Plot: Gilles de L’enfer is a mysterious young man with powerful psychic abilities linked to hell. He claims he has been to hell and used his power to return to the land of the living. As such, he has dubbed himself Hell Boy. He wishes to challenge Hell Girl on national television. When he springs a trap on her, who will be the one damned to go to hell and never return?
Breakdown: Hell Girl needs more comic relief….
Said no one ever.
Anyone who has watched or read about the episodes up until this point might wish to argue. Afterall, Hell Girl is a very depressing series when you get down to it. No matter how many instances of cathartic release we get, in the end, no one truly gets a happy ending. The client may be freed of their tormentor, and the tormentor may be paying penance in hell, but the client’s life may still be ruined because of them, and, even if they’re not, they’ll still be forever scarred by the events of their torment and the knowledge that they’re damned for hell.
Hajime beats himself up worse and worse as each case goes by without being able to save any clients. Tsugumi is still tormented by images of Hell Girl’s cases, and also feels the impact of losing a client.
Even Ai and the others don’t get true happiness. Ai can’t even show emotions.
With all of the horrible things we see on Hell Girl, why not include an episode that is littered with comic relief?
Because it doesn’t fit.
Many action/fantasy etc. anime have a gentle mix with comedy to break it up. Those shows can get away with mostly comic relief episodes because it fits in their universe. Shows like Hell Girl are too dark or serious to include a comic relief episode without it feeling forced or stupid.
A good example of this done right is in Attack on Titan. Their subject matter is extremely serious and dark, and there’s hardly a time where there are jokes. However, they wanted to do something comedic, so they decided to make some chibi shorts that were separate from the series.
Another example would be…*sigh* The 11Eyes OVA. While I would be hardpressed to say this is an example of this done right, this is another instance where the writers thought it best to relegate a goofy ridiculous comedy storyline to an OVA instead of including it in the series where it would seem weird.
The thing is, this episode isn’t entirely a comic relief episode. It tries to play both sides simultaneously, and that kinda makes it worse.
If you had a goofy one-off comic relief episode, you could just chalk it up to one of those times where you can skip it because it’s comic relief filler that impacts nothing and contributes nothing. In short, it could be like one of those .5 episodes some series have, which do nothing but recap the plot so far.
Most of the time, when you try to have the best of both worlds, you end up with the meh of some sort of weird baby resulting from those worlds having drunken sex. You combine an episode that is mostly stupid comic relief with some serious aspects you feel you’re supposed to pay attention to and even include some things that are new for viewers to learn and move the overarching plot forward. That’s awkward to say the least.
Let’s go through this episode beat by beat.
Wanyuudou, Hone Onna and Ren are walking through town behind Ai’s back. They’re spying on Hajime and Tsugumi trying to figure out what’s up with them. They overhear that Tsugumi is getting visions from Ai, and she and Hajime consider the possibility that Ai can see through Tsugumi’s eyes.
Meanwhile, in plot A, a fake TV esper named Watanabe is ousted on live TV by a boy named Gilles de L’efner, whom I’m just going to call Espa Roba from now on because I am nowhere near French enough to even internally pronounce his name correctly. (Crap, I’m like 1/8 French. Sorry, ancestors.)
While Espa is literally just a teenage boy in a ten dollar vampire cape, he seemingly possesses actual supernatural powers. In an ESP-off with Watanabe, he forces him to see ‘previews of hell’ which are really just purple lasers with rocks flying around. Also a trap door. Either Espa is full of it, or he has his own version of hell, because we know it doesn’t look like an anime depiction of Atari’s Asteroids.
Espa is now set to be the station’s number one supernatural star, and he is already offering a slick idea – a face-off with Hell Girl meant to expose her as a fake, just like Watanabe….another thing that is pointless because we, as an audience, know she’s legit.
But who can resist such zingers like “Hell Girl, by the time I’m done with you, you’ll be nothing but a Wikipedia footnote.” Hah?
They plan on using Watanabe to lure her out because now he has a vendetta against Espa.
Hone Onna and the others confront Ai about what they learned about Tsugumi, but she says she’s not aware of how or why Tsugumi is getting these visions, but she certainly cannot see through Tsugumi’s eyes. They’re about to discuss it more, but they stop when they notice the looming spider.
Hajime uses his journalism-fu to get some information out of Espa. We learn that he, supposedly, went to hell when he was a child.
Hajime tells Espa to give Ai a message – she has to stop doing what she’s doing. Revenge is meaningless and doesn’t solve anything.
Look, Hajime, pal, buddy, your heart is definitely in the right place, but I don’t see how you can’t understand that, despite there being better options available in some cases, and revenge truly not being an end-all solution, some of these people were in situations that they couldn’t escape without Hell Girl.
There are several instances of there being a moral gray area in the usage of Hell Girl’s services, but applying this mindset to every case basically implies that he’d rather have these clients live a life of misery and torment, maybe even die or have their loved ones die, than send the tormentor to hell.
…..Also, Ai’s been doing this for hundreds of years. Do you honestly believe she’s never heard someone say those cliché words?
Espa laughs at Hajime’s message, saying that revenge is a normal part of the human heart and there’s nothing wrong with giving into anger. As he says this, he gives Hajime a vision of being at his wife’s grave and her headstone lifting up and flying towards him.
Later, Watanabe is purposely being set up by the producer and Espa to get increasingly pissed off at the station and Espa in particular. They claim he wants a rematch and state that Watanabe was wonderful in his performance earlier, instead of it being the career-ruining embarrassment he thought it was.
Also, he nearly hangs himself while jutting around the room in a comedic breakdown. Because suicide is funny. Right, Spongebob?
They keep him waiting in a room, claim Espa is reconsidering embarrassing him a second time and, for some reason, purposely burn his mouth with a scalding hot daikon radish so he’ll spend a handful of lines talking like he just got home from having dental work done. Also, now his lips are pink and puffy.
Watanabe sees a computer nearby and contacts Hell Girl. As Wanyuudou, Ren and Hone Onna discuss the situation with Tsugumi some more near the river, Ai says they have to go because they have a request.
As they leave, we get some more weirdness. They shove in still black and white shots of Ai, Hone Onna, Wanyuudou and Ren, the same ones from the prologue, in flashes as they leave in Wanyuudou’s cart form. Why? I have no clue.
Also, Hone Onna and Ren are seen in their doll forms, which is something we’ve yet to see at this point. Why they’re in their doll forms, I don’t know. In the first series, Wanyuudou is always the one to go with the client. There’s plenty of room in the cart for their human forms.
Ai appears before Watanabe, right on cue and right on camera. Blah blah doll, blah blah covenant.
They reveal that they’re really in a small studio set and that many people are watching them. Espa makes a big production out of confronting Ai and throws another scalding hot daikon radish into Watanabe’s mouth so he’ll writhe on the floor in a goofy fashion.
He challenges Ai to a showdown and she…uses the Hone Onna and Ren dolls as props in a flashy combat move, complete with ‘whoosh’ sounds, to summon them to her side….so….that’s why they were in doll form? Huh?
Also, I make the combat move sound super weird, but like many episodes like this that only go halfway, she’s really barely doing anything. She holds the dolls like throwing stars, moves her arms around a bit and drops them, instantly summoning Hone Onna and Ren.
How did they even fall into this trap? With all the unnecessary investigation they’ve been doing on their clients lately, you’d think they’d notice that they were heading for a TV studio and had cameras all over them.
It’s revealed that, despite Espa and Watanabe being able to see and hear Ai and the others, the cameras can’t and neither can anyone else.
Hone Onna and Ren decide to make some chaos and screw with the crew by putting scary images of Hone Onna’s face and Ren’s eye on the screens and using the cords on the equipment to whip people around.
Producer: “This isn’t happening. Please no. How in the world am I ever going to explain this to the network?” Hah. Hah.
You wanted to see some hardcore supernatural action and you’re getting it, even if you can’t see Ai and the others. I don’t think you need to explain anything to the network.
After some shenanigans, Espa pushes Hone Onna and Ren away psychically and restrains them to wall. They can’t free themselves, but if they can transform into doll form at will, why can’t they just transform, fall from the shackles and transform back?
Now we get the villain mono—err, Espa’s backstory. Espa was a boy born with powerful psychic abilities. His powers were so great that his parents thought he was a demon child and murdered him, which…sent him to hell? What? How did they do that?
He somehow used his powers to crawl up from the depths of hell and then, in revenge and indulging in his fierce anger, murdered his entire family. Now, whenever someone makes him angry, he sends them to hell.
Espa is increasingly angry that Ai refuses to talk to him, so he uses his powers to slam her across the room over and over. He magically dresses her up in a red frilly dress, complete with bonnet, and then tries to burn her to death.
Watanabe, Ren and Hone Onna watch in despair, but Ai lowers herself, back in her regular attire, revealing her to be perfectly fine.
Ren: “Why did you just sit there and take it?”
Ai: “I was thinking about something.”
Pbbbtt. That is one of the only real funny moments of the episode. Ai was being monologued to, beaten like a ragdoll and set on fire, but she barely noticed simply because she was thinking about something else.
Hone Onna and Ren ask if she’ll give him a dose of his own medicine, but she states that how she feels doesn’t matter. She can’t do anything as long as the thread is still tied.
They’re about to leave, but Watanabe suddenly picks the doll back up and threatens to pull the string. Espa says he doesn’t have the balls to deal with the horrors of hell, but Watanabe knows that, hearing everything Espa just said, it’s only a matter of time before Espa sends him to hell anyway, either in revenge or just to keep him quiet.
He pulls the string and Espa gets nommed on by the demonic representations of those he murdered before Ai plops him on the boat and brings him to hell again. However, he states that this isn’t over. Even if it takes him a thousand years, he’ll come back from hell and continue their fight.
Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t.
Ai returns to the Realm of Eternal Twilight and gets another request. As she’s about to leave, she sees a vision of a young boy around her age by the tree and, in shock, drops her flute.
This episode is a mess built on something very interesting. I can’t say this episode is a complete wash because Espa’s story and the idea of a Hell Boy (kinda) is interesting. With his stupid character design and showmanship, you’d think he was using tricks, but he’s legit. He’s a boy so powerful that he brought himself back to life. Yanked himself out of hell, no less.
Not to mention that this episode is riddled with new things that are either important to touch upon, further the plot or are interesting in themselves. Seeing Ren and Hone Onna in doll form was interesting, just mentioning Hajime’s wife is important to touch upon, the spider getting more focus is important, learning that Ai’s connection with Tsugumi is not a two-way street is interesting, and this episode is the first where we see Ai having memories, which is a major factor of the overarching plot. It proves that she really was a human once and that something traumatic happened when she was alive, likely involving a boy.
As Espa is monologuing, she keeps getting flashes of herself near a cherry blossom tree and falling down. She has a similar flash near the end of the episode, then she suddenly sees a quick image of a boy in feudal era clothing in the Realm of Eternal Twilight. This is just a slight glimpse into her past, but it’s essential to the plot.
It just leaves you wondering why all of this stuff is being put in an episode that has such a silly structure. Being fair, most of the comedy is contained in Watanabe as a character. He’s very animated, cartoonish and energetic. A lot of what he does, like flailing about on the floor and jutting across the room in quick cuts as he babbles to himself, and a lot of his cartoony art and animation style doesn’t mesh with this series, and it obviously stands out in this episode. If you’re going to include a character like this, why would you leave the rest of the episode mostly straight-faced?
Outside of a few lines, the rest of the episode is as serious as any other episode. Maybe a bit less so because ousting a TV psychic and burning his mouth with a radish is much less harsh than most of the torment we see on this show, but then we learn that Espa has slaughtered tons of people without recourse just because he can and it’s back to dark again.
Other things point to this episode trying to be more comedic than normal, like the silly title and Espa’s dumbass vampire cape, but the episode itself doesn’t deliver. It’s like a mediocre comedy episode is strangling a good serious episode.
Let’s discuss Hajime’s role or lack thereof. Outside of needing to be present for the sake of learning a bit more about Tsugumi’s power and getting a quick glimpse at the wife (her grave anyway) we pretty much figured was dead from the get-go, he did nothing…again.
Like the episode, Bride Doll, you’d think they’d at least tack him on near the end to do…something. But nope. He shows up, tells Espa to tell Ai that revenge doesn’t help anything, then leaves and never shows up again. Espa does relay the message, not that it matters other than to give Espa something else to monologue about.
Being fair, no one, at this point, contacted Hell Girl. He was just investigating Espa because….Uhhh….I have no clue, actually. He saw Espa tormenting Watanabe on TV, but he thought it was all BS. They didn’t mention Hell Girl or anything. They could’ve at least had Espa call out Hell Girl on TV or something.
Even the art and animation seemed like it was down a peg from normal. It wasn’t bad, even if the faces were odd and poorly animated sometimes, but it was noticeably not as good as it normally is.
As a final note, this episode is a little creepy in a bad way. Watanabe obviously finds Ai to be very beautiful, though, honestly, I only find his admiration of her beauty creepy upon first meeting. Afterward, he’s very genuinely concerned for her welfare while fighting Espa
The creepy one here is Espa himself. When he first starts talking to Ai, he caresses her chin, rubs her face, stands very close to her and even brings his face extremely close to hers. It’s all very uncomfortable, especially considering she, on a physical level, is around 13 years old.
Let’s not forget him dressing her up in a red goth lolita dress out of nowhere.
I’m more angry about that dress than I should be, because it shows that he has the ability to magically conjure intricate clothing, yet he’s still walking around in a piece of a Halloween costume.
I’m sorry, I won’t let this go. Why the hell does this dumbass wear a vampire cape? Watanabe had a much more complex esper outfit and he doesn’t even have powers. Why did the design team think this character, who is arguably the most interesting one-off character so far and the only one who has ever challenged Ai, should be an idiot teenager wearing a vampire cape?
I can maybe justify the, what seems like a school uniform missing the jacket outfit, underneath the cape, because Ai wears a black sailor outfit that is similar to a high school uniform, but the cape….THE. CAPE.
It’s hard for me to get a lock on how I feel about this episode because it’s so sloppy. On one hand, the comedy could’ve been a lot worse, and Watanabe wasn’t a bad character. He was actually a little entertaining. The problem mostly lies in his character being such a stark contrast to the rest of the episode and the show as a whole.
On the serious side, Espa is an interesting character, and it was kinda cool to see someone try to battle Ai, even if we all knew this was for naught. Ai was never going to be beaten by dollar store Dracula.
His backstory was also intriguing. How he got his powers isn’t even important – he was murdered by his parents, rose out of hell and slaughtered them all in vengeance. That sounds like the plot to a decent movie.
Problem with him in hindsight is, we never see him again. Yup. One of the few people with the balls and power to face off with Ai and we just chuck him into hell and never bring him up again. Lovely.
Though, he dug his own grave in that regard. I know he wanted to summon Hell Girl, but wouldn’t it be easier to recruit or track down someone who has plans on contacting her or something instead of signing your own death warrant by having someone target you? He was banking on Watanabe not having the guts to do it, fearful of being in hell, but anyone with even a small amount of intelligence would never put themselves in that position – especially if being in hell was so traumatic for him.
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