bit of lolicon in it. Ai is starting to look glamorous and even seductive on the opening/closing credits. Within the show her character doesn’t change and still either wears a simple schoolgirl uniform or her “work uniform”.
I wonder if they tested the openings on an audiences of teenage and young adult males to see which was more appealing?
Just my humble opinion but I think the season one opening features her in an entirely different light than season 4.
There is some morality to be gleaned here.
The worst thing you can do is to end another person’s life by sending them to Hell. The reason is that you are acting as God. Only God (Buddha, Allah, whoever) knows ultimate truth. As a human you are usurping power that does not belong to you, making you little better than Satan. Not to mention as a human you are prone to error.
By cutting short their life before God has intervened, you have denied them a future in which they could find salvation. A faithful person might not want to die and resist. But since you know that you are going to heaven your death should not bother you as much as causing the death of someone who might be saved. Do not become so attached to this life that you would end another’s life to spare yourself mere pain.
At the very least, calling upon Hell Girl proves a disregard for faith. If you think about it, the mere fact that Hell exists should imply Heaven and a whole lot of other religious concepts are real. You should have faith that, in the end, the good will be rewarded with Nirvana and the evil will someday become good thru learning the easy way or learning the hard way. This is both fundamental Buddhist and Pacifist Judeo-Christian theology.
To those who aren’t thusly faithful, the real horror in this show isn’t Hell Girl, or King Yama, or even Hell itself. It is the abuse that people subject others to for their own gratification. If I were Lord Enma, I’d go pretty light on those who used the power as the only possible way to prevent great evil from happening. I’d go really light on the innocent who were cursed for evil reasons. Those who used it lightly or for personal gain would regret it for a very, very, very, long time.
So would the directors of Amazon.com for asking two bucks per episode. (Crunchyroll still has the 4th season which gives you a good taste of the show. They get a pass for now.)