Or, the world is cruel.
As I was watching the twenty-fifth episode of Jigoku Shoujo, I couldn’t help but say to myself, “That’s too cruel!” as little Yuzuki curled up with her teddy bear on the floor of her apartment following her mother’s death. This acute sense of cruelty was exacerbated when Yuzuki herself became Jigoku Shoujo at the close of the episode.
Bizarrely enough, this is really the first time I really realized that the writers behind Jigoku Shoujo are a deeply, deeply cynical bunch.
This will sound strange to people who’re familiar with the show but do not follow it (or didn’t make it through Mitsuganae) – after all, the entire premise of the show is that someone gets so thoroughly tortured that they decide to send their tormentor to hell even though they themselves will suffer eternal damnation upon their own death. Rinse and repeat. But, the fact of the matter is, previous seasons simply never came across as quite so acutely negative and bitter – perhaps it was the use of small children (Yuzuki, and, earlier on Kaito, a young boy is abused by his pregnant stepmother and sends his unborn sister to hell to make things go back to what they were before his stepmother was pregnant) here which seemed to heighten the sense of cynicism on the part of the writers, or perhaps the set of writers has changed slightly since Futakomori.
The early episodes were a little silly at points, but I feel the final six episodes or so (with the exception of twenty-two) were extremely good and also extremely excruciating to the viewer, in a sense, as they presented viewers with some truly horrible circumstances. But certainly Yuzuki’s episodes were the most noticeable in this regard. Yuzuki’s episodes also felt much more like social commentary than anything else we’ve gotten out of Jigoku Shoujo so far; Jigoku Shoujo could certainly be interpreted as social commentary, but its never felt like that was exactly the intent of the creators and writers – the show was meant as entertainment, pure and simple.
However, this changed completely with the final episodes of this season – even the Kaito episode didn’t feel like it had any grander aims than to provide entertainment (which is unfortunate wording, since terming something involving ‘child abuse’ as ‘entertainment’ sounds sick and doesn’t really explain why people watch this show – its sort of like when one reads something like the House of Mirth, since that is a sad tale itself, but we are, ostensibly reading it for the entertainment factor).
Perhaps the difference here is that Yuzuki’s end seems to completely tied up in societal failings that it can’t help but come across as social criticism. While previous characters have had run-ins with social ills, they don’t seem quite so full-scale, and sometimes there’s even a tragic sense that if the person had just been able to hold out a little longer, they could’ve been saved. And, of course, one can’t ignore the fact that we watch little Yuzuki die – yeah, we get that the folks who’ve pulled strings are in for a nasty experience in the afterlife, but there is largely no immediacy to that fact, as only once did someone die after pulling the string, and he weasre a bit unpleasant himself, anyway (there was also a man who passed away in season one, but we only met him years after he had pulled the string, so there was no opportunity to truly understand what motivated him to do so in the first place). So, ultimately, we watch a few folks get fairly tormented, but none of them die. But we actually see Yuzuki’s tiny skeleton, after having watched her ostensibly been living as a junior high student for the previous twenty-odd episodes.
The fate of Yuzuki’s family is clearly the result of the failing of Japanese society (and, yes, Japanese society, not modern society carte-blanch, as Jigoku Shoujo itself is a quintessentially Japanese show). The way that her father is blamed after his death for an accident beyond his control, and how his surviving family is ostracized as a result comes from society, and leads directly to Yuzuki’s mother being unable to get medical treatment when she is clearly dying. Neighbors ignore Yuzuki when she tries to get help for her mother because she is a marked child. And as Yuzuki’s father had lain dying in the hospital, an angry family bursts in and demands reparation for their dead daughter – from a woman who is standing over her dying husband and whose child is standing in the room.
Yuzuki attempts to get help for her mother from the local bureaucracy, but finds herself quickly confused, and no one offers to help her figure things out. She later buries her mother in cherryblossoms after she perishes in a run-down shrine; she knows it won’t make a difference if she goes to tell someone that her mother has died. And she herself lies down with her teddy bear, not bothering to try to get help from anyone – this is a child who has learned that no one cares. That years later Ai can show her the abandoned apartment with her skeleton still curled up to the teddy bear on the floor emphasizes the point that not a single soul cared enough to do anything for Yuzuki’s family. When they were gone, no one even missed them.
Its an incredibly cruel indictment of modern Japanese society.
During the scene in the shrine, before she passes away, Yuzuki’s mother makes a motion to strangle Yuzuki, reflecting a custom that still persists (albeit to a much lesser extent than in the past) in Japan – that one kills their family rather than leaving them to fend for themselves. The contrast between Yuzuki’s still-bright manner and her mother’s desperate action is made explicit; we are to understand why her mother almost commits such a deed, but it is something we are meant to feel disgusted by, and thereby make us condemn a social system in which someone feels so completely at loose ends that they would even consider such a thing.
Yuzuki does end up getting a more hopeful ending as the series closes out, but it is due to Ai’s grace, not her society’s. And after Yuzuki departs for the afterlife, we are shown yet another scene of revenge-taking; its a cycle that will never end.
Reinforcing this sense of social critique is the fact that hell as a concept is explored further in this season than any prior – Ai tells Yuzuki that hell comes from the human heart, that it is something which exists in everyone. We are left with an impression of hell that is a fair bit different than the fiery, other-worldly one of seasons past.
At the end of the day, these last few episodes come across as a searing indictment of the failings of modern Japanese society. It also betrays an intense sense of injustice on the parts of the writers, one that was a bit startling in its sudden apparentness – and in the fact that this show made it through about seventy-three episodes before delving into such a thing.
Of course, this begs the question – is there hope? That Ai is enacting revenge in the closing seconds of the season seems to say not.