‘Tis the season.
Lately all I’ve been doing has been watching horror movies (at a rate of one per night for the past eight days now). I’ve also been carving pumpkins nonstop, and at the moment I am finally roasting all the pumpkin seeds I’ve dug out of said pumpkins ’cause I wanna eat them. October is, without a doubt, one of my favorite times of the year, and my excitement has only been building with Halloween right around the corner. Haunted houses! Jack-o-lanterns! Ghost stories! SCARY STUFF FUCK YEAH!
Given all that, it seems appropriate to return for the eightieth time or so to one of my favorite shows – Jigoku Shoujo. Quite seasonal! If I could, I’d probably spend Halloween marathoning as much of it as possible. But instead of my usual analysis that I bring to the show, I’m more interested in explaining why it is that I like it so much. After all, while Jigoku Shoujo isn’t bad, I can’t really claim that it is a great show. I’ve certainly seen shows that outclass it on several levels, from animation quality to complexity. But some of those shows that are better objectively than JS I don’t like as much.
As with everything, it really all comes down to individual tastes, obviously. Duh.
Really, Jigoku Shoujo is pretty well-tailored to my particular tastes. Ironically enough, one of the major criticisms leveled at it is also one of the reasons I enjoy it so much – the one-shot nature of the majority of its episodes, and the fact that even in those which do begin to have connection from one to the next the connection is often tenuous (think of Hajime’s slowly building connection to the whole Jigoku Shoujo thing in the first season). I really enjoy one-shot style storytelling; short stories are on of the favorite forms I like reading. I also enjoy the way in which the rules and context slowly becomes apparent in very structured narratives, the kinds where, like Jigoku Shoujo, we watch the same essential thing happen over and over again.
Let me point out, though, that this is a bit different than the kind of storytelling done in magical girl shows and other types of shows which showcase monsters-of-the-week (although one could make an interesting argument for Enma Ai being a dark magical girl), where the formula is much stronger and the circumstances far simpler and less varied. Partially, of course, since Jigoku Shoujo is aimed at a different age set completely, which means that the stories can be more complex and the writers also have greater freedom in crafting the various scenarios (which is to say, mainly, that monster-of-the-week shows are generally aimed at younger viewers and so cannot show problems going on such as murder, rape, abuse, etc.).
So in Jigoku Shoujo, when it looks on the surface like everything outside of superficial details is exactly the same as before, there is nevertheless greater detail that is being built into the overall frame. We learn, for instance, that if someone makes a contract with Ai but then someone makes a contract on them, it voids the first one. It takes us a long time to build up to where our knowledge is significant, but I like slow-moving narratives. So, for me, that’s part of why I enjoy Jigoku Shoujo so much.
Jigoku Shoujo also falls under horror, and it is of the kind that I prefer – no hacking of limbs, no ripping of fingernails, but instead a subtler feeling of revulsion and a sense of wrongness to it. The entire contract system here is one which becomes more horrific the longer one considers it. One episode in the first season to me drove it home very well: in it, Hajime interviews an older man who made a contract with Ai decades earlier. The man is approaching the end of his life. Sure, he got all those years to enjoy himself since Jigoku Shoujo took care of his tormentor, but now he is truly faced with the fact that he is going to spend the rest of eternity in hell.
There’s also something especially creepy in later seasons as the amount of people more or less throwing their souls away over petty things really jumps. A girl with a crush in season three is shown after sending her romantic ‘rival’ to hell already fangirling over someone else, utterly uncaring about the fact that she’s pledged her soul to hell. The people who are fully merry after completing the contract are much more disturbing than those who acknowledge the fact that they’ve only bought themselves some time at a very steep price.
All of that, is to me, true horror. Yeah, maybe in that torture porn movie the people get their teeth ripped out or their heads torn apart, but its finite – they die, and that’s it. The suffering the characters here will have to endure will go on forever.
So, no, Jigoku Shoujo may not be a great anime, but it is a great anime for me.
Uh, yeah, and the pumpkin seeds? Burned them. Dammit!