Place: The United Kingdom.
For centuries, the royal houses of Britain have kept a dark secret: vampires and the undead exist. Not only do they exist, but often they hold power in high positions, or work covertly to subvert those positions and the people who hold them. To counter this threat, a special force of dedicated individuals, headed by the heir to the Hellsing dynasty, works tirelessly to hunt down and root out the undead where they hide. Under the direct authority of the Queen, Integra Hellsing leads the Royal Order of Protestant Knights in a shadow war against her family's most ancient foe. But unlike her ancestors, Integra has an ace-in-the-hole: A servitor vampire of incredible power named Alucard. Beset on all sides by the forces of the undead, corrupt politicians who fear her autonomy, and even a rival organization from the Vatican, can Integra protect her country from its enemies? Or will darkness reign?
Hellsing is the third series by Studio Gonzo to be released in the States (the first two being Vandread and Gatekeepers), and given the unorthodox nature of its subject, it's surprisingly good.
First off, this is a dark, dark show. No goofy love triangles, no harems, no magical girls or weird special attacks with silly names. This is a series about vampires, and we're not talking about your Vampire: The Masquerade-angsty-goth-wannabe vampires either. Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards, don't let the "Arucard" mistranslation fool you) is a real, traditional, nosferatu right down to the core, even if he dresses more modern than his predecessors. He's vain, snide, but possessed of a dignity that is missing from more recent treatments of vampires. He's anti-hero through and through, but you just can't help rooting for him even when it's obvious he's not really a good guy at all.
Then there is Integra Hellsing, who defines the model of "Ice Queen". She's the direct descendant of people whose lives were dedicated to dealing with the darkest of evil things and it shows. Her butler/bodyguard, Walter is also very cool, with his polished English manners contrasted by the skill with which he cuts up ghouls with mono-filament wire.
Which leaves us with Celes Victoria (inexplicably renamed Seras in the US version), a member of London's D-11 corps (D-11 is Britain's S.W.A.T. team more or less) who is nearly killed in the first episode, but saved by Alucard by being made into a vampire herself. Possibly the most "normal" of the main characters, it's through her eyes that we see the other side of the coin, so to speak. As the newbie-vampire of Hellsing, her training and struggles with her new un-life give us a chance to see the human side of the Hellsing Institution.
As with all of Gonzo's work, great detail is paid to the various mecha (guns, helicopters, cars, and anything else that drives, shoots or explodes). Fans of guns and aircraft will enjoy this show almost as much as those who enjoy horror, since Alucard's favored ghoul annihilator is a custom ARM .454 pistol (read: Hand Cannon), and Celes is often seen toting around a gigantic anti-tank gun or sniper rifle (she doesn't even need a scope!). The locations in London are also well rendered. Studio Gonzo really did their homework on this one.
And not just on mecha. Their depiction of Alucard and his powers is right out of the old novels and pulps on vampires. The clannish notions of vampirism espoused in current fiction like Blade or Vampire: The Masquerade is for the most part tossed completely out the window. Alucard has it all: the speed, the strength, the regeneration, the ability to cast glamours, to summon hell hounds, change into bats and mist, and even pass through shadows. And he's NOT a card carrying member of some gothed-out clan (he's rather adamant about that in fact).
Hellsing has tons of great atmosphere, cool characters, and lots of guns-blazing action. That said, it may also be a bit too much for some audiences. A few members of T.H.E.M. were unable to watch certain scenes because of the graphic content. One villain was so blatantly foul-mouthed that he's even bleeped out in the Japanese television broadcast (ouch), and even though there is no nudity, there is enough sexual content to rate this solidly in the "adults only" category of anime. Definitely not a show for the squeamish or prudish. But then again, a show done about vampires any other way would just be, well ... Buffy.
As one member put it, "Hellsing is everything NightWalker should have been," and I think that sums it up rather nicely.
Subtract one star if you do not like excessive violence or religious references. Add one star if you really like vampire anime. — Jason Bustard
Recommended Audience: As stated above: This is absolutely NOT for the kiddies. Heck, the name of the show alone should be enough proof of that. Violence, sexual situations, violence, harsh language, violence, religious iconography and references that some may find offensive, and did I mention that it was violent?
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub, R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Hellsing © 2001 Pioneer LDC / Gonzo / Fuji TV
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