Who knew that hell was actually a fully functioning Japanese company, complete with ineffectual boss, and senior management that keeps everything running? Hozuki no Reitetsu was both fascinating, but infuriating to write about, I attempted on a couple of occasions, but those posts remain unfinished in a folder on my computer.
What is so fascinating about Hoozuki no Reitetsu is how well it presents hell as merely a series of districts to be watched over with proper administration and the correct understanding of paperwork. With seven divisions and 272 subdivisions we are left with the impression that while terrible tortures happen throughout, the whole thing would collapse without a clever mind at work, making sure the right sort of people are hired to ease a particular departments short fall in staff and production. Hell is basically a government department, with the Great King Yama as more of a harassed manger with too much work than a deity with the power to destroy all who oppose him. This is particularly important because in Buddhist mythology, Yama is a dharmapala (wrathful god) said to judge the dead and preside over Narakas (‘hells’, or ‘purgatories’ and the cycle of birth. Hoozuki would be the judge who accompanies Yama (or in this case Enma as he is known in Japan) who carries a brush and book listing every soul and the allotted death date for every life.
What Hoozuki no Reitetsu does so brilliantly is turn this aspect of the mythology surrounding these characters into the workings of a government institution, with Yama as a harassed manager and Hoozuki as the conscientious and above all efficient bureaucrat. His dismissal of Shangri-la for example suggests that far from paradise, it is merely another department that doesn’t want to deal with its own problems and constantly tries to push them onto someone else. Shangri-la is another simply more paperwork for Hoozuki, with other issues down the line, and probably an awful lot of complaining and insisting that he deal with their problems. Indeed, as we follow Hoozuki you get the impression that he gets more annoyed when characters like Momotaro – the character from an Edo period story – give him more work to do when he is already trying to deal with a staff short fall, and problems with various divisions budgets. He even uses the encounter to solve the staff short fall, although appears to be annoyed that an iron maiden was installed without first consulting him about the cost and whether their budget can allow it.
Hozuki no Reitetsu’s humour is both dry and dark, the characters are entertaining in their own special way, and the opening was also fun to watch.