Love in Hell

Love in Hell is a timeless story of love, regret, and BDSM.

Rintaro Senkawa, a 27-year old NEET, accidentally dies after a night of excessive drinking. He wakes up buck naked in Hell, and is greeted by a petite devil girl named Koyori. She wears a leather bralette with matching short-shorts, and totes a huge spiked bat. Rintaro is her first assignment, and she is to guide him through this new world and experience. Being a rookie, many things are new for her as well.

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In Hell, the predicaments that Rintaro encounters center on trying to learn how to navigate the economy there. This is necessary to earn money and virtue for entry into Heaven. There are amusing real-life parallels to how people pursue good deeds to atone for their wrongs, providing an accessibility and means to care about what happens to the lead characters. Naturally, being an ecchi, there’s also plenty of fanservice. There are the obligatory boob and butt shots, and bits of nudity here and there, but Love in Hell isn’t wholly dependent on appealing to our lower brains.

The drama isn’t laid on too thick, or prolonged more than necessary. Aside from some brief scenes with child abuse, the tone is mostly lighthearted. If I had to nitpick something, which is truly a nitpick because it barely qualifies as important, is that the romance may have evolved (or devolved) a bit quickly, but not quite to the point of feeling artificial. Besides, there may have been a reason for this pacing, which I won’t divulge here because it may be a spoiler.

Love in Hell marks a strong debut for artist and writer Suzumaru Reiji. It distinguishes itself from the standard work of this type with a rounded narrative, likable characters, and consistently sharp artwork with some impressively detailed backgrounds, and comically violent vignettes. At only 18 chapters/3 volumes, this is the kind of manga that you can easily pick up, chill and laugh with, and re-read when you need something to lighten your mood. I ended up buying the 488-page omnibus release from Seven Seas Entertainment. Sadly, I don’t see this manga mentioned much. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a fun and quick read.

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Akanesasu Shoujo

In the hopes of escaping to a new, possibly better, place, the girls of the “Radio Research Society” meet under the sacred tree to perform the “4:44 Ceremony.” According to an urban legend, performing this ritual at 4:44pm, while listening to radio static tuned to just the right frequency, will open a gateway to another world. It’s a premise we’ve seen in similar forms before.

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Of the five members in the club, most of them don’t expect the 4:44 Ceremony to actually do anything, and only participate as a fun social activity. Asuka, a cheerful girl who dons a big red hair ribbon, has the most faith that the ritual will eventually succeed. Yuu, the reason-oriented president of the club, and Asuka’s closest friend, is the most skeptical. All of the girls like each other to some extent, establishing a welcoming vibe to the group.

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Chloe, the modest one who—for some reason—peppers her speech with French phrases, finds a crystal near the sacred tree. When she places it in a specialized radio, she finds an odd sound at the 0633.1 AM frequency. The group elects to perform the ceremony at this frequency, and unexpected things start to happen—including the emergence of some suspicious snow bunnies, and, most surprisingly, another Asuka. The cheerful Asuka playfully nicknames this other Asuka “Seriouska”—a portmanteau of “serious” and “Asuka”—due to her more serious demeanor.

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When the 4:44 Ceremony succeeds, all five girls are transported together to another world, and the one wearing the headphones merges with a version of themselves in that world. This provided some of the most interesting and often humorous moments, particularly when Asuka and Seriouska were involved. We see each of the principle characters live through another version of themselves, and confront the choices and regrets of that other self. This aspect of the story gave an otherwise familiar premise some psychological weight.

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Hostile forces from a “Twilight” realm trail them, antagonize them, and create turmoil for everyone in its wake. It’s believed that a king in this Twilight is the root cause. Initially, the group tries to avoid this king, but they soon realize they have no choice but to confront him (her or it) to protect themselves and the inhabitants of these other worlds. Honestly, I would’ve preferred less emphasis on these parts, and more emphasis on the main characters confronting their other selves. But I understand that taking such a route may not have been as entertaining for a lot of people.

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Two little-known studios, DandeLion Animation Studio and Juumonji, did a really nice job on the production. Aside from one or two wonky frames here and there, the 2D art and animation was mostly polished, and the 3D computer animation for the action scenes wasn’t too jarring when it appeared. There’s still that moment when you go, “Oh, it’s in 3D now.”, but it doesn’t take too long to adjust to the transition.

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My interest in this series was initially piqued when I saw clips of the gloriously over-the-top action scenes going around on Twitter. My expectations started at, “Maybe I could watch this as a filler show between JoJo episodes…”, and ended at “That was actually fun!” If you don’t mind seeing some things you may have seen before, and aren’t bothered by the occasional fanservice, you could have a good time with Akanesasu Shoujo.

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Agent Aika

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Agent Aika begins with a leisurely boat tour along the flood waters now covering Saitama, Japan. Twenty years after a worldwide disaster submerged 95% of the world’s land, salvaging work to recover valuable goods and data from the abandoned cities below has become a booming profession.

An attractive fighter and submarine pilot, Aika Sumeragi, and her spunky megane partner, Rion Aida, pursue salvaging work at the K2 Corporation headed by Rion’s father, Gozo Aida. Rion is frustrated with her father’s overly generous business practices that have lost profits for the company. Aika intervenes and convinces them to agree to a shady business proposition to collect data on a new energy source called Lagu. Unbeknownst to them, Rudolf and Neena Hagen, siblings who were contracted by the military, also have a vested interest in this energy source, and they’re willing to kill to obtain it for themselves.

The fanservice, which—let’s be honest—is the whole point of this series, is brash by the more socially considerate standards of modern anime. I often see people today complaining about small bits of service that pale in comparison to what Agent Aika defiantly shovels into your face. Excess aside, I couldn’t help but appreciate the inventiveness of the choreography and shot compositions. The fight scenes are practically balletic in their staging, and consistently filled with service shots that aren’t confined to comedic or sexual situations. The camera itself turns the viewer into a dirty voyeur, giving you a sleazy first-person view of the “action.”

The non-service cinematography is noteworthy as well. By episode five, there’s an impressive play on perspective and depth of field akin to a live action crime thriller. For a series that likely started as an excuse to fill the screen with panty shots, the visuals are surprisingly detailed and thought out. With the support of superb artwork and an eccentric array of characters, my interest was sustained outside of the service.

Agent Aika was clearly a labor of love, something that the creators believed in, and likely wanted to see for themselves. This kind of passion is rare. Typically, studios play it safe, and paint by the numbers laid forth by focus groups, steering clear of anything that could be considered too weird, offensive, or unprofitable. Agent Aika on the other hand didn’t give any fucks. It did what it wanted to do, how it wanted to do it, and it did it with style.