I remember , long ago, when comics and animation (or, manga and anime, if you will) from Japan were a rare find. Now there's aproliferation of this Japanese entertainment form here in the States...there are shows on saturday morning, tons of product in comic book stores, and even big chain booksellers such as Barnes and Noble have shelves and shelves of digest-sized manga volumes, ready to be read. These days, I don't read as much manga or watch as much anime as I have in the past, but every once in a while a title pops up that interests me...and such a title is Hellsing, created by Kohta Hirano.
The series is named after a British organization, which is in turn named after the family that has run it...yes, it's that Hellsing family, famous for hunting monsters. Also known as the Royal Order of Protestant Knights, the group is like a secret service that goes after supernatural entities such as ghouls, vampires, etc, also referred to as Midians. Integra Wingates Hellsing is the leader of the group, a tough, no-nonsense lady, who isn't afraid to take up gun and sword and get her hands dirty to get the job done. Integra's ace in the hole, however, is an agent known as Alucard ( spell it backwards). Alucard is a vampire who hunts other Midians. He is unaffected by sunlight ( 'I just hate it', he says in vol. 3 of the manga) and holy relics ( he often has a cross in his teeth, like a toothpick). he's a very powerful vampire, and how the great Dracula ened up working for his enemies' family is a mystery that is unraveled as the series progresses. The third main character is Seras Victoria, a young policewoman, who wounded unto death, is offered unlife by Alucard, and accepts it. She takes a job and residence with the Hellsing agency, trying to adapt to being a vampire. It has its advantages ( she can now wield huge ordinance easliy), but she is reluctant to drink blood, not wanting to completely lose her humanity ( '..if I do drink the blood, it feels like something will have ended forever', she says in vol. 2). Other supporting characters of note are Walter, the butler, aka The Angel of Death, who helped Alucard fight Nazi Midians in WWII; Captain Bernadette of the Wild Geese, mercenaries hired by Hellsing in their war against evil; and Father Anderson, an Irish priest who works for Iscariot XIII, a Catholic anti-Midian branch of the Vatican, who is good with blades and has regenerative abilities.
One aspect of Japanese manga/anime that I like is the creators' ability to take a genre or character that's been around for a long time, and put a radically different spin on it. Hellsing definately fits the bill here. Not only do we have Dracula working for his enemies, but his character is interestingly writen by Hirano. Our vampire protagonist goes about his business with a sort of detacthed amusement, which is probably how a powerful immortal may view life, or un-life , as the case may be. As the series goes on we see more in -depth Alucard's feelings and why he feels the way he does.
Alucard is also a visually striking character. Tall, lean, with long black hair, usually smiling with a mouth full of fangs, he is typically dressed in a red trenchcoat and wide-brimmed hat over a black suit, with heavy boots on his feet and red/gold sunglasses on. He can go from charming to bloodthirsty on a drop of a dime, his grin going from sly to crazed. Emotions and feeling notwithstanding, Hellsing is primarily a horror/action story, and our hero is as bloodthirsty (literally), if not moreso, than the monsters he battles...a scene in vol. 3 illustrates this well. While in South America searching for their enemies, Alucard and company are staying in a posh hotel, where they are besieged by commandos. They are made short and bloody work of, and from outside the hotel, onlookers witness bodies hurled out of top-story windows, to land atop the flagpoles in front of the hotel, after which Alucard calmly walks out the front door, grisly corpses dripping above. This scene harks back to one of Alucard's earlier titles-The Impaler.
Besides being inhumanly strong and fast, Alucard is alsao armed with a pair of guns made specially for killing Midians- the .454 Casull, which fires 13mm rounds made of alloyed steel and silver from a cathedral cross; and the Jackal, whcih fires 13mm armor piercing explosive rounds with Macedonium silver casings tipped with blessed mercury ( 'The ultimate anti-freak combat pistol...this isn't something a human could handle'). The Jackal is black with the inscription 'Jesus Christ Is In Heaven Now' along the barrel. Needless to say, like many other Japanese manga/anime, Hellsing is very violent, so it's most definately not for young kids.
Another aspect of the story I find interesting is the way the main religious groups are portrayed. The Protestant Knights use Christian iconography ( the Jackal is a good example), but seem to have a pragmatic view of stopping evil, finding the best method is to fighht fire with fire. The Catholic Iscariot XIII gruop hates the Hellsing group, mostly because they have an unholy creature as an agent, but in later volumes the Iscariot group , and other groups of religious knights, are shown to be fanatical, and a bit power hungry. I don't know if Hirano was expressing opinions when writing this, or was merely trying to have a lot of conflict in his story, but for whatever reason, it does make for a good tale.
Hellsing is published in the U.S. by Dark Horse in digest-sized volumes, nine of which have been put out here. There are two different anime miniseries out, one simply called Hellsing, the other called Hellsing Ultimate, which I think is more faithful to the original manga from which it's based on. I reccomend the Ultimate series for watching, and I highly reccomend the manga for readers. Like other manga artists, Hirano's art improves with each volume, and there's some dark humor in the story as well as pop-culture references,drama, horror, action, and blood-lots of blood, actually. But, what did you expect from a Japanese vampire comic...this ain't no Twilight. Hellsing gets a hearty Beast's Seal of approval. Check it out.
'The Bird Of Hermes Is My Name,
Eating My Wings To Make Me Tame' -
inscription on Alucard's coffin