Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 17th 2010
Hell Girl Two Mirrors
DVD Collection 1
In cities swarming with the exploited, the defeated and the shattered, rumors of a website that can grant instant vengeance are persistent. Drawn by its promise, victims of transgressions real and imagined flock to Ai Enma, AKA the Hell Girl, emissary of unnatural vengeance. From them she picks the most fervent. A girl tormented by an unknown bully, a cook haunted by the fiery death of his family, a girl whose elder brother seduces her boyfriends. To their enemies she metes terrible punishment, at the cost of their very soul and with no assistance in reassembling their fragmented lives afterwards. Also among the supplicants are those who would use her to their own ends: a punk who would sell his soul to eliminate a gangmate, a woman with a scheme to use another's soul as her payment. But Ai is no robotic instrument, and anyone who deals unfairly should be prepared for retribution. All the way to hell.
Having already established its own unique set of rules and expectations in season one, season two of Hell Girl is free to exploit them however it will. Surprisingly few episodes follow the series' basic plot pattern; you know, the one where some fundamentally decent person is subjected to the foul ministrations of a depraved, selfish or plain evil individual until they need resort to the supernatural offices of Ai Enma. Instead the episodes play with the series' self-made conventions, adding wrinkle after sadistic wrinkle to its standard narrative. There's the boy who can't quite summon the courage to sell his soul for revenge, only to be plunged into a hell of guilt when his inaction has dire consequences. There's the woman who has a long and particularly vicious role-reversal forced upon her by Ai. There're countless episodes that obfuscate or deliberately deceive such that we are left to guess who is damning who and why; episodes where nothing and no one is necessarily what they seem—to other characters, or to us. At times the series is as much mystery as horror, with the Hell Girl as sleuth and the inevitable damning as denouement.
One can't help but see this new playfulness as a symptom of creative restlessness. As an ice-cold, deliberately-mounted horror Hell Girl ran its course last season, and its creators know it. One whiff of the air of camp that hangs over its oddly perfunctory punishment scenes will tell you that. There's a reason it dabbles increasingly in black humor and self-parody, why its episodes end as often with a twist of irony as a twist of the knife. This is a series that is looking to expand its palette, and is having a little fun at the expense of its own pointlessly continued existence in the bargain. The result is a looser, campier, and, for all its complicatedness, less complex variation on the usual Hell Girl cocktail of bitter pessimism and thrillingly nasty comeuppance. It isn't without its appeal. The moments when Ai and her cronies temporarily violate their character, as when Ai tells an uncharacteristic and embarrassingly bad joke, are priceless, and the veneer of camp makes its cruelties a little easier to swallow. Nevertheless it is noticeably inferior to its black, bleak and deceptively simple predecessor.
Focusing on the changes from season one to season two does the second season something of a disservice, though. As with episode-to-episode variation, the alterations the series makes to its second season are important, but small. Takahiro Omori's atmosphere of sinister restraint weathers the lightening of the overall tone largely intact, wrapping the self-consciously twisty plots in a chill blanket of equal parts grim urban alienation and stylized supernatural beauty. The foreboding splendor of Ai's home and the blood-red plain where victims trade their souls for vengeance has not abated, nor has the finely-detailed anomie that blights the cities Ai visits. Nor is the eerie power of the score's dissonant instrumentation, shiveringly pure vocals and apocalyptic guitars to be dismissed merely because they are sometimes used during hokey climaxes.
More important, though, than carefully animated close-ups or porcelain beauties, both of which are in no short supply, is the awful humanity the series maintains: the sorrow it sees in wrecked lives, the slippery pathos it finds in evil, the insight it has into the ways that the noblest emotions can give birth to the vilest acts. Seething, sadistic and insightful, its black humor and campy detours do not detract from Hell Girl: Two Mirrors' true horror: that, like its predecessor before it, it turns its eye to modern life and finds only an endless roundelay of human evil. That it sees, as we all must, that there is nothing more terrifying than what lurks in our own hearts.
Also terrifying are the typos in the subtitles. For shame, Sentai, for shame.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ As sadistic, disquieting and tense a sequel as any fan of the original could want; more inventive in its plot structure; plenty of nasty little surprises.
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