Plot: Over a decade (I presume) after Ai had passed on, she suddenly returns to the living world with the intent of finding and recruiting her replacement – a young girl named Yuzuki. Why has Yuzuki been chosen for this role? And will she accept her duties as the new Hell Girl after witnessing all of the pain and suffering caused by the cycle of revenge?
Breakdown: It’s no secret that I went into this series not really looking too fondly on it. I was pretty annoyed that they even chose to continue the series after Ai had such a satisfying send off in season two. When the series/third season was released, I didn’t even bother watching much of it because I resented that they brought Ai back, and for no real reason either. I thought I’d have a better time now since over a decade has passed and I felt like I could give it a real chance.
That was not the case.
I can say with certainty that Three Vessels is the worst Hell Girl season….at least as far as I’ve seen because Fourth Twilight is supposed to be even hotter garbage.
There’s very little in this season that works. It had a couple of really good anthology entries, an episode or two that I really believe are some of the best Hell Girl as a whole has to offer, and some really interesting talking points, but, after going through all of my old episode reviews, I realized just how many of the episodes were awful. There were many silly, stupid and extremely nonsensical storylines and unlikable characters. We didn’t even get that many hell tortures, and what we did get was typically goofy and weird not creative and frightening.
As I mentioned, the season isn’t even built on a strong foundation. They literally bring back Ai for no reason after she had been gone for about a decade or more, I assume, given how much Tsugumi has aged. She had really strong closure at the end of season two, and they just threw it away. They did show that Hell Correspondence stuck around after Ai passed on at the very end of the season two finale, but I figured that must have meant that someone had just naturally taken Ai’s place and that Hell Correspondence would never truly go away.
They, honestly, could have gone that route. You could omit Ai entirely from the series and just have the show be about Yuzuki becoming possessed by the Master of Hell or something whenever a new client shows up. She wouldn’t remember doing Hell Girl activities, but she’d still has visions and she’d still gets involved with clients and cases, and the Hell Team could try to convince her to become the new Hell Girl because that spot needs to be filled.
The problem there is that Ai is the face of Hell Girl. People remember this series because Ai is such a memorable character. Her shtick, her character design, her story, her giant red eyes – all of it make up the iconic Hell Girl. You can easily make a new creepy Hell Girl, but you run risk of the audience not liking them as much as Ai. I like Ai too, but I wish that weren’t the case because the fans’ attachment to her kinda ruined her story.
Ai also comes back without a body….for some reason. I don’t really understand the ‘body’ situation with any of the Hell characters. Their bodies don’t seem to be actual bodies since they’re not alive. They’re basically illusions that they create, but they are physical constructs that look and feel like the real thing.
Ai basically exists as a butterfly….? Then she has to possess Yuzuki, for some reason, and is only able to have a human form when she’s doing Hell Girl stuff and emerges from Yuzuki via a boring magical girl transformation. Then halfway into the season she gets her physical form back….somehow.
This plot twist at the end makes the whole body loss thing completely nonsensical. How was Ai using Yuzuki as a means of having a physical body if Yuzuki is a friggin’ ghost?
She’s not the only one who loses her body – Kikuri does as well….again, for some reason. She possesses a wind-up doll on a tricycle and spends the entire series needing to be wound up in order to move…..Why? Again. No idea. You’d think a being that is basically the Master of Hell…..I think? would be able to move a doll on its own instead of needing to be wound up. It makes even less sense the more you think about it, and we should just move on.
This season also introduced a new assistant to Ai, although he seems to be more Kikuri’s assistant – Yamawaro. He’s living fungus, I think, or a mountain spirit, I guess. He has one episode dedicated to exploring his backstory, and while it is insanely confusing, it was pretty alright. I don’t have any real complaints about Yamawaro, he’s alright as a character, but I don’t get why he was created outside of giving them a fourth doll to work with, which is only useful in one episode.
Tsugumi returns. Hooray! But she doesn’t do much. Pbbbbttt….
Honestly, Tsugumi’s inclusion in the series was ultimately more of a bummer than something to be excited about. It would have been cool if Tsugumi was here as a deuteragonist, doing everything that she could to guide Yuzuki away from her supposed fate as Hell Girl, and it seems that was initially the intention, but she just wound up doing mostly nothing. She did help Yuzuki a couple times and fill her in on what was going on, but her efforts to stop her from becoming Hell Girl were pathetic. And when Yuzuki finally did become Hell Girl, Tsugumi just gave up and left, never to be seen again – at least in this season.
She has such a fatalist attitude with no faith in anything, which is basically the exact opposite of how we left her in season one. We don’t get many details as to what happened to her in the past decade or so besides Hajime wrote a book on Hell Girl like he promised (but that was explained in season two) and then, at some point, died. From what Tsugumi said, he gave up and died? That is, by far, one of the most depressing facts about this season. Hajime was such an important character to the series and Tsugumi and he just dies off-screen. The Fandom page says he went missing, but this season pretty clearly implies that he died. Of what and when, I have no idea. This show isn’t really big into explaining things and logic.
But of course the main aspect of this season that we have to address is Yuzuki.
I find it really ironic that I have so much to say over a character who is literally nothing that I really don’t know where to start.
Yuzuki’s the most benign main character this series has ever had. She’s arguably one of the inert main protagonists in an anime I’ve seen in a long-ass time. She spends an inordinate amount of time in the series doing absolutely nothing but existing and witnessing the Hell Girl clients and targets around her. And when she does finally resolve to do something about them, she always does the bare minimum if that. In one episode, she has a vision of some older people in a mansion. When she goes to the mansion, the people there are too young to fit her vision so she just leaves and never appears in the episode again….
I was getting beyond frustrated with her as the episodes wound down. She was just doing so much nothing. I was incredibly confused as to why this living gallon of Nyquil was chosen to be the new Hell Girl, and even after finishing the series I still don’t get it.
I thought things would start picking up for her after Akie, her best friend, was sent to hell unjustifiably. She got the red eyes briefly, she seemed devastated and she was adamant in not becoming Hell Girl….but nope. She more or less continues to be the same level of nothing she was beforehand, but now with more whining.
The episodes went on, and on, and on, and I was waiting for them to get to the goddamn point with Yuzuki. When they finally did, I was blown away by how dumb it was. Her backstory is so ridiculously poorly written and makes no sense whatsoever. Long story short, her father was a bus driver who crashed the bus because the brakes went out. He died in the accident, as did at least one other person, he was blamed for it because the bus company covered up their involvement in the incident, and the town vilified Yuzuki and her mother so much that literally everyone shunned them. They couldn’t find work or buy food, Yuzuki had to quit school because she was being bullied, they were denied fucking MEDICAL CARE. Then Yuzuki’s mother died of a long-standing illness because she was malnourished, and, of course, no doctor would see this horrible *check notes* unemployed single mother and widow of a dude who died in a bus accident.
When her mother died, she buried her in cherry blossoms, I guess no one ever found her body once the blossoms blew away (or, knowing this town, they found it and hung it in the town square to throw eggs at it) she went back home, curled up with her teddy bear and also eventually died I guess from dehydration and starvation. It’s also heavily implied that no one ever found her body in the past decade or more? The apartment building she lived in apparently became condemned in that time, but no one ever went back in that apartment in all that time?
Her entire existence in the series was an illusion created by the Hell Team to educate her on Hell Correspondence and….I dunno, make her more willing to take the role…somehow? Also, she died as a small child but she’s appeared as a 16 year old this whole time, and no one ever once explained why that was.
Out of all of the stories Hell Girl has had over the seasons, out of all the people who have been fueled with vengeance and have done awful things in the name of vengeance, Ai chose as her replacement a girl who, while having a reason to be vengeful, never actually did anything vengeful in life. She became vengeful for a split second before traipsing off to starve/dehydrate to death in her house. Oh and she was like four or five at the time.
Yuzuki doesn’t deserve to be Hell Girl because the job is a punishment. Ai was given the role as punishment for slaughtering her village in vengeance of her and her parents being murdered by them for the Seven Sending ritual as well as being betrayed by her cousin/only friend/love interest, Sentarou.
Yuzuki did absolutely nothing, not even in death. Even if she has a reason to be vengeful, she didn’t do anything to warrant taking the job. If anything, giving her the job was a stupid decision because they reminded her of everything awful that happened to her a child before her death after showing her all of the awful things involved with being Hell Girl and then pushed her into taking the job. Then they were shocked to find her abusing her power when she became Hell Girl. Like no shit, of course she would.
Not that that was much of a factor anyway because the main reason she flipped and went ‘mad with power’ was Akie. Yup, in the end, her motivation really didn’t have much to do with her tragic backstory. It was all about getting vengeance for Akie. And, yeah, Akie being sent to hell was bullshit, and the person who sent her there totally deserves to die, but if you’re going to shift her motivation to this, I need to feel way more emotional connection between Akie and Yuzuki. They were friends, sure, not denying that, but I never felt like they were anywhere near close enough for Yuzuki to go nuts about getting revenge for her. Akie gets sent to hell in the middle of the series, and I honestly forgot about her most of the time after she was gone. Yuzuki had several friends, and I never really saw how Akie was any more important than any of the others.
I honestly don’t even want to talk about how they justify Ai becoming Hell Girl again, but I feel I have to.
When Yuzuki breaks the rules of Hell Correspondence by pursuing revenge against someone without a contract (she never actually exacted this revenge – she only said she would and attacked Ai and the Master of Hell) Ai takes pity on Yuzuki, shows her the error of her ways, weeps over her dead child body and requests to accept the punishment on Yuzuki’s behalf. The Master of Hell accepts, but tells Ai that this arrangement will be forever if she chooses to take it. And she does.
Yuzuki immediately screws up in this role and Ai has to suffer forever to get her out of it. Good job, Yuzuki, you useless bag of dry baby wipes.
The season finale is just a bland and stupid version of the first season’s finale. I didn’t want Yuzuki to stay as Hell Girl, but I also didn’t want Ai to take the role back. Let them both rest in peace for god’s sake.
Overall, while there are definitely a handful of very good stories in this season anthology-wise, the main overarching storyline is basically unsalvageable, and a majority of the anthology episodes are much lower quality than they have been in the previous two seasons.
People pointed out that the series leaned a lot more towards nihilism than the previous two seasons, and I definitely can’t argue against that. Compared to the first season, which was almost entirely stories about completely justified vendettas that leave you with a sense of catharsis after the string is pulled while also getting that bittersweet realization that an innocent person is also damned to hell when they didn’t do anything wrong, this season is completely littered in stories where the motivations are either dumb or the client is targeting someone who doesn’t deserve it.
For example, in Akie’s case, she had nothing to do whatsoever with why the client, Azusa, was angered and filled with a desire for vengeance. In order to fridge her so Yuzuki would finally do a thing, they had to come up with a convoluted plan to make her a target.
Azusa’s father was left in a vegetative state after being assaulted by a drunkard. The drunkard in question was the son of some powerful rich family, and he quickly fled the country to avoid any charges related to the crime. Because of this, I guess, Azusa couldn’t focus her revenge on the drunkard, even though Hell Girl has never laid down any rules stating that the target must be in Japan. She didn’t target the father, who basically used his power and money to weasel him out of this, because I don’t remember why. So she then targeted the police chief, Akie’s father, whom she vehemently believed worked to cover up the crime.
She wasn’t content with just sending him to hell. She wanted Akie’s father to suffer so she befriended Akie and turned her against her father by explaining her story. It reached the point where Akie dropped out of school, moved out and nearly denounced her father entirely. That wasn’t enough for Azusa, so she also had it set up to have Akie raped in their house, mocking Akie’s father about it while it was happening over the phone. However, the assault was stopped by Yuzuki doing her series quota of one thing by somehow alerting Akie’s dad about this despite having no way of knowing this was going down.
But it didn’t end there. Azusa ran off, pulled the string and revealed that Akie was her target, even though she did absolutely nothing. The best I can figure is that she targeted Akie because it would cause the police chief great pain, but Hell Girl doesn’t work that way. Your target has to be the person you have a vendetta against. It was such a long and convoluted way to target her in the first place, but they couldn’t even follow the rules.
The aspect of the rules being broken is even brought up in one episode that, looking back, was very trippy. A “hell professor” theorized that there are many ways to dupe the system, falsify feelings of vengeance and target whomever you want with either hypnotism or simply willing yourself into it. In essence, you could weaponize Hell Girl to a certain extent. He was even able to create supernatural barriers and was in the process of making a portal to hell, and who knows the true implications of that if he succeeded.
If Hajime were still alive, he’d have a field day with this season because it supports his arguments so much more than the first season did.
The very end basically cements the nihilism angle. Ai is back in her role, doing this literally hellish job for all eternity. Tsugumi just gave up and left. She didn’t even get to witness Yuzuki being freed or Ai crying for Yuzuki’s sake. Akie’s father’s kind gesture in sparing Azusa was made pointless, for the most part, because Azusa just ends up conveniently stabbing the drunkard to death in the airport after he returns from America after Azusa’s father suddenly dies. Then Akie’s maid even more randomly sends Azusa to hell seconds after she murders him. Yuzuki gets to pass on, which is nice, but Akie’s still in hell. All of this culminates in a message of ‘Yeah, people are horrible and life’s garbage.’ with a teeny tiny asterisk next to microscopic fine print that says ‘but some people are okay sometimes I guess.’
I don’t know if the point of this season was to respond to anyone who may have criticized the first two seasons in that it made off like murder was the solution to life’s worst problems. The message was that it clearly wasn’t, but Hell Correspondence still stuck around and they continued to act as if it was a necessity of life. Ai asserts that she’s not a figure of justice in those seasons, but given how many circumstances where she quite literally saves the day (even though the client has to pull the string first) and how many lives she betters, to the point where it really seems like she retroactively alters reality for the sake of improving the client’s life, it really came off that way. In this season, she almost never comes off that way, which I guess is good, but using her for stupid and shallow purposes is not a good replacement.
You can’t just ignore that a majority of legitimate Hell Girl clients would be innocent people who are in awful situations with horrible people that won’t leave their lives otherwise. That’s why the rules exist, but now they’re saying she’s bad because, for some reason, people can screw with the system to abuse it for stupid purposes or just break the rules outright and it doesn’t matter. Except the rules for Hell Girl herself, because apparently you can’t even say you’ll break a rule and not actually do it without the Master of Hell getting pissy.
Through all of this, Hell Correspondence is still treated as a necessity in the end, and Hell Girl is once again portrayed in a heroic light because her services got vengeance on Azusa.
This series does have some interesting things to discuss about fate, life, philosophy of the afterlife, what people truly deserve and the nature of vengeance etc. I just think it stumbles with those thoughts more and more with each season. I honestly don’t even want to know how much more confusing and tangled their message gets in the next season, but I guess we’ll find out.
Additional Information and Notes: Hell Girl: Three Vessels was directed by Hiroshi Watanabe, written by Kenichi Kanemaki and produced by Studio Deen. It is currently licensed in North America by Sentai Filmworks, but it does not have an English dub.
Recommended Audience: The themes alone are far too heavy for children, but there’s also additional mature content regarding violence, some minor instances of nudity and sexual situations and a couple of uncomfortable situations involving a client/target with implied mental disabilities and one really dark episode involving a ‘miscarriage’. 15+
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