I think we have an obsession with revenge. We’ve got movies about it (I Spit on Your Grave, Kill Bill, John Wick), we’ve got songs about it (Better than Revenge- Taylor Swift, Gunpowder and Lead- Miranda Lambert, Fuck You- CeeLo Green), we’ve even got books about it (Count of Monte Cristo, just to name one). So when it comes to anime it’s no surprise that revenge is at least one character’s motivation. What happens when you make an entire series out of it?
Enter Enma Ai and Izuko (from Hellgirl and Skyhigh respectively) two female characters that know a thing or two about extracting vengeance with a relatively fair, but high cost. Let’s explore a dish that is best served cold—and no, I’m not talking about Phish Food from Ben & Jerry’s though you could be forgiven for thinking so.
Hell Girl- Jigoku Shojo
The Hell Girl anime (manga and live action adaption) is about a girl named Ai who works for the Hell Correspondence (Jigoku Tsushin) who is in the business of dragging off souls to hell as vengeance that someone wished upon them. The process is as follows:
- At midnight a website called Hell Correspondence appears to people who are searching for revenge.
- The person types in the name of the person that they want sent to hell.
- They are asked if that’s what they really want. If they say yes…
- Ai appears to them and gives them a straw doll with a red cord. They are told that if they want to send that person to hell all they have to do is untie the red string. But they are warned that while the person in question will be sent to hell, they too will be sent to hell after they die, no exceptions.
Well, you know the formula and most likely how it all pans out. Person is being mistreated and feels there’s no way out, calls up Hell Girl who says “Yeah I’ll do it but these are the terms” and the person takes her up on her offer and pulls the string. The (usually bad person) ends up getting sent to hell in a trippy ironic sequence and the victim is left to ponder how they’ll enjoy the rest of their lives when they know they’ll just go to hell when they die. Ai lights a candle representing the remaining time they have left and puts it on her altar.
Izuko is a gatekeeper of sorts who meets people who have met an unfortunate end (suicide/murder/etc) and she gives them 3 choices:
- Ascend to heaven and be reincarnated in the next life.
- Wander the earth as a ghost forever.
- Extract revenge on whoever killed you and be sent to hell.
Oh, and did I mention you have 12 days to make your decision? She doesn’t interfere with the choices these souls make and remains mostly neutral and doesn’t interfere with the soul’s decision. Although she does tell one soul that her death couldn’t be helped and she might as well go to heaven and forget the pain.
The manga itself (written by Tsutomu Takahashi) is pretty straightforward and contemplative. You get to see the backstories of several souls and find out what killed them. You also get to see them contemplate their options and come to their final decision in confidence. It does a good job of showing people as…well…people. The author seems aware that the mind has difficulty grasping with the concepts of life and death as some souls have a hard time understanding that they have died.
The later manga have MUCH shorter chapters where you don’t really get to see what the soul decides to do. It becomes a tad bit jarring when you’re used to seeing fleshed out stories and then it suddenly cuts off at the climax. I’ll chalk it up to artistic storytelling. The suspense allows you to fill in the gaps with your own interpretation.
So, what about that dish?
What do I think about revenge? Is it overrated? Underrated? I’m kind of on the fence. Sometimes you have to really think about the nature of your revenge. In SkyHigh, the people who show up at the Gate of Grudges are already dead and have died from accidents or murders. In Hell Girl, the victims are still living and are forced to reckon with the possibility of actual eternal damnation. You can’t really compare these fairly, but it does make you think.
In my experience, getting revenge is hard. You have to either get it instantly the moment you’re humiliated or otherwise it becomes a long drawn out revenge saga with no catharsis in the end. The further you get from the event, the more the feelings build up with the hopes of a big payoff. And the chances of the payoff vary HEAVILY upon the experience in question.
I largely forgo revenge for a number of reasons. One of them being that I’m not John Wick and my life is not some epic revenge story.
Another reason is that ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. I don’t think that I have to really explain that statement. This isn’t to say that you can’t get justice by taking people to court or settling your accounts and cutting people out of your life. It’s honestly just easier to get therapy and move on with your life the best you can. Trauma is real. Pain is real. Life does some pretty nasty things to its participants. In the end, none of us finish our lives unscathed and we don’t measure the quality of it by our traumas and hurts.
When faced with the possibility of taking revenge, think about it over a pint of ice cream. By the time you finish it, you may find that the only dish best served cold is some Phish Food by Ben & Jerry’s.