Friday, November 2, 2012

Review: Hellsing Volume 1

One of my favorite Halloween traditions is to watch classic horror movies. I have a love for the Gothic horror stories of old such as Frankenstein, but our subject for today dates back to the other most famous Gothic story, Dracula, the king of vampires.

Vampires have taken a step back in popular culture thanks to the hordes of zombie movies and the Twilight franchise making vampires "uncool". Well, their reputation might not be all that great now, but the vampire fiction keeps on flowing. This Halloween, Funimation re-released the first volumes of the Hellsing Ultimate OVA, and later this month they will be releasing volumes 5-8, the first time the United States will be able to legally buy those episodes and hear the original English cast. Oh, and the final Twilight movie comes out this month as well, but we don't care about that. We're here to talk about one of the most famous vampire stories in anime and manga, Hellsing!

Hellsing Volume 1
Created by Kohta Hirano
Published by Dark Horse Comics

I remember a time when every anime fan loved Hellsing. This was around the time the Hellsing TV series was fresh and people were enamored by it. Quite frankly the Hellsing TV series is kind of terrible, having some rather ugly animation and not really going anywhere. But we're here to talk about the original story that made the TV series and the glorious OVA possible.

The story of the first volume is rather simple, serving to introduce the main characters, the Hellsing Organization, and set up the rules of the universe. There is of course Alucard, the vampire that the Hellsing Organization employs to destroy other vampires. For all intents and purposes he's invincible; guns, silver knives, and decapitations just amuse him instead of killing him. There's Sir Hellsing, the head of the Hellsing Organization who's female despite the title and androgynous appearance. She mostly gives out orders in this volume and little else until the end, but she commands an air of authority. There's Seras Victoria, a police officer turned into Alucard's servant vampire in the first chapter to escape death. She's subject to most of the comic relief, but is allowed to be a badass when need be. Finally, there's the insanely awesome priest Anderson, an immortal vampire killer who hates Protestants and speaks in a thick Scottish accent. There are other characters, but most of them are unimportant or serve to be killed.

The first chapter quickly sets up the rules of the vampires. Vampires are subject to change in different vampire stories, as the myths and legends aren't consistent or merely get changed or ignored depending on the story. Vampires can only breed more vampires by biting a virgin of the opposite sex. Non-virgins become ghouls, essentially mindless zombies that obey their vampire master, but when their master is killed, they die as well. It's established early on that the best way to take out ghouls is to send Alucard to kill their vampire master, which is how Alucard meets Seras, who has been taken hostage by a vampire. She's fatally shot during the ordeal, but Alucard saves her by turning her into a vampire. It's probably one of the nicest things Alucard has done, even though he was responsible for getting her killed.

The only thing that makes Alucard a hero is that he's working against the vampires under the Hellsing Organization, because for some reason he can't disobey them. He takes pleasure in killing as much as the next vampire, but he's more wise than the young vampires who kill more humans than they need to survive. Alucard is disgusted with two teenage vampires who go on a killing spree because vampires need to let the human race survive in order to survive themselves. It's a symbiotic relationship in a way, and the order needs to be kept.

Alucard's relationship with Seras is one of the highlights of the story. He's initially not very respectful of her, calling her "Police Girl" and not by her actual name, but despite his outward insults to her, he does seem to care about her and want to mentor her. It's like a strict teacher-student relationship, and it is enjoyable watching Alucard comment on Seras's first fights against the vampires.

But the real highlight of the manga is the action and style. This is not a story that requires much thinking, very much style over substance. That's not a bad thing, as the style of Hellsing is extremely cool, thanks to Hirano's dynamic and exaggerated art-style. All of his characters are very tall-looking and lanky, though thankfully not to CLAMP extremes with a few exceptions.

One of the ugly exceptions. You'd think Anderson were an orangutan.

When the characters are fighting, the speed-lines and blood spray look very fluid and clean. There's some weird posing, but mostly done by supernatural characters like Alucard himself and it looks really creepy, but in a fun way. It's basically an action manga about vampires fighting each other with some really crazy awesome characters, and it knows that. There's nothing profound about the conflict at all, but it oozes with such style that you can't stop reading, and it's all paced very well.

I'd  like to note that volume 1 of the Hellsing Ultimate OVA is paced at about the same rate as this manga volume, ending on the same chapter and mostly being faithful to the events of this story with a couple of minor exceptions. There's an extra story involving the Vatican, who in this world also kills vampires, but it doesn't serve much of a purpose beyond expanding the page count and having a nun flash her panties. There's also some notes from the author himself spread across the manga, but the bulk of them are at the back of the book. He makes a few jokes about the character and how he's grateful to have been successful. My favorite part is that he's aware of the similarities Alucard has to Vash the Stampede, noting the long read coat and glasses.

With the Hellsing Ultimate OVA finally looking like it'll get a full release here in North America, now's a good time to revisit the original manga. It's one of the best examples of manga that run on rule of cool without ever trying to be something it's not. Highly recommended for gore fans and vampire fans.

Hellsing is available from Dark Horse Comics and can even be downloaded from their digital service. There is a prequel manga called Hellsing: The Dawn that is not available in the US. As mentioned before, there is a TV anime adaptation by studio Gonzo that lasted 13 episodes that deviated heavily from the manga. A ten episode OVA called Hellsing Ultimate was later made by studio Madhouse. It follows the manga closer and has superior animation and quality to the TV series. The first 8 episodes will be available from Funimation this month, and the last episode is still in-production. If you need an animated adaptation of Hellsing, watch that one.

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