I mentioned the other week that I wanted to try out a horror Anime series. I initially wanted to watch Vampire Hunter D because I’d seen the original and I’d heard it was just as good if not better than that film. Alas, it was not available on Netflix, so I had to find something else. Keeping with the theme of vampires, I found a couple of good reviews of Hellsing. This was an interesting experience, because my usual guides to the world of anime had almost nothing to say about Hellsing. It didn’t even warrant consideration on Steven’s Future Series page (not that he’d like this series, as it easily meets two of his criteria for rejection: “grim and gritty” and “blood and gore”)! In any case, it seems to have good reviews and it was a short series (13 episodes), so I figured checking out the first disc was worth it. Below are some assorted thoughts and the extended entry has more screenshots and thoughts as well…
- The series follows the exploits of the Hellsing Organization. Run by descendents of Abraham Van Helsing (the famous vampire hunter from Dracula), the Hellsing Organization hunts down and destroys vampires. In an interesting twist, the Hellsing Organization employs vampires for this task, including one particularly powerful vampire named Alucard. Alucard is implied to be Dracula himself (his name would thus be an anagram), and could possibly be the oldest and most powerful vampire in existence. He’s egotistical and arrogant, and rather than merely destroy the vampires he hunts, he often toys with them first, hopeing to break their spirit as well as their life. He seems kinda bored and is always hoping for an opponent who will finally be able to put up a good fight. On the other hand, he is clearly devoted to the current head of the Hellsing organization, Integra Hellsing. He also gets along well with Hellsing butler and armorer, Walter Dornez, and he seems to have a fatherly relationship with his fledgling, Seras Victoria. Apparently in the original Manga, he is somewhat sad and envious of humans. Unfortunately, the series doesn’t really explore this aspect of his personality. Alucard is basically your typical badass anti-hero. He clearly does some evil things, but compared to the pitiful creatures he hunts, he’s a saint.
Alucard and Integra Hellsing
- The other main character in the series is Seras Victoria. A police officer who got caught up in a battle between Alucard and some rampaging vampire, she was turned into a Vampire by Alucard. As such, she gives the audience their introduction to the world of Hellsing. She seems to have a little trouble accepting what she has become (for instance, she hesitates to drink blood, even the stuff the Hellsing Organization provides in convenient Capri-Sun style packages), but by the end of the series she’s well on her way. Her relationship with her master, presents an interesting dynamic, as it seems to imply that he has a more sensitive side than you’d typically see. It might have been nice to get a larger character arc here, but this series seems more interested in providing cool action scenes and visuals with people pointing guns directly at the camera (which, I’ll grant, is pretty badass).
- One of the interesting things about this series is that it’s set entirely in the UK. The english dub of the series actually uses british accents, which makes the dub more desirable than the subtitles (with the potential exception of the voice for Alucard, whose Japanese counterpart seems to have a much deeper and menacing voice). This is something I haven’t seen in any other Anime title, so I found it rather interesting.
- One of the big problems with the series for me is actually that Alucard is way too powerful. There are several villains who crop up in the series, but most don’t even come close to Alucard’s power, and even the one climatic battle in the series is kinda lacking in suspense because even when it seems like Alucard has been defeated, he always manages to come back somehow. The only villain who seems to have a chance is Alexander Anderson, a paladin who works for Vatican Section XIII, Iscariot. He’s a regenerator, so he seems mildly invinciible too and survived two run ins with Alucard. There also seems to be a strange conflict between Hellsing and Iscariot. Apparently the Vatican frowns on the Hellsing’s practice of fighting fire with fire. In any case, the series ends without really resolving either of these conflicts.
- Sort of an extension of the above point, the mythology behind the vampire’s powers is not explored in much detail and thus some of their abilities seem rather outlandish. It kinda acts like magic, but there don’t appear to be any bounds on what is possible. This sort of thing is difficult to pull off. Hellsing does a decent job of this, but ultimately I get the feeling that the creators just wanted to show some cool imagery, which this series has in spades. Various abilities are sometimes hinted at, but the series never goes into that much detail. For instance, a vampire who serves a human master seems to be able to take on more abilities than a vampire who lives on their own. This is an interesting idea, one that is mentioned a few times when Alucard battles Incognito (the most powerful other vampire in the series – and he also serves a human master, though we never find out who), but it is really only hinted at. Unfortunately, when it comes to creating suspense, this sort of vague magic makes it difficult to really establish any real tension. It makes for some damned cool visuals though.
Alucard’s Magic Hands
- The series presents some interesting threats to the Hellsing Organization as a whole, but ultimately ends with a whimper. For instance, one of the root causes of the problems experienced during the series is that someone has figured out a way to create artificial vampires, and these creatures are not the elegant and civilized villains that “real” vampires are. But this threat isn’t utilized in the series very well. Another threat introduced in the series is the existence of a mole in the Rountable that helps Hellsing hunt vampires, but that too ends abrubtly. Indeed, the series ends with two rather unceremonious text messages stating that MI-5 is still hunting down the people responsible for creating artificial vampires with the freak chip, and also that the mole in the roundtable has been captured. I’m guessing that the Manga has continued on much further than the series went, and that someday there will be another series.
- All that said, the series is a lot of fun to watch. While I would have liked it to delve deeper into some of the issues or provide more of a character arc to Alucard or Seras Victoria, there’s some interesting material that is implied in various relationships and there’s also plenty of entertaining action in the series. The battle sequences really comprise the series greatest strength. Visually, the series has an artistic flare that successfully mixes victorian horror with modern military motifs. The music is also exceptional – some of th best stuff I’ve heard since the soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop. Indeed, stylistically, this series reminded me a lot of Cowboy Bebop. Ultimately, the series works as pure entertainment. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping for a little more.
As usual, more screenshots and thoughts in the extended entry…
Update: Author comments. I must be somewhat frustrating to other members of the Otakusphere in that I’m not constantly posting about Anime and will sometimes go through prolonged droughts while I work through some other obsession (most recently, the 6WH marathon). This time, I was delayed in part because I went back and watched Crest of the Stars and got a little sidetracked while I waited for the final disc from Netflix (incidentally, the final disc did come at some point, and I stand by my recommendation not to skip Crest before watching Banner.)
Fledgeling Otaku also comments. He’s intrigued by Alucard’s invincibility and draws parallels with Avatar: The Last Airbender and even Superman (who is just about the opposite of Alucard in every way except for their theoretical invincibility – perhaps Alucard is more like General Zod?). It’s an interesting perspective…
Alucard and his big gun
Did I mention that the series has lots of uber-cool shots of people pointing guns directly at the camera? That seems to be one of Alucard’s favorite moves.
Here is one of Alucard’s guns. Because of his superhuman strength, Alucard can cary bigger, heavier guns than a mere human. As you can see, this particular gun uses .454 Casull ammunition. This is a real caliber, and for a short time, it was the most powerful commercially produced handgun round on the market (it has since been eclipsed). I’ve actually shot a .454 Casull handgun, and let’s just say it’s a rather powerful round. Later in the series, Alucard even upgrades his weapon to a more powerful round, but he still keeps this gun around in case he wants a gun in each hand.
This is Alexander Anderson. As previously noted, he works for the Vatican’s vampire hunting wing, the Iscariot Organization. He’s also a Regenerator, and thus he doesn’t seem to be able to die. Devoted to hunting down and killing monsters, he seems to disagree strongly with the Hellsing Organization’s use of vampires, and thus he has attacked Alucard and Seras Victoria on multiple occassions. He has survived his encounters with Alucard though, and seems to be able to hold his own (though he’s clearly not as powerful as Alucard).
This is Incognito, the second most powerful vampire in the series (behind only Alucard). It is mentioned that he is from “the dark continent,” presumably a reference to Africa. It’s also mentioned that he serves a human master, though we never really find out who that is or why it’s important (as I mentioned above, this might be a source of strength for vampires, though it isn’t really explored in detail).
Did I mention that this series seems to revel in creating neat visuals like this one of Alucard emerging from the smoke? Yes? Good.
The name Alucard itself implies that he is actually Dracula (Alucard backwards is Dracula – this is an alias used in Bram Stoker’s original novel), but just in case you don’t follow, the series really rams it home with this quick flash, followed by a picture of one of Alucard’s enemies impaled on a spike.
And that about wraps it up for Hellsing. Overall, I enjoyed the series. Though I would have preferred a little more depth, they made up for it with lots of neat battle sequences and a lot of implied details…