Reviewby Mike Crandol, Jul 17th 2002
DVD 1: Impure Souls
Integra Wingates Hellsing is the great-great-granddaughter of Professor Van Helsing, and her family's secret organization, Hellsing, continues her ancestor's fight against the undead in modern day London. Hellsing's top agent happens to be a vampire himself, a particularly dangerous piece of work named Alucard (inexplicably called "Arucard" in print....which as we all know spelled backwards is "DracuRa"!). While on assignment one night Alucard saves dying SWAT team member Seras Victoria by sucking her blood and transforming her into a vampire. Victoria joins her new master in fighting their undead kin with the Hellsing Organization, which is on the alert due to large numbers of vampires being created through a sinister new technology, the FREAK chip. Victoria must learn to adapt to her new existence while helping Alucard and Hellsing rid England of the vampire plague, as well as avoiding assassination attempts from the Vatican's own vampire hunter, Alexander Anderson.
Not since Cowboy Bebop has an anime series exuded so much style as Hellsing. An exercise in mixing John Woo Gun-Fu with Anne Rice Gothic Horror, the only word that can truly describe this series is "badass". Ostensibly a modern-day update on the classic vampire myth, Hellsing is really all about characters looking cool and doing cool things with guns to a rockin' American-style score. It may sound a little shallow, and it's true Hellsing lacks the emotional depth of Cowboy Bebop or Trigun, but the show has no allusions about being anything except a rollicking good time.....and in this it succeeds in spades. It's stellar blend of creepy atmosphere, slam-bang action and interesting characterizations make Hellsing one of the most entertaining anime to come out of Japan in recent years.
The story borrows heavily from the premise of Vampire Hunter D as well as the works of H.P. Lovecraft, but shakes things up enough to give it a fresh feeling. Like D, Alucard is a hunter of his own kind, but whereas D bemoaned his undead lineage Alucard revels in it. He goes against his brethren not out of self-loathing but a truly wicked superiority complex. Disgusted at what he considers to be "low-life vampire scum" abusing their unholy gifts, Alucard takes a sadistic glee in eliminating his opponents with his BFG of choice, a massive handgun whose bullets are made of silver melted down from a holy cross in Lancester Cathedral. Though working on the side of the goodies, there is little doubt that Alucard is wholly a creature of darkness. The total opposite of the traditional, mopey, woe-as-me vampire anti-hero, Alucard is a refreshing change of pace.
Hellsing's true main character, however, is not Alucard but his newly undead recruit Victoria. Her attitude towards her recent transformation is more in keeping with her literary and cinematic predecessors; she loathes the idea of drinking blood (even though it's supplied by Hellsing in handy Capri-Sun style bags) and has some trouble coming to terms her undead status. What makes her a unique character is her willingness to try....the audience watches her grow to enjoy some of the fringe benefits of being a vampire such as super-strength and acute sense of sight and sound. Beneath all the gunplay, Hellsing is a simple story about a girl learning to be a vampire, and though she struggles with it Victoria is no quitter.
Her relationship with Alucard gives Hellsing an interesting character dynamic to work with, suggesting that even Evil Incarnate can have a sensitive side . Though it's hinted that his true motive for turning Victoria into a vampire may have been self-centered, Alucard assumes an almost fatherly attitude towards his new ward, patiently teaching her the basics of vampirism and coming to her rescue when her life (un-life?) is threatened in Episode 3. In classic vampire fashion Victoria seems bound to call him "master", though their relationship is actually closer to that of a rookie cop learning from a experienced veteran. This bond gives an essential depth to both Alucard and Victoria, making them more than mere vampire archetypes and preventing Hellsing from being just a mindless action show.
Character development is all well and good, but when you get down to it Hellsing is first and foremost about the fights. Each of the episodes presented on "Impure Souls" showcases an expertly staged battle between the agents of the Hellsing organization and their foes, both living and undead. In his red trenchcoat, John Lennon sunglasses and Joker-style hat, brandishing his giant silver handgun, Alucard cuts quite the cool figure. He calmly dispatches fearsome undead adversaries that would send whole human platoons running for the hills. Highlights include a tense showdown in episode 1 between Alucard and a vampire minister using Victoria as a human shield and a lengthy battle in episode 3 with Catholic vampire hunter Alexander Anderson, during which Alucard and Anderson trade just as many verbal barbs as physical ones. As can be expected from a series about vampires, Hellsing's fights are often violent and bloody, making it unsuitable for children. However, the gore never crosses the line into blood for it's own sake, and remains in the service of the story. It's definitely not for the squeamish, though.
The art design effortlessly mixes the eerie atmosphere of classic horror movies with a 21st-century military feel. Hellsing head Integra and her servant Walter look straight out of an old Hammer Horror Picture, while Victoria's SWAT team uniform has a much more modern feel, with Alucard's improbably cool design falling somewhere in the middle. The Hellsing organization makes use of all the latest military technology, and their arsenal includes tanks, helicopters, and a custom portable cannon for Victoria to put to use. It's all housed in a creepy gothic mansion complete with turrents and stone walls, and Hellsing's hunting grounds are classic church graveyards and foggy London backalleys that evoke Jack-the-Ripper. This makes Hellsing appealing to both fans of vintage horror films as well as more modern military action movies.
With so much going for it in story and art design, it is unfortunate that Hellsing's animation quality can vary wildly from moment to moment. When it wants to the animation can be exquisite, but it's offset by a lot of cheap animation short cuts that appear more often than in a typical anime. A beautiful, fluid movement in one shot may be followed by a bit of sloppy static cel-sliding in the next, and occasionally a character will appear grossly off-model. It's not so bad that it seriously detracts from the audience's enjoyment of the show, but it is a pity nonetheless given the show's high production values in other areas.
Musically, Hellsing excels like few other anime can. Giving Cowboy Bebop a run for it's money, Hellsing's score features no end of rockin', memorable tunes, with nary a J-pop bubblegum track to be found. Even if you don't enjoy this series you'll likely wanna pick up the soundtrack. Much of Hellsing's music recalls a Jimmy Hendrix/ The Doors sound, though several pieces including the excellent theme song feature a bluesy piano backbeat reminiscent of Yoko Kanno's work on Cowboy Bebop. The hip score makes Hellsing's action setpieces twice as entertaining. In contrast, he more moody, horrific moments are accompanied by suitably creepy music which owes a debt to the score of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Hellsing's English dub has been highly anticipated by fans, as the main characters all have very distinctive voices in Japanese. For the most part the dub is a success. In a wise move, most of the cast have been given British accents, lending the show an air of believability it lacked in it's native dialect. Victoria Harwood is perfect as Integra Hellsing, and K.T. Gray does Seras Victoria Justice. I personally had never imagined Alexander Anderson, the Catholic vampire hunter from the Vatican, as Scottish, but oddly enough it works really well. The only weak link as Crispin Freeman's performance as Alucard. Mr. Freeman is an excellent voice actor but his medium vocal pitch has been miscast in a role originated by George Nakata, whose voice is as deep as the bowels of Hell itself. In Japanese, Alucard sounds otherworldly and menacing, in English he's just a guy.
Pioneer has put together a pretty fun release for their first volume of Hellsing. The menus make good use of computer animation as blood splatters between selections, and the menus themselves are live-action recreations of patented Hellsing© brand Medical Blood and Integra's desk. Though they look classy, the scene-selection menus are kind of hard to navigate, as the scenes are "photographs" on the desk and not presented in a clear linear order. Extras include Creditless Opening, very cool as the music and animation kick butt, and a short promotional video released in Japan to advertise the show that features more accomplished animation than you'll see anywhere in the actual series! There is also a look at Toycom's upcoming Alucard action figure, though no pictures of the Victoria figure due to be released at the same time.
Hellsing is tough to beat if you're looking for an anime show with an emphasis on action and cool music and cooler characters. Taking classic vampire mythology, updating it with a 21st century high-tech mentality and giving it a Gun-Fu twist, Hellsing will appeal to a large fanbase and likely attract viewers who normally do not care for Vampire Stories. Take it from me, I'm one of them.
+ Clever twist on the vampire-hunts-vampire myth, cool characters with cool weapons duke it out with style to a great rock score
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