Hell Girl Book 1

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.

Hell Girl Book 1 cover
Hell Girl Book 1
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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.

Hell Girl DVD 1 cover
Hell Girl DVD 1
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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.

9 Comments

  1. […] Johanna Draper Carlson has a good critique of vol. 1 of Hell Girlf up at Comics Worth Reading. At the MangaCast, Ed has an audio review of vol. 1 of Appleseed and […]

  2. […] (Comics Worth Reading) Draper Carlson suspects the story might work better in a different medium: “This was an anime series before it was a manga, and I think it probably works better that way. […]

  3. Julie Miranda

    ok ive been all day at school and we have a computor class, and so far ive been in here for about two periods. CAN ANYONE PLEASE TELL ME WHERE I CAN FIND HELL GIRL AT A STORE. and no i dont mean on line like at a real store. i dont have internet at home. oh ya i live in corinth mississippi.

  4. If you go to any bookstore and tell them you want to buy Hell Girl and give them the ISBN (which is 978-0345497475), then they will be able to order it for you.

  5. Thanks, sorry its been about 3 weeks since ive written back, i would like to thank you Johanna for telling me, bit my parents wont let me but, i guess ill just have one of my friends order it for me. Thanks

  6. Hell Girl makes the readers want the bad people to just die. But in the overall concept, Hell Girl makes you ask the question, ‘Even if they do bad things, would it be all right for me to send them to Hell? Aren’t I being just like them?’ Readers don’t want the good characters to go to hell, but in the end, couldn’t things have been handled differently? Could they have avoided their one way trip to Hell? This makes it seem that if you were to hurt someone for hurting you, you’d be doing the same thing to begin with.

  7. Kai has a point. Basicly, in condemming someone to hell, wouldn’t you be just as bad as the people you sent there? And personally, i don’t think anyone is worth having your own soul belonging to hell when you die. I’ve watched the show and yeah, some of those people REALLY deserved to die, but does that really make us any better?

  8. […] Hell Girl can’t even get a simple morality tale about revenge right. It’s best to avoid Hell Girl in all her incarnations. Johanna previously reviewed volumes one and two. […]

  9. […] While he’s supposed to be the authority figure, in practice, Toyama winds up being a goofy, oversized plot device, since Makoto is the one who drives resolution but he can’t take certain actions because of his age. The stories are really about how mean kids can be to each other. The results are simple morality tales, correcting injustice and resetting order in predictable, comforting ways. It’s like a much kinder, gentler Hell Girl. […]

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