July 26, 2005

Hellsing (15)

4 out of 5 stars

A strangely compact anime series, that consists of only 12 episodes or so, and rather loosely based on the manga by Kohta Hirano. The idea is one of the more basic of anime ones: Arucard (Alucard? It's never made clear – Although for me it makes sense for it to be Alucard as Arucard backwards creates…Dracura. Yeah, not as catchy) is an age old vampire, working for his tough human master Sir Integra Wingates Hellsing, and after an incident in a church that leaves young Seras Victoria dying he turns her into one of his own. The whole thing is set largely in London, which gives the cultural imagery a curious angle – more on that later however, but it gives it a fresh setting.

The anime, as expected, is extremely bloody – hands and arms get lopped off at a quite alarming rate, and it can't help but make you chuckle. The animation is first class; its just stunning stuff. The backgrounds look beautiful, and the characters themselves move cleanly and dynamically. You won't find bloody animated quite so beautifully – with the possible exception of Blood: The Last Vampire.

Voice acting in japanations that are not cast by the big guys (i.e Disney's casting of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away) can have results ranging from the hilarious to the plain absurd. Hellsing's is kind of both. The acting from Victoria Harwood as Integra is full of delicious self-assurance and makes for the best accent of the piece, but K.T Gray as Seras Victoria is less worthy. Its not so much the acting is bad or her accent bad, its more that she can't seem to decide which accent she has. Londoner or aristocrat? She manages both, often at the same time. Crispin Freeman does a decent job as Arucard, and the bit parts are played by graduates from the School for Cockney Acting. Perhaps this is too cynical. As an ensemble, it works very well – the fact that every accent is reasonable does give the anime a firm grounding in England.

If the anime has any flaws, its that the overall story is rather limp. The anime is perfectly happy with its beautifully constructed original episodes, but there is no real build up to the explosive 2-part episode finale. It makes up for this by being very well translated; I have rarely seen an anime that has been so well translated into English. Okay, its not literary masterwork, but it does at least make grammatic sense. Each story is fairly simple, but hugely enjoyable. I was tickled particularly by Episode 2, in which two vampire youths go on a murderous rampage around Coventry. As in, COVENTRY. Very entertaining.

We also care about our characters; Arcuard is a murderous lunatic vampire on a leash (exactly as he should be) and Seras Victoria is a frightened, uncertain vampire who knows little about her new place in the world. To be honest, I don't know what she's got to be unhappy about as her turn to the undead has apparently ballooned her bra size by at least several cups – but hey, its a vampire thang. The rather absurdly named Integra Wingates Hellsing probably makes for the toughest female character ever. As in, ever. Cigar smoking, cold and yet also extremely compassionate for the plight of others, this is a woman who shoots herself in the BLOODY HEAD to get the 'vampire infection' out of her blood at some point in Episode 9 (if its 10, I stand corrected). Ripley ain't got shit on Integra.

Its tough, its unrelenting, and its very memorable as series go. It is also a curious cultural creature that seems to try its hardest to be 'British' and yet to any British person watching, will appear as anything but. To be fair, it is not doing what American films do – Use age old cultural stereotypes filled with middle aged women saying 'Oh, how quaint' or cockney thieves. Its rather charming, in fact. Everyone says God Save the Queen, and the Tower of London is the apparent centre of operations for the UK government. Harmless stuff. What it does uniquely, however is the fact that we see ordinary English people in it. There is no absurd polarisation of the villain being British and the hero American (even if Arucard is voiced by an American, but our leads are mostly English sounding). It is very refreshing. The religious aspect is also interesting; Arucard uses bullets made from the silver of a cross melted down from Canterbury (?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and the biggest enemy for the first couple of episodes, to my inherent amusement, is the Militant Wing of the Vatican. It creates a very odd, yet extremely compelling cultural monster that only suffers from a few continuity errors (Seras being told she cannot go out in the sun is followed up badly a few episodes later when she takes a stroll in the daylight), some amusing cultural problems (the SAS attacking a huge, rather isolated castle in the middle of nowhere) and a rather weak overall story.

Each episode however is tight, contained and flows into the other; they are well written, action filled and beautifully animated. Its cool and bloody, and it gets the job done.

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Noooo you watched it with the Voiceover! You should have watched it with the orginal Japanese + subtitles! Much more of an impact. If you're interested, tell me and I'll send you the… um coughs DVD…

    I think them calling him Arucard was a bit silly in an English translation… it may match the Japanese katakana but the point is his name's meant to be Alucard… Dracula – geddit? :D

    I agree with you about the cultural perceptions. I found it wonderful that Britain seems to be ruled by the Queen and before marching into combat these secret soldiers say a little prayer for God and the Queen… and as you said "The Militant Wing of the Vatican" – pure class. There's one moment in the original anime which has left a lasting impact on me. It's one of the most stylish, expressive and tense moments I've ever seen in an Anime… I think in Ep. 7 Hellsing is meeting someone from the Vatican and he calls her a female pig (Mei Subuta). Cue Alucard stepping out from the shadows quietly saying "Mei subuta?" and then ranting about nothing changing in Rome for 1000 years "nani mo kara mei"... legendary anime directing.

    Since you seem to be getting heftily into anime – I recommend you watch RG Veda… although only the original English dubbing (not the second set of dubbings – the bastards get more faithful to the Japanese pronunciations and so ruin my name :'() – Perhaps my favourite Anime movie of all time and since I first watched it about 10 years ago I've been using the name Taishakutin as a nick online/in games.

    27 Jul 2005, 03:21

  2. I love this series. Ended up starting watching late one night last year and didn't go to bed till I'd watched it all-about 5am. Unfortunately, the guy I got them off had 12 of the 13 episodes, and no one else was up with the last episode. This lead to me getting up an hour earlier than I had to, finding episode 13 and watching that as well.

    Watched it, then bought the DVD about 6 months later. I do agree that it's better with subtitles, but things like this always are.

    The only other series that had me pulling an all nighter is one called Elfen Lied, which i think is worth a watch if you can find it.

    27 Jul 2005, 11:36

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