“And you know that their little lives can become such a mess”

May 26, 2008

I’ve got a big pile of comics I plan to write about, and many of them are much better than the second volume of Miyuki Eto’s Hell Girl (Del Rey). But it’s a marked improvement over the first, and I find myself a little fixated on the book’s weird morality.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book’s premise (originally developed by The Jigoku Shoujo Project), characters in distress can log onto a web site and consign their tormentors to hell. The cost for this service is rather high, as the consigners agree to spend eternity in that insalubrious locale as well. (What if they end up in the same part of hell as their victims? Awkward.)

In the first volume, there wasn’t a long-term thinker in sight. Otherwise decent people, pushed to the point of desperation, decided without hesitation that their own damnation was worth it if they could punish their enemies. If the book had been about the pitfalls of immediate gratification and the fruitlessness of revenge that would be one thing, but those subjects never came up in the first installment.

Eto is a little more nuanced this time around. There’s a charmingly nasty story about a conniving ice skater who’s trying to use the urban legend to her advantage without suffering the consequences of the bargain. Two other chapters present Hell Girl as a means of protecting the innocent from a malignant influence rather than avenging innocents after the fact. Best of all, Eto picks up a waiting-period aspect from the anime, giving clients time to do a costs-benefits analysis before committing themselves.

Hell Girl still isn’t brilliant by any means, but the added uncertainty does elevate it from being just a bizarre curiosity. And it’s still enough of a bizarre curiosity to maintain that kind of morbid interest.

(Review based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)