by Miyuki Eto; adaptation by Gemma Collinge
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Hell Girl is a figure of revenge fantasy. Kids tell each other about a special website where, if you enter the name of your enemy at midnight, Hell Girl will come and take revenge on them for you. Each chapter of the manga tells one of these stories about someone getting what they deserve.
The best story is the first, which takes its time in sketching a descending spiral of misery for good student Mari. Satsuki, much more popular and outgoing, frames her for shoplifting and then pretends to be kind in getting her off the hook. What Satsuki really wants is a patsy, someone to lend her money and pay for after-school treats and do her homework for her. The requests escalate until Mari feels forced to really steal to keep up with Satsuki’s demands.
Instead, she conjures Hell Girl, who warns her of the cost to herself: sending someone else to hell means they will also go there after their death. I think this is meant to be a caution, a reminder of bad karma, but it feels perfunctory. Mari’s so clearly suffering now that she’ll seize on anything to get it to stop, especially since she doesn’t deserve it; what may happen to her decades later is less important, both to her and the reader. It also seems a bit unfair, since the reader is rooting for those who need it to get punished. (And those characters, the troublemakers, don’t ever have a good reason for their pettiness or meanness. They’re just hateful and greedy.)
When the punishment is meted out, black chrysanthemums (used for funerals in Japan) overtake the character until the page looks like it’s covered with ink blots. It’s a neat device, if a bit non-threatening. I also sometimes had a hard time telling who was talking. The word balloons don’t have tails, and the character voices can be similar, lacking distinctive tone.
In the second chapter, a woman breaks away from her teacher to open her own pastry shop. The teacher hates the competition, lies to her, steals her recipes, and spreads vicious rumors. By the third chapter, the stories have already become self-referential, with an actress signed to appear in the Hell Girl movie dealing with a stalker. The last two chapters feature an evil veterinarian and a girl whose teacher is sexually harassing her.
There’s a cultural subtext of young, innocent victims being preyed upon by those in positions of authority who rely on their societal standing to cover up their crimes. Several of the stories feature a statement along the lines of “who’s going to believe you against me?” The idea of a young women being responsible for gathering evil souls for punishment works well in that context. She’s a gripping visual, too, all long whipping dark hair and staring eyes.
This was an anime series before it was a manga, and I think it probably works better that way. By the end of the book, I found the stories getting shorter and more repetitive, which would be less of a problem if they were stand-alone episodes. I think the formula would be more acceptable to me if each of the stories got the same amount of space and effort put into them.
There’s an online preview available. A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.