Amagane Rinne had an accident and died while hurrying to school. She suddenly arrived in an awkward school... in Hell, filled with demons. While she is struggling and wishing to go back to the world whence she came from, she makes friends with her demon schoolmates and develops an uncommon bond.
The story is about Linne, a regular old schoolgirl who’s late for school and running with a piece of toast in her mouth. Then she’s hit by a truck and ends up in hell. Not exactly the best start to her day. She has to attend the Hell School for Prim and Proper Ladies, a variety of demon ladies with various gothic dresses or alternatively lavishly decorated pubic hair. Oh, and the principal is Elvis-sorry, I mean Helvis.
The style of hell is very much that cartoony gothic you see in Tim Burton or, to bring a more anime example to the table, Soul Eater, and
it’s a style I’m rather fond of. It works well in Hells because they know full well how ridiculous the story is and so ham it up to eleven. Unlike the very crisp and clean animation style of Soul Eater though, Hells goes for a very pencil sketchy look. It’s not something I’m normally a fan of, but Hells pulls it off perfectly. The style goes well with its bonkers hyperactivity and over-indulgence in exaggeration. Its boundless energy is catching, and the art style brings that across perfectly. If you’re watching this anime, you’re watching it for the art style, because that’s where the fun lies. Because you’re probably not going to watch it for the story…
After 45 minutes of this nearly 2 hour movie, I was all ready to call it my anime of the year. The pacing is frantic but coherent and action scene blends in well with calmer scenes. The introduction to the new character’s in Linne’s classroom is hyper and crazy, but you then get a downer scene of her trying to cope with where she has ended up. This is followed by the fight scene with the literally heartless Stealer and the gatekeepers, which flows into plot development and character interaction scenes with the classmates and student council and so on. Each scene has a purpose and moves the relatively simple plot forward.
Then I’m not quite sure what happened, but my guess is the lead writer was eaten by alligators and replaced by some hobo who had gotten through the first few pages of the bible. I don’t really want to spoil events, but suddenly in pops Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, 3 of which are characters we’ve already been introduced to. There were no hints given earlier on in the story that they were supposed to be these biblical figures. It just randomly decided to attribute these characteristics to each person. Adam is a totally new character who randomly shows up halfway through the movie with absolutely no warning and becomes an important character. Then there’s Mario, whose purpose in the movie I don’t get at all. He’s just some dude who yells a lot. I’m not kidding when I say he probably gets the most screentime out of anyone in the second half of the movie, despite his actions having limited to no effect on the events of the story. If you removed him completely, it wouldn’t really change, except perhaps less shouting and an overall improvement of the quality of the movie.
I’m not necessarily against the plot points in the second half of the movie, and part of me appreciates the audacity of the set pieces and dramatics. I even genuinely liked the ending, in all its cheesy sentimentalism. But a good hour of that movie could be cut down to about 10 minutes. It’s especially exasperating when the plot doesn’t appear to be advancing through all this yelling and self-doubt. The main theme of the movie is meant to be self-doubt, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got to hammer it into our heads over and over again. It’s incredibly frustrating because you can see how this movie could be amazing if it was just an hour long. For as much as I love that Madhouse are willing to give directors such creative freedom with absolutely no prospect for making their money back, there’s a reason you need a strict editor sometimes.
I feel rather conflicted about writing negative stuff about Hells though, because it’s astonishing that it was even made in the first place. It bears many resemblances to Redline in this regard. Madhouse and their utter disregard for making a profit just so they can give directors free reign to experiment. Hells is certainly no Redline, but it’s born from the same kind of production environment. It’s the same place that saw directors like Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Hosada rise up. It will eventually drive Madhouse into the dirt, but for the sake of art I’d love to see them keep trying. Hells may not have worked, but there are flashes of genius here. I was about to say that I’d love to see what this director works on next, but we’ve already seen that. He was brought under the creative branches at JC Staff. That anime in question was Kill Me Baby.
Hells... wow that art is really unique. Beyond the art however, you find that the story at times is special within its own right, yet lacking in its bipolar plot. Personally, I enjoyed the few aspects of the story. The story I guess you could say... is a form of art: making you think of literature and such (it gets quite metaphoric in the second half, although that's not entirely a good thing because it's so different from the first half). And if you're interested in Cain/Abel references, then that's a cool bonus for you.
The art seems pretty retro and possibly low budget,
also reminding me of Kill La Kill. I wouldn't say that the art is a weak point in this anime however, because its drawing really fits the theme of this anime superbly, being flexible towards its dark moments as well as its comical moments.
The sound is fair and mediocre. Pretty much nothing bad nor good, just average so you wouldn't be bothered but neither does it stand out in any way.
The characters are all really interesting when they are first introduced; but as the story moves forward you can feel the lack of significant bonding between characters... a fully fledged TV series would've done character development justice. But with what we're presented here, I rate the characters below average.
My enjoyment personally was really good; the first half of this movie just CAUGHT ME. I was hooked and I loved the interesting concept of a girl who ran into hell unknowingly. The atmosphere was great and the anime kept me thinking about what would happen to our protagonist and would she ever find her way back to her world. However after the first half of the movie, it suddenly becomes very cliche as if the producers gave up half way through. The whole theme flip flops into biblical allusions that seems to have rose from nowhere. This makes it stray away from the ominous tone that the movie initially had going for it. And rather than going for that ominous tone of "Hells", the movie suddenly starts producing random plot and random character backgrounds for the story and characters.
Overall, if you're hesitant on watching this movie, I say: don't try it. This is one movie that I do not recommend. But I will give the movie props for making people hesitant in watching it in the first place. The anime is funny in some areas, but also inspiring in some others. Because of Hells' comical and witty practicality, my enjoyment is higher than the (bad) story-design itself. Initially, I was intrigued by the unique art and atmosphere of Hells. However, if it doesn't intrigue you, then I doubt you're going to find something worth your time in this film.
I think Scamp's review sums it up nicely, but I just wanted to add a couple things.
He compared it to Redline, but I think a better comparison would be either Mindgame or Kaiba. Both stylistically and thematically. However, both Mindgame and Kaiba ease you into what they are trying to say, and draw from their references subtly. Especially Mindgame, which could also be seen in a biblical context (Jonah and the whale...), but it never comes out and beats you over the head with this.
So Hells does a good job of introducing the characters and getting you to emotionally invest in them. But then the
focus shifts from their personal stories, to some larger biblical story. I feel like this shift was really unnecessary, and they could have made all the same points within their personal dramas. But instead they chose to come right out and tell you exactly what they wanted you to know. There's no mystery here.
This is why I don't think it is near as good as Mindgame or Kaiba. The beginnings of all these are similar, but Mindgame and Kaiba choose to stay in that character driven drama, subtly referencing the themes they are dealing with. They make their points through the natural evolution of the characters, rather than spelling it out for you. So you stay emotionally invested in those characters the entire time. You aren't trying to intellectually pieced together all this dialogue. You understand it on an emotional level, and afterwards you can go back and intellectualize it, but it's really unnecessary.
But I'm still glad I watched it, ultimately I do feel like it said something interesting, and there was an emotional payoff at the end.
And comparing anything to Mindgame or Kaiba, even if it seems like I'm doing so in a negative light, is high praise, because I feel those anime are incredible works of art. I'll watch anything that even scratches the surface of what those accomplished.
Rinne Amagame is an average schoolgirl ready to start the new year, but on her way to her first class is struck by a semi-truck while trying to save a cat. Naturally, she goes straight to Hell and is enrolled at an academy for demonic delinquents whose goal is graduation and ascension to Heaven. But Rinne quickly learns her death is a mistake, and looks for a way to return to the real world and her mother. Rinne and the rest of Hell will even be dragged into a plot that goes as far back as the story of Adam and Eve.
It's surprising to see
anime with such distinctive art and stunning animation be such a well-kept secret, and a modern anime at that. This one could have gone under my radar for a long time but I fortunately learned about it, and a look at some screenshots instantly convinced me it'd be a worthwhile watch. Whenever people encounter such a work so heavily focused on its stylization, they assume the plot and characters will fail to have some kind of "maturity". I don't like to use the word "substance" because it's so loaded. But when it comes to storyline standards, plots with heavy dialogue, complex relationships, and emotional grace tends to be considered linearly better. I've gone on and on about how visuals play just as much of a part of getting across a strong story as any choice of words, so I won't go off on another one of those tangents here. My point is that the movie Redline often suffers the same criticisms, and yet I love its story and characters that are delivered in such a refreshing blow that they overcome a variety of dramatic pretensions for emotional impact. Besides, after a certain point both the simplest save-the-day stories and complex character dramas have both equally been done to death before. So, style is often the distinctive factor.
Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that if there's a target audience for Hells, I'd figure I'm part of it. Hells’ underworld is designed in a darkly comic manner most people will be able to draw a comparison with somewhere. The likely candidate is the stop-motion characters Tim Burton has designed, with Hells’ art being at once colorful and childishly simple but rendered in abrasive ways, with harsh jagged lines that accentuate their inhuman features. Even Rinne, a human, looks lanky and doll-like. Similarly, when this nightmarish distortion is applied to even the most basic of scenery and curved buildings it begins to look like a German expressionist work. Combining the innocent with the disgusting may be a worn-out trend, but anime unusually touches influences such as these which makes Hells feel exciting in context.
But all of that is how Hells looks when it’s static. As for how it moves, another comfortable point of comparison is the works of studio Trigger. The movement in Hells is every bit as breakneck and attention-deficit as the pacing of its storyline, bouncing and bolting from scene to scene with a fittingly childish enthusiasm. It’s fluid, colorful, and even unpredictable with short and sudden style shifts. The result feels light and juvenile, but in a way that’s rebelliously punky. Hells’ base simplicity and simple sense of wonder truly pays off in a final act about challenging reality with conviction and making the impossible possible with a loud, straightforward optimism reminiscent of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann’s messages. Not surprisingly, that series was composed by current members of studio Trigger.
The sheer speed at which Hells moves isn’t very beneficial to deep character development. The movie is clearly trying to capture a story larger than its runtime, but style is once again the great compromiser here, making characters likable and understandable simply through their boundless expressions. You don’t fully understand the logic of, say, Rinne and Steeler’s relationship because it feels like they barely interact, but what’s important is that whenever that relationship is relevant it’s so exuberantly captured that you can simply feel its significance to the characters. The emotions in Hells all feel genuine despite their lack of set-up, and takes little explanation to cheer for a cast that’s so innately enjoyable and fun. Hells doesn’t offer contemplative looks at morality, but those kinds of conversations have been handled by media so much already. Instead of beating around the same old concepts in your head, movies like Hells come along and aren’t discouraged to try their hardest to make the ride something you’d have to remember rather than something you feel like you should.
Kill la Kill seems to stick out with its over-the-top action, visual style, memorable characters, and so on. It pulls no punches, but somehow still keeps itself grounded in many respects. As a whole, Kill la Kill is a fun series for those who aren't bothered by all that skin.