Hell is severely underused in media. It may come up often enough as a danger or as a plot device. But rarely does it come up as an actual setting. And it’s a shame because hell as a concept does have a lot of flexibility of being very interesting both visually and story wise, and I always become happy when it pops up from time to time. I enjoy everything from the generic brimstone and fire you see in South Park or little Nicky, to the scorched and twisted version of earth like the killing floor hell level or the small snippet we saw in the Constantine movie. And the movie Hells from madhouse gives us a delightfully wacky and gothic hell setting that reminded me of a rougher version of Soul Eater’s aesthetic.
But that doesn’t mean that Hells doesn’t look distinct. It might not be their A game since Madhouse also has Redline under their belt, but the studio definitely brought their B+ for this. Where they movie lacks in in-betweens and hard to read composition, it makes up for in manic energy, hard-hitting animation and expressive characters, but where the movie shines the most with its unique character designs and with oceans of twisted human beings it’s a miracle that so many of them can look so unique and manage to stand out. I am especially a fan of the designs of the large bulky muscular men in this movie like Adam and Hellvis. And I mean that purely in the platonic and aesthetic sense. But the winner for me has got to be the messenger hellcat. If this movie was any more popular I think this cat would have gotten a lot of merch. It’s a very simple design but also very distinct and memorable, would love to see some more fanart of this poor raggedy thing.
But sadly visuals can’t be the entire movie. And it’s the storytelling apartment where things start to falter. The movie starts off fine with a clear premise. But It soon fractals into a mess where it changes the tone, premise, ending and characters several times during the spawn of two hours. It even changes the protagonist for a little while near the middle. This movie goes from being a high school in hell with a paranormal volleyball tournament, to being a Christian mythological epic to the manifestation of ideologies battling out in a war. And the reason for this is because apparently, this movie tries to cram in three volumes worth of manga into one movie. But my complaint is not that it had too much going on, but rather that the movie doesn’t handle this dramatic shift and escalation of the story very gracefully. Especially in the middle when we find out that our protagonist is a descendant of Eve and gets entangled in this brotherly feud between their sons that now rule hell. So we are left with a movie that tries to do too much in too little time. And I got to be honest. I enjoyed it.
I fell victim to the extreme hype in the movie. Every single time I hit a new ending (there is like 4 of them) or there was a radical genre/tone switch. I thought to myself that this time would be the one to break me and I would just end this movie myself, but every single time this movie swooned me with its excessive yelling full of heart and it’s hyped and uplifting messages. If I would compare this movie to something. I would say it’s a compressed and VERY rough version of Gurren lagan. At least for the later parts of the movie. It keeps yelling about all these messages of perseverance, will and positivity through dark times. And it just seems so genuine and pure in the execution that I can’t help getting caught up in the hype of it. Even when they changed the main character for 20 minutes so he could shout about friendship and how will can conquer anything. Essentially, what I am saying is that it got heart dammit! And the sporadic energy of its presentation also helps to ease the transition between all of the changes.
So what we are left with is a movie that stumbles a lot, but it has heart in all the right places with great visuals. It might not be for everyone, but I recommend most people to check out this small forgotten movie with a big voice.