Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I don’t get it. Someone really needs to explain this to me. What was so bad about Hell Girl Volume 1 from Del Rey? I just finished reading it, and can’t see any of the problems so many other reviewers seemed to have with it.
I’ve seen the anime this manga is based on, and, on the whole, the first volume follows the first 4-5 episodes in it. There are some minor changes, such as Enma Ai is seen as a student at the schools the girls go to, instead of always waiting in her home with her “Grandmother” for a request to come through the computer. And in the anime, those that ask for Ai’s help get a straw doll with a red string around it’s neck. If they decide to make the contract with Ai, all they have to do is pull the string. Ai also gives those looking to make the contract a taste of what they will be getting after they die and go to hell. Other than those small changes, this volume follows the beginning of the anime fairly faithfully.
First, to get one thing straight. I don’t know what happened, but the age rating on this volume is wrong. It’s marked OT (16+) on the book, but the Del Rey website has it at Teen (13+) . I really hope this was an oversight on Del Rey’s part, and not a concession to any groups that may have been upset with the title or the subject. I will be very disappointed with Del Rey if it was the latter. This is definitely a title for a younger audience than 16.
So, working with the premise that this is actually a Teen rated book, everything else about it would make sense. The art style, with the big eyes fits in with Del Rey’s other Teen titles for girls, Pichi Pichi Pitch: Mermaid Melody and Mamotte! Lollipop. The stories are very shoujo with young girls as the protagonists and lots of drama to drive them to the desperate action of seeking out Hell Girl. But, what really clinched it for me was when I got to the end of the veterinarian story, as he was being tormented before being taken to hell.
About 10 years ago there was a series of horror stories written for teen readers called R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps that were really popular. I’ve come to know these books very well. My oldest daughter was hooked on them for quite a while, and my youngest daughter has been watching the tv specials that were made from the books. And Hell Girl plays just like one of these stories. An innocent kid who gets sucked in by the normal looking person who turns out to be a demon, and has to find a way to defeat it. This is Hell Girl’s formula to a tee, with the only difference that the girls go to an external source to find their answer, and even though they win in the end, they have a consequence to bear for the rest of their life. It’s a Japanese style of horror, but it’s still teen horror. Once that hit me, the book just fell into place.
That said, this is a terrific book for teens that like things on the dark side. Not necessarily goth, but like to be scared every now and then. The stories may seem to be disturbing at times. The veterinarian story is hard for pet lovers to read, but you can’t deny he didn’t deserve it. They can also seem overly dramatic, but that’s just shojo. The teacher that is able to turn not only all of the protagonist’s friends against her, but also her whole family might seem a little unrealistic to grown adults. But to a 12-13 year old girl who thinks her parents are already against her, this might not seem so. The point is, sometimes you have to look at things from their perspective.
The only thing I wish was kept from the anime is the straw doll each requester was given. In the anime, making the choice to make the contract with Ai Enma was emphasized strongly. It was shown to be a big decision, and it almost seemed like Ai wished the people would change their minds, though she would never try to persuade. In the manga, the choice doesn’t seem as important. Ai does ask once more before completing the contract, but it doesn’t get that same emphasis.
Over all, Hell Girl is good horror for teen girls. This is one of those titles where I say ignore the age rating. Del Rey blew it on this one. Hell Girl fits in perfectly with a teen audience, and will appeal to them if they are given the chance to read it. Sometimes, demographics does matter.