Hellsing or Herushingu
To be honest, there’s very little left to be imagined in the horror supernatural field. Thematically, there has to be a creature or being that cannot exist in nature as we understand it. Individuals or groups are threatened. In the end, enough humans escape for life to continue. So the test of a good modern supernatural fantasy story is that it should take a well-worn concept like vampires and do something different. Whatever that difference, the result should be sufficiently interesting to hold the attention over the run of episodes, in this case, an appropriately inauspicious thirteen. More recently, we’ve seen the young adult cult of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series hit the screens with Edward and Bella chastely falling in love to the accompaniment of werewolves howling their jealousy (as happens in all the best romances). This is fairly mindless romantic drama for kids. Hellsing or Herushingu is an altogether different proposition. It began life as a manga written by Kouta Hirano, first appearing in 1997. The anime version was produced by Gonzo, directed by Umanosuke Iida and written by Chiaki Konaka.
Hellsing the anime deals with two not uncommon themes. The first is directly related to vampirism and follows the emotional journey of someone whose existence is saved by being bitten. The new member of the undead must come to terms with the consequences of the “life”. Secondly, the serial considers the nature of revenge. How long should a “feud” persist and can either side be justified in prolonging the conflict whether in attack or defence? If we think about religion, reconciliation can be delayed for centuries as in the case of Catholicism and Protestantism. Similarly, there are innumerable examples in relationships between countries, e.g. although it’s politically incorrect to mention it following two major wars, England playing Germany on the football field always seems to have an extra dimension.
I mentioned the Twilight series because these themes are to some extent also present as Bella Swan does become a vampire after having to contend with a revenge attack from a rival coven. There’s also a shared theme of the attackers creating a “vampire” army although, in the anime, this is done by implanting a chip rather than by the more traditional biting — the result being something rather more zombie than vampire in that the soldiers are more slow-moving killing machines directed by the arch-rival to Alucard called Incognito. By way of saying farewell to Twilight, I should explain that Stephenie Meyer did not intend to write “horror” or even “fantasy” novels (albeit simplified for younger readers). The romance genre was always uppermost in her mind. In English terms, this is Mills and Boon meets Dracula (which, by the way, is Alucard when spelt backwards). Both the Twilight books and films are relatively unthreatening. From the first frames onward, everything about the artwork and style of developing the narrative in Hellsing signals a darker intention.
Put simply, mashing up the manga and the anime, there’s a Nazi group called Millennium intent on reviving the Third Reich. It creates an army of vampire ghouls or zombies depending on the chip their operatives implant into the captured soldiers who then attack London. There’s a simultaneous attack by a Vatican group called Iscariot. The joint intention is to bring down the British government, kill the Queen and finally dispose of Alucard who has been defending England for a century. This less than modest agenda also includes displacing the Church of England as the dominant religion in the island. So what we see are the first stages of acquiring subjects for testing the chips and, when all the fine-tuning on the transformation is done, we move on to the big climax fight in London.
The real interest revolves around the relationship between Aculard and Seras Victoria. In her first deployment in Cheddar, she’s taken hostage and, to kill the vampire, Alucard shoots him through her. Not that he feels particularly guilty about this collateral damage, but Alucard does the decent thing and offers to save her. Depending on which version you choose to follow, this “conversion” is possible because Seras Victoria is a virgin. The tradition in vampire lore is that an exchange of blood creates a bond between the empowering vampire and the newbie. In this story, Alucard is more interested in Victoria than we might have expected. In practical terms this may be because Seras Victoria is tough. This is not some wimpy woman. Her father was an undercover police officer. As a child, she was forced to watch his execution. Consequently, she’s turned into a seasoned street fighter and, if necessary, a stone-cold killer. She may feel her morality challenged by now being dependent on drinking blood but, when there’s danger, she embraces her new powers to good effect. Significantly, an early test is the need to take down ex-colleagues from her unit. Seeing what they have become, she confidently disposes of them.
Coming now to the inevitable question of how the women are presented in the story, we have two primary characters to consider. Integra Hellsing is the leader of the defensive team. She’s drawn as androgynous. The basic style of dress is male with little or no emphasis to suggest female characteristics. Similarly her attitudes and behaviour in both getting out into the field and also dominating Alucard suggest real self-confidence and power. Seras Victoria is shown as essentially female but, although there’s some conformity to the more general anime style of sexualised imagery (see Sex, Manga and Anime) with her bigger breasts and the appropriately placed area of shading in the groin area, the overall effect is less obvious than in other series. Taking the image in the context of this bloodthirsty story, the artists show Seras Victoria as a soldier, defending her country against attack.
Overall, there’s some confusion about precisely who the different enemies are and which group they represent. The failure of the British authorities to give complete backing to the Hellsing Organisation is also not well explained. It all makes more sense when you read the manga. But despite a sense of being rushed through the plot, Hellsing or Herushingu is one of the better supernatural animes and worth watching.
Screenshots are from the ever-reliable Autumn Rain.