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.
It’s hard to properly describe just how absurd Hells is. Much like feelings themselves, this movie is inexplicable, irrational, and borderline unpredictable at times. By that same token, given that it embodies feelings so well, it does an admirable job at being a delightfully earnest film. It’s honestly a shame this eye-catcher didn’t receive that much attention until now.
On that note, let’s start at what drew me in. The art style in this movie is insane! Far removed from the blander or softer art styles present in most anime, this movie showcases rough outlines and keeps the sketching and coloring lines on its characters. This
unique style allows for the designers and animators to go all out in constructing the craziest and loveliest character designs, craft a wonderfully vibrant world in Hell, and play around with the rugged linework and imagery in a way that Mob Psycho 100 would gain notoriety for mastering 8 years later. That being said, the anime still decides to use mediocre CG at times and the animation generally feels tamer than the art style. The film’s probably not as visually explosive as the team at Studio Madhouse could have made. However, it’s still one of the most eye-catching anime I’ve witnessed to date.
The other major draw is the dub. Purists may chant for blood at this, but the fact that several members of the abridging juggernaut brand: TeamFourStar, were contacted by Discotek Media to participate in the dub was explosive. The performances in this film were generally good, and some of the adlibs were as priceless as hearing the likes of LittleKuriboh and KaiserNeko as side characters. All in all, the performances were good enough for this risk to be worthwhile and potentially replicated in the future. After all, given how painfully obscure this film is, they had nothing to lose when taking this chance. The performances eclipse most of the soundtrack, with the only exception being the banger of an end credits theme: “Breathe Again" by Jamosa feat. Sphere.
It feels rather fitting that they decided to take this risk with such an obscure, dumb, loveable anime. This movie’s infectious charm is rivaled by its own absurdity, constantly turning its own rules and world on their heads in a way that’s almost impossible to accept. Its messages of love, self-worth, forgiveness, etc. are deeply intertwined to this mess of a narrative. Nothing makes sense, all rules exist to be broken, and believing is what causes the setting to be created and altered constantly. Caution is thrown to the wind by the characters and the script as things simply happen for aforementioned reasons, and sometimes no known reason at all. It’s all hard to buy. Another reason why it’s so messy is that the film is not just blatant about how it utilizes its themes, but as preachy about them as its characters are violent.
Said characters are generally lacking in any real depth beyond blatantly spelling out their deep-rooted sorrows. Their personalities often range from infectious to grating, and they constantly either stand around for no reason or beat the living shit out of each other. If a film less loveable as this had these qualities, it would be much harder to stomach most of this. However, this is Hells, a brazen, funny, beautiful mess of a film. That means these characters interactions often make up for how weak and shallow they may be upon analysis.
It's rather fitting that Hells was given this chance. Abandoned by history, this dumb, rambunctious upstart was given a loving license and dub by people who wanted to take a risk and share this with the world. If you like the unique and rough art style, like the kind of humor and writing that the best anime abridgers craft, or like the works of TeamFourStar and would like to see more eventful risks like this in our industry, then please, give this film a shot. It may be a hell of a mess, but it’s one I can’t help but promote. A film as earnest as this deserves all the promotion it can get.
Written and edited by: CodeBlazeFate
Proofread by: Peregrine
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.
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.