Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
SS zombies have eaten most of London, the Vatican has been decimated, Integra is on her way to gun down the Major, Young Walter and Loli-Alucard are locked in battle, and Seras is testing her newfound evil powers against a shape-shifting werewolf Nazi. Can you say "the end is nigh?" It is, for human and un-human alike. Few will emerge intact, fewer still unchanged by the slaughter the night will see.
Anyone who saw Seras Victoria rub Zorin Blitz's head off on a wall—for eight pages no less, or who felt their breath leave as Alucard revealed the mind-boggling monster beneath his nominally human facade, or who thrilled and mourned as Anderson met his thorny end, would be excused for expecting this, the final volume of Hellsing, to fry their brains to a crisp. But instead of fusing our neurons into one overheated glob, Kohta Hirano sets aside his mad genius and delivers a mere ending.
After years of prodding his already orgiastically over-the-top manga to ever more insane heights of violence and pure excess, Hirano appears to have finally spent himself. Having paced its final arc with brilliantly calculated deliberation, he finishes it in an undignified rush. The remaining Nazi ringleaders are dealt with with almost perfunctory brevity: destroyed by Seras, crushed by falling pillars, or simply shot once they've fulfilled their ambitions. Walter literally disintegrates once his dream of defeating Alucard vanishes, and the Major's big evil plan is an anticlimactic bit of pseudoscientific nonsense that lasts no longer than Walter's dissolving body. The manga even falls back on some insultingly overused anime cheese to expedite its finish, including psychic-link nonsense (Integra senses the death of an old comrade) and the ol' dead-but-not-dead cheat. Hellsing, and its fans, deserve better.
Even a tired, rushed Hellsing is still Hellsing, though. There's still enough demented ultraviolence and bizarre indulgences on display to shame all but the most transgressive of other manga. Seras fights her werewolf foe using the silver tooth of a Holocaust victim, Alucard-as-little-girl sucks the blood of three million slaughtered Londoners in a tidal wave of gore, and we finally get to see what the Major's innards look like—and it ain't pretty. Hirano also breaks out the vampire lore in earnest, using excerpts from Vlad Dracul's life and Bram Stoker's novel to deliver tantalizing snippets of Alucard's past and a novel—and grotesque—explanation for the Nazi's vampirization technology. And the blackly funny epilogue with its deeply weird character byplay? Pure, playful Hirano.
Hirano draws this volume with some of the same impatience with which he apparently wrote it. To be sure, his art retains much of its baroque appeal. With its thick lines, black shadows, and elaborately inked swirls of fire and blood, it's beautiful just to look at, even at its most disturbing. And no one combines meticulous weaponry, outlandish gore, and grandstanding cool quite like Hirano does. Nevertheless funky proportions and ill-articulated bodies betray a lack of care atypical in these latter stages. Young Walter and Loli-Alucard both suffer from frequently off-base physiques, and even veteran characters like Seras can end up awkwardly drawn in complex action shots.
Where Hirano's art suffers most, though, is in its cinematic quality. He sequences his art as if getting the story out of the way rather than taking unholy joy in its twists and perversities. The art doesn't stretch out to create subjective time or stop to appreciate in nauseating detail the horrendous scope of some human catastrophe or demonic triumph. It doesn't push itself or the story; it doesn't invent or innovate. It just communicates. In terms of visceral impact and wild abandon, there is nothing here to compare with the time-expanded brutality of the Seras/Blitz fight or the epic awe of full-power Alucard. The closest it gets is the expressionistic imagery and fragmented recollections that accompany the Major's final bid to destroy Alucard, and that isn't terribly close.
None of that is to say that the book is ugly or poorly illustrated. By the standards of most manga it's a gorgeous grotesquerie, born of a smorgasbord of artistic idiosyncrasies. By its own standards, though, it's pretty careless.
The worst part about Dark Horse's book is the synopsis on the back cover. It's an irritating direct-address paean to Hellsing's extremity that not only doesn't tell you what the volume's about, but also fails to properly communicate the series' quality. And while we're nit-picking the back cover, the age rating (13+) is also obviously wrong. No series that details the inside of a girl's split skull is appropriate for thirteen-year-olds. Other than that, this is another fine volume from the publisher. It looks and feels good, retains Hirano's deeply strange inner-cover illustrations, and includes enough extras (afterword, the usual bonus pages featuring the Valentine brothers) to make it quite clear that Hirano would probably be quite annoying in person.
The very best of Hellsing...it's somewhere in volumes seven through nine. This isn't the series firing on all undead cylinders, molding vampires, guns, Nazis and all manner of blasphemy into two-hundred page massacres. It's the series cleaning up its loose ends before closing shop. Hardly the most spectacular send-off, but hardly a disaster either: Just an ending, solid and with no wishy-washy BS. Which is more than a lot of manga get.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B+
+ A red-blooded, old-fashioned ending: no punches pulled and no sissy open-endedness.
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