The Hellsing franchise is one of those that every anime fan is expected by some unspoken rule to be familiar with. And a very long time ago, I watched the original anime and considered my dues paid. However, when Borders closed last year (God rest its corporate soul), I managed to get all ten Hellsing mangas at one of their going-out-of-business sales. Knowing that they ended somewhat differently than the original anime, (they even made a second anime, a series of OVAs, so that a true-to-book animation existed a la FMA: Brotherhood) I figured I’d sit down this past weekend and find out exactly what happens in this classic of mangadom. First, an intro to the plot: Hellsing, aka the Royal Order of Protestant Knights, is an organization dedicated to the extermination of vampires, but it depends strongly on its trump card: Alucard, a centuries-old and insanely strong vampire who has sworn fealty to the leaders of Hellsing. With his master Integra Hellsing leading the way, he, newly-turned vampire Seras Victoria, and a ragtag group of mercenaries go head to head with vampires, the Catholic Church, had-fifty-years-to-regroup Nazis, and traitors, but mostly one big fat combination of all of the above. (Mostly, though, it’s Nazi vampires.)
Next, why it is exciting: Alucard is a nice break from the prissy romantic vampires of today and even from the seductive and pansexual vampires of Anne Rice’s heyday. He will shoot your arms off and then drink your blood from the stumps. (Yeah, by the way, this series is intensely gory. Limbs and organs and blood just flying everywhere all the time.) Also, at the risk of sounding like a dick, well, Nazis. They fascinate the public mind; otherwise there wouldn’t be so many movies about them. Hell, the Daleks in Doctor Who are basically space-Nazis in trash cans. Nazis always make an interesting villain. And Nazis and vampirism mix well together – Nazis did have a thing for the supernatural and the occult, and it’s relatively easy to believe they’d jump on the immorality train if they could.
Nextnext, a list of awesome chicks, because Hellsing is BRIMMING with them:
- Integra, or to be exact, Sir Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing. She’s the ancestral head of the Hellsing organization, but she certainly deserves the position. She had the clout to garner respect from the baddest vampire in history when she was twelve. She lacks any sort of supernatural powers, but can still kick ass in a fight, whether with swords or guns. She can and must take responsibility for all of Alucard’s actions, and does so with no regrets. She doesn’t let personal matters get in the way of the battlefield or Hellsing’s work.
- Seras Victoria is turned by Alucard early in the first manga. She takes a while to get used to the lifestyle of a vampire, but eventually gets the hang of it like nobody’s business. She’s intensely loyal to Integra and Alucard, and will END you if you threaten them or any of her other friends.
- Rip van Winkle fights for the Nazis, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t badass. She’s a vampire sharpshooter whose bullets can turn in midair, allowing her to take down entire platoons in one shot.
- Zorin Blitz is an illusionist, but can also kick your ass with a scythe. Her powers allow her to burrow into your psyche and dig up your deepest and most unpleasant memories, and then trap you in them while she cuts you in half.
- Yumiko/Yumie, a Catholic nun with a split personality. The former is sweet and gentle; the latter is a cold-blooded assassin.
- Alucard. Yes, I said Alucard – he’s a shapeshifter, after all, and in one of his final fights he transforms into a girl to show his opponent that changing his appearance should be a) simple for a vampire and b) irrelevant to how well he fights. (Apparently the internet calls this Girlycard, as I discovered when I hit up Google Images.) Needless to say, she is still just as kickass.
Reasons to be avoid Hellsing: If you are turned off by gore or heroes with dark grey morals, this is not the series for you. In one fight Seras grinds her enemy’s face against a wall till all that’s left is an ear and a flap of skin. I do not exaggerate about this. Also, Japan often misses the boat when it comes to correct portrayals of Christianity and Catholicism in particular, but Hellsing features what is possibly the grossest misrepresentation of the Catholic Church that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve read a lot of Dan Brown books. Think Section XIII, the Iscariot Division, which jumps into the anarchy created by Nazi vampires attacking London to mount a ninth Crusade and try to take England for the Vatican.
Also, your mileage may vary (I usually found it interesting rather than a hindrance to reading), but all of the characters from non-English countries have their accents written into their lines. (I didn’t even know Pip Vernedead was supposed to be French until last night, having only ever watched the OVAs in Japanese…)
ALSO, TRIGGER WARNING: The other issue that I would be remiss to not mention (especially because I’d have liked someone to warn me beforehand about it) is that there are two brief depictions of rape. One is rape of a corpse and one is rape of a child. They are only one panel apiece, but the images stuck in my mind enough that it would be a dereliction of duty not to warn people who may have even stronger rape triggers than me that they should be on the lookout. Many of the earlier villians also use rape as a threat when they’re killing villagers or hunting Seras or Integra.
And now back to your reglarly scheduled Manga Mondays.
As far as art style goes, it’s an interesting piece of work. Kohta Hirano wrote and illustrated mostly porn/adult manga before writing Hellsing, and, well, his loving attention to boob detail is nothing new for a seasoned reader of shounen manga, but there are moments when you sort of double-take at how sexually a scene is portrayed. At the same time, there’s sort of a grimy despicableness to the character designs. No one’s pretty all the time, and most people are never the stereotypical sort of androgynous-pretty people associate with manga characters. A general air of horror always lingers around the characters.
Finally, and I’m pointing this out explicitly because this is Lady Geek Girl’s most important criterion when she looks for new manga, the series is finished, and has a satisfying ending. So if you’re up for it, go check out Hellsing!