Jigoku Shoujo (2005): Series Review and Analysis
Published by Mark Anthony F. Benabaye ︱ May 22, 2023
“Ippen Shinde Miru? (Would you like to see what death is like?)” – Enma Ai
When it comes to genres in anime, the horror genre seems to receive the least amount of recognition and attention especially when it comes to anime fans in recent years, opting for the more exciting action and fantasy genres, the emotionally touching genres of romance and drama, or the recently recognized isekai genre. However, in spite of the lack of horror entries in recent years, there exists hidden gems in the world of horror anime, and one of those is an anime entitled Jigoku Shoujo.
Jigoku Shoujo is a 2005 supernatural, horror-thriller, and drama anime that was produced by ANiplex and Studio Deen. The story follows the titular character, also known as Enma Ai, along with her companions as they answer to the different grudges of people through a website called The Hell Correspondence. Each season follows an episodic type of format, wherein a different story is presented each episode. Despite the anime’s episodic nature, each season would have its own central characters that would come across Ai and her companions, as their presence influence each other in the midst of humanity’s tragedies, sorrow, and temporary salvation, with every episode (main and episodic ones) build up to the final episodes of each season, where their respective stories reaches its climax.
The series, despite receiving criticisms due to the format of its episodes, manages to build up a considerable amount of fans in its fandom, and is still known as one of the most memorable horror animes even in recent years.
The first season follows the introduction of Enma Ai and her companions and how their system of answering grievances works. The first seven episodes serve as the introduction to the season and even the show as a whole by depicting different tragic stories, from bullying to blackmail, and how each victim would respond to these challenges. Would they endure the onslaught of hardships to find the light in a seemingly endless tunnel of darkness, or would they succumb to their oppressors and resort to the services of Enma Ai? What about Enma Ai’s services? Her services include the formation of a contract that would allow victims to send their oppressors to hell in exchange for the eternal damnation of the victims themselves should they also die in their lifetime. After the introductory episodes, we are then presented with our two central characters for the season: Hajima Shibata and his daughter, Tsugumi Shibata. The fates of these two characters would then intertwine with those of Enma Ai and her crew, and their tensions with each other would only intensify from there. The final episodes of the season would introduce us to the pasts of the central characters, as well as Ai’s, and how their pasts would be the driving force of their motivations as well as their biggest hurdles.
The first season is incredible, as the buildup for its characters is presented slowly yet hauntingly beautifully, and it really allows viewers to determine their opinions on the series. The tension is incredible, the different stories are tragic or hopeful, and it really opens the path for its second season.
The second season, which is argued by some to be even better than the first season, focuses more on the character arcs of Enma Ai and her crew. There are episodes in which their past and how they came to be were presented, and fans would not ask for me. We are given light on their characters as we grow fond of their stories and personalities. This season also introduces a new character for the crew in the form of Kikuri, who appears to serve no purpose other than to cause hilarity and maybe a little bit of creepiness, or so you may think. In typical Jigoku Shoujo fashion, this season presents us with an episodic format about different stories of sorrow and hope and a central character named Takuma, a child who is accused in his town of being a devil’s child as the string of disappearances seem to only happen in his presence, despite The Hell Correspondence being the true perpetrator. Unlike the first season, the central character this time is a mirror of Enma Ai herself, with their growing encounters with each other forming twists, tensions, and mysteries as the town descends into massive hysteria due to the disappearances.
What makes this season so beloved is the fact that the audience gets the opportunity to be more emotionally invested in the crew as they get more involved with Takuma’s situation. Furthermore, fans regard the final episodes of the season as intense, emotionally heartbreaking, and beautifully symbolic, which further reinforces the praise they get. While the ending opens up the possibility of a continuation, fans are more than content if the series ends here.
And now, the more controversial third and fourth seasons. One of the reasons why they are controversial (and why they are being discussed together) is the fact that both seasons share a similar storyline with a few differences: Finding a successor for Enma Ai. While the idea of Enma Ai finally resting after everything is nice and that the idea of a new Jigoku Shoujo is interesting, the execution of the plot leaves more to be desired.
In the third and fourth seasons, we get to see the central characters being Yuzuki and Michiru respectively. Interestingly enough, what differentiates them from the other central characters is that both get to be in every episode of their respective seasons, but it still does not save their seasons from being criticized. The third season was criticized for its rather funny portrayal of the ‘sending to hell sequences’ as it is the soul of the series and it what made the series so mysterious and haunting. The fourth season was criticized for a different reason- being a shorter rehash of the third season (with the actual storyline concluding at the half of the season), and that fans felt that the conclusion for Enma Ai and the crew was unsatisfying. Despite the harsh criticisms that these seasons receive, each still has their own set of strengths.
For the third season, some fans are actually content with Yuzuki’s story arc, especially when the final episodes of the season give light to her and her past, as well as a past central character who makes a surprising appearance. The fourth season was somewhat praised as their set of episodes brought back the terror and mystery that the third season has lost, with added brutality.
To conclude this section, opinions regarding the series’s storyline would depend if one would consider watching its more controversial seasons or not, and if one would be patient enough due to its episodic nature. In spite of criticisms, the show’s storyline is stronger in most of its cases rather than it’s weaker, and that makes itself deserve its praise as a horror anime.
Rating: 7/10 (Whole series), 9/10 (First two seasons)
Despite technically having a huge number of characters, fans would often only remember Enma Ai and her crew as well as each season’s central characters. To start off, the crew often converse like adults would, and almost no hilarity would be seen from them besides from Kikuri, yet what makes them charming is that they do not need it and that they still manage to flesh out their respective personalities to differentiate themselves from actual bland characters. Furthermore, their roles vary from the perspectives of other characters. To most of the victims, they are seen as their only salvation from their despair, while most of the central characters and the perpetrators who get sent to hell see them as antagonists. One particular character, to which we will not mention for story purposes, sees them as servants who need to fulfill their duties. So to speak, it is hard to determine if they are good people or not, as they are simply doing their responsibilities. They do tend to be sadistic towards perpetrators that get sent to hell if they feel like they deserve it, but they also get to be compassionate with the victims. They also tend to wonder if the day would come where the never ending cycle of hatred would end, and that’s what makes them beautifully written.
In terms of each seasons’ central characters, one thing to note about them is that besides a small connection of them to Enma Ai, they are not really particularly special in their own world. They are simply ordinary people who are pulled into the affairs of Enma Ai and the gang, to which their lives take a drastic turn. Some would say that this makes them less interesting. But honestly speaking, I think this is what makes them refreshing compared to other protagonists, who seem to have a lot of special occurrences surrounding them and their character as a whole.
The main theme of the story is presenting us that hate would only bring more hate. Every single instance in the show centers on the theme of hate, and how it is destructive for both the victim and the bully. Hate serves as the driving force for most of the antagonists in each episode, and hate also serves as the driving force of victims to sell their soul for temporary bliss in life. As we get deeper in the show, it ironically serves one too for Enma Ai herself. As one character put it, The Hell Correspondence will continue to exist as long as there is hate, which is just a fancy way of saying that hate would never cease to disappear. It may seem like the show is glorifying such a somber and negative theme, but I think that it is the other way around. The reason as to why hate is being portrayed so much to the point of exaggeration is to emphasize the consequences of hate, and that viewers should be more careful and more kind towards the world and to themselves.
For fans who are reading the review, it will come to no surprise when the ost of the series will receive. The mastermind behind the series’s haunting yet awesome ost is none other than Yasuharu Takanashi. He is well known for composing osts to other big names like Fairy Tail and Naruto, and he does not disappoint with Jigoku Shoujo. The soundtracks would range from somber and haunting music to metal with horror elements, while still feeling like they belong to the series. The openings and endings of the series also get praise for its calming yet mysterious mood. Any music lovers who are especially fans of osts seen in horror anime, the soundtracks of Jigoku Shoujo would certainly be a 10 for you.
ART & ANIMATION
The opinion on the series’s art and animation can be divisive. Some would say that for its time, it is really good, while others would believe otherwise. In my personal opinion, I think that its art is sufficient enough for what it is. It is not heavily detailed, nor artistically beautiful, but it is simple yet unique enough to somewhat distinguish itself from other horror anime. My only concern is the fluidity of its animation can be off at times, but it is simply a minor problem that does not even get much attention. Overall, its art and animation are not award-winning or even worthy to be talked about in multiple forums, but it gets the job done.
In conclusion, the series would continue to get valid criticisms on parts that fans may find lacking. It had potential to mark itself as one of the more well-known anime in general, its just that it had major hurdles that it failed to bypass. With that being said, the strengths of the series is just too much for its weaknesses to completely overshadow. From simple yet intriguing characters, incredible storyline, elements of mystery and suspense, and just awesome soundtracks, it is safe to conclude that Jigoku Shoujo is indeed a hidden gem amongst the sea of gems. Though its episodic nature may turn off some audiences at first, this is one series that I would recommend watching first before formulating any kind of opinion. A reminder to interested watchers though, that this is not a series to get fun and excitement. Rather, this is a series where incredibly mature topics are discussed and thus, viewer discretion is advised.
Overall Rating: 8/10 (Note: This is not the average of each individual rating, rather than it is my rating to the series as a whole)
All forms of media of Jigoku Shoujo present in this article is owned by Studio Deen and Aniplex.