Hell Girl: Red String Situations

Hell Girl is a dark, psychologically stirring anime that explores the desire for and consequences of revenge. In each episode, Ai Enma, A.K.A. Hell Girl, presents a black straw doll with a red string around its neck to those who contact her in search of revenge. If they pull the string, their enemy of choice is sent to hell. However…in exchange, they forfeit their own soul to hell at the end of their life to pay for their enemy’s trip.

I think similar “red string situations” come up constantly in everyone’s life. Now, the concept of being able to send each other to hell is silly and the situations usually aren’t as dramatic as sending someone/being sent to hell,  but when we decide to get angry, to lash out and respond with rage instead of forgiveness we make a choice that hurts us just as much, if not more, than the person the rage is aimed at.

A friend says something insensitive, a customer gets snotty with you, a random stranger cuts you off, someone betrays you and a black straw doll falls into your hands. You can choose to respond kindly and let it slide, or you can pull the string and unleash you rage on the offender. I’ve pulled the string 1,000 times over, and I can’t think of one time that I don’t want to take back. What Ai says is true…

“There always has to be a price…”

 Not only do I regret shaming the Cross by acting in such an unchristian manner, the situation usually results in me looking like a compete fool and sometimes even burning bridges between me and people I love. Even the anger itself saps me of energy and leaves me in a bad mood. Not only do I not want to be the kind of person that lashes out and hurts others, I don’t want the consequences of being that person. But I still make that choice to pull because forgiveness is challenging, anger is blinding and it only takes a split second.

In the world, the choice to get angry instead of forgive can be misleading. It seems like the right thing to do particularly when the offense is a grievous one. In the show, the reasons the characters want their enemies punished are not petty. One man sends a co-worker to hell who raped his wife. The rape leads to her downward spiral into depression and eventual suicide. As the protagonist, Hajime, tries to stop Hell Girl each episode, even his daughter, Tsugumi, says she thinks Hell Girl is helping people. But revenge is empty and the price is always greater than whatever you gain. At the end of most of the episodes, the character’s lives dramatically improve, but no matter how good their lives become, the last thing you see is the symbol branded on them as a reminder of what their choice means for them.

“When one person is cursed, two graves are dug.”

But that’s the beauty of forgiveness. It frees not only the person it is given to but the giver as well. Forgiveness doesn’t say “ it’s OK that you did that” but rather “I’m letting go of what you did, despite everything” releasing the giver from what could be days, months, years, decades of suffering stemming from that one offense. And because Christ forgives us a much larger debt, we can have the strength to forgive others.

In me….because of Christ….I have the strength to not pull the red string.

 “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

Matthew 18:33

8 thoughts on “Hell Girl: Red String Situations

  1. I have a box set of Hell Girl ( and a backpack with Ai’s image. ) And though I hate the idea of Ai taking on revenge for others, I think those people need to receive true justice. The stories just tell us there’s an appropriate consequence for our actions, but they also tell us there should be justice, and no one, no one should get away with any wrong doing.

    The stories are depressing, of course. they are a lose-lose situation. Which I find unfair, because the victims are victimized twice, when all they want is justice.


    1. Justice definitely needs to be served but I can’t think that humans are really the proper judges because we’re all sinful. It should be left up to God. A lot of the stories made me really angry at the people sent to hell though…

    2. Those people would probably be judged by God and go to hell at the end of their life. No one’s beyond repentance of course, but if you forgive, move on, and leave it to God, justice will be served in one way or another. Nahum 1:3

  2. This is a great post. I’m a big fan of Hell Girl because it deals with this question in a very in-depth way… what exactly is the price of revenge, and is anything really worth it? It has such a wide range of situations, from the petty to those where I fully sympathize with. I have definitely come to the same conclusion you have- that the rpice is never worth it. I think that the show really does bring that point across beautifully. (even more in the second season, where it also brings in a few other themes that tie in)

  3. Revenge is like a double-edged sword. You get what you want, and the person you want to disappear is dead, but you have to live on with the regret and sins of what you done. Revenge is never worth it, and the heavy consequences depicted in Hell Girl showed just that.

  4. I’m fortunate enough to have had a very positive life with little conflict so there’s nobody I would want to curse. But one of my favorite episodes of Hell Girl is during season 3 when one of the characters actually opts not to take Ai’s offer to send that person to hell. Instead he decides that he’s going to kill that person himself, which I think took a lot of courage. He’s willing to take responsibility for the consequences now rather than at the end of his life, which is something I think we can all learn from (even if this example is a little morbid).

  5. Personally, I don’t believe anything anyone could do to you is worth that sacrifice. You could summon Ai and have the doll, just to keep…as proof that there is a Hell. And then, you can take the high road, knowing that they’ll pay for what they’ve done to you when they die. Like Ai says, they’re just souls drowning in bad karma. Stay strong, and you’ll get your retribution.

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