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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.

Seras Victoria getting down to business

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.

Integra Helling preparing to unlock the seals

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.

Alucard reminding us what a shy and charming character he is

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.

Sex, manga and anime

March 19, 2011 1 comment

In Zero no Tsukaima, Tiffania worries about how much will show

Sex is a fact of life or, if you prefer it more direct: without sex, there is no life. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those lucky creatures able to reproduce by parthenogenesis or one of the other less exciting methods. Then there can be lots of little yous running around without having to wait for partners to sober up enough to manage intercourse or recover from headaches. So, since we’re all genetically programmed to reproduce, we’re quite interested in the activity from a young age. That means speculating about what it’s going to be like when our bodies mature. In part, we satisfy this curiosity by watching the adults around us, and by studying images. When we finally make it into adulthood, we can access a different range of images. This either becomes sexually stimulating in its own right, or continues the process of education, showing us new things to dream about or try.

 

Authority figures attempt to set limits on what the images can show. There are streaks of puritanism in every culture. So, in Indonesia for example, the editor of Playboy was recently sent to jail for two years. He’s been branded a “moral terrorist” for publishing images of partly-clothed women. In other, more liberal societies, the line between the “acceptable” and pornography is drawn in different places with different consequences for those involved in distributing or possessing it. Even in the land of the First Amendment, the need to protect vulnerable children from exploitation overrides the right to publish or possess sexual images of minors.

 

That makes the phenomenon of both manga and anime very interesting since the way in which girls and women are drawn is often highly sexualised. This continues the traditional culture of Shunga, an erotic application of the ukiyo-e woodcut printing system. Now there are manga comics showing preteen girls engaging in sexual activity, sometimes with adults. Not much has changed over the centuries. Even more interesting is the way in which this form of depiction transfers into the real world. Fans call dressing as their heroes cosplay, and it’s common for people to meet and show off their latest creations. There’s also an increasingly brisk trade in the development of child stars or junior idols. Both prepubescent and teen girls are photographed and videoed wearing what some in the West would consider provocative clothing. There’s no actual nudity or “performance” involved, but even some Japanese government figures are beginning to worry that all this sexualised imagery of young girls may be passively encouraging paedophilia. But, despite conservative factions around the world pouring millions into research, hoping to find evidence to justify more laws to ban certain types of imagery, there’s been no success. No-one has proved a direct cause and effect between whatever is defined as “pornography” and unlawful sexual activity. People’s behaviour is shaped by their experiences while growing up in a culture, rather than by exposure to any one type of imagery.

Saito is given instruction on "appropriate" behaviour

 

So in most of the different genres of anime, we continue to see highly stereotyped behaviour. In this, one of the more interesting manga and anime series has been Zero no Tsukaima with the initial relationship between Louise and Saito playing out as a soft version of S&M. Louise literally treats Saito as if he was a dog, routinely beating and humiliating him. Yet Saito responds by protecting Louise and, eventually, overcomes his more general lustfulness to fall in love with her. Despite their declarations of love, nothing really changes. She remains pathologically jealous and he’s fixated by girls with big breasts. So we have episodes such as Miwaku no Joshi Furo in which the boys tunnel their way into the girls’ bathhouse to watch them “unprotected”. Similarly, in Yūwaku no Sunahama, Saito and Professor Osmond conspire to persuade the girls to wear Earth-style swimming costumes and then splash each other with water, supposedly as part of a purification ritual. Both episodes are classic voyeurism, allowing the boys and, later, the lascivious Professor, the chance to see the exposed girls. Saito, of course, gets a better view of all the girls with bigger breasts — a distraction that lands him in yet more trouble with Louise. So we share the opportunity vicariously, seeing detailed images of all the girls and their “curves” while the boys drool. When the plot is exposed in Yūwaku no Sunahama, the girls are more than happy to punish Saito with a little bondage, overpowering him and tying him to a rock.

 

In every way, the themes of this series pander to a whole range of different fantasies about sexual roles and the relationship between punishment, attraction and love. It also allows the artists the opportunity to show off their female creations wearing different layers of clothing and in different situations ranging from dominant warriors to tender lovers. The relationship between the intensely jealous Louise and her maid also offers Saito a “good cop, bad cop” scenario with the maid more obviously “loving” him, but being unable to do much about it because of her role. More generally, Saito’s fascination with breasts and roving eye also complicates the relationship between maid and mistress, given Louise’s lack of endowment. The popularity of the series is a testament to the scale of the market for soft BDSM and voyeurism. It also implicitly confirms that it’s socially acceptable for men to lust after young girls.

Alucard and Seras Victoria

 

Sadly the narrative of Zero no Tsukaima is a rather thin fantasy based on magic, elves and dragons. There’s not really enough substance to make it worth watching unless you are more into the imagery. This is not to say that manga and anime have not managed more sophisticated stories with the same sexualised approach. The big-breasted Seras Victoria in Hellsing fights alongside the vampire Alucard to keep Britain safe, while Witch Hunter Robin keeps Japan safe from the more dangerous people around her. Although the imagery is slightly less obvious, the theme of strong but vulnerable women fighting and finding love seems one of the primary reasons for the success of these series.

Robin and her fellow hunter go undercover

 

In all this, it’s fascinating to see a new ordinance in Tokyo which “bans” the sale of any manga showing violence or sexual content that would fall foul of the national criminal code. An empty political gesture since the penal code self-evidently already applies in Toyko. All it lacks is the will to enforce it. Move outside Japan and there have been prosecutions for distributing the more explicit manga. Yet Amazon continues to sell the books of photographs and DVDs showing young girls in scanty clothes and not quite provocative poses. I watch with interest to see how long this trade continues before adverse comments are made or legal action is taken.

 

Follow this link for a full review of either Witch Hunter Robin or Hellsing.

 

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