[Synopsis]: Tasked with defending England from undead and supernatural assailants, the Hellsing Organization led by Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing (Mizuhashi Kaori), grows strained as the frequency of vampire attacks increases. Hellsing’s own greatest weapon, an ancient and powerful vampire named Alucard (Nakata Jouji) along with his new servant Seras Victoria (Orikasa Fumiko) are quickly drawn into the central conflict. The appearance of Millenium, a new faction hosting an army of vampires, threatens to engulf all of London in a cataclysmic war as they square off against Hellsing as well as the Vatican’s Section XIII Iscariot.
For a show so fundamentally focused on its own various factions, Hellsing doesn’t actually have all that large of a cast, opting instead to represent its various organizations through a handful of recognizable characters and a moderate supporting cast. While Alucard, Integra, and Seras are the focal characters of the show, the story often wanders away from them to investigate the goings-ons of other notable characters and companies such as Alexander Anderson and the Vatican. Around the midpoint of the story these various perspectives and characters start to come together as the show begins its long and drawn out climax.
Both the most iconic and notable of the cast is Alucard himself who embodies much of what Hellsing is about. He’s a vampire through and through and not only presents all of the familiar traits and abilities of his folklore counterparts but a host of far more vague powers such as teleportation, minion-summoning, and near-invulnerability. He’s a cruel and ruthless killer who’s gruesome style of combat often ends with him just as ragged and bloody as his opponent. His most common strategy is to allow his opponent to blow him to bits while mocking his own powerlessness before reforming and quickly dispatching them. It’s a very weird fight dynamic and many of his fights fall into this formula however eventually more back and forth exchanges are established.
The issue that arises with Alucard is that, between his tendency to let his own enemy inflict ostensibly lethal wounds upon him, his seemingly ever-expanding list of strange abilities, and the general gory aesthetic of the show – it becomes increasingly hard to tell when Alucard is actually in any real danger. The tension and suspense of each fight involving him quickly dissipates and drains the fight sequence of all meaning when he appears so openly infallible. What the viewer might insinuate to be severe blows against him are often discarded as Alucard merely playing with his opponents. His frequent ‘apparent deaths’ quickly desensitize the viewer to both his own well-being as well as that of vampires in general. With people getting their brains blown out and quite literally painting the walls red with their own blood, it’s hard to tell what is at stake if anything when they keep coming back.
The other character worth touching upon is Alucard’s servant Seras Victoria, a police girl he converts into a vampire at the start of the series. Initially she is played off as somebody in way over their head – thrown into an outlandish situation involving the Hellsing Organization and her own newly acquired vampire status. In the early episodes she is almost entirely relegated to an awkward comedy-relief role however Hellsing eventually re-purposes her into somebody more action-oriented. It felt as if the show couldn’t make up it’s mind on what she was supposed to be – dopey and comedic fan-service character or tragic and badass vampire warrior. One trait often ended up compromising the other and it was hard to take her more grave scenes seriously given her initial foolishness and role in the show.
Were there a single word that could encompass all of Hellsing’s style and appeal it would be gratuitous. Like any good vampire show, it was obsessed with blood. Hellsing is all about overkill. Too many guns, too many bullets, too many enemies, too many bodies, too much blood – it created an aesthetic and presentation out of pure excess and it certainly found unique qualities within this approach. When it came to bloodshed, it didn’t shy away from showing some truly brutal material and the subject matter of war was a terrifying place for this style to manifest. This visual brutality and excess is key to understanding what Hellsing is about and how it tries to appeal to its viewer as much of its allure is closely tied to the outlandish nature of its characters and these grotesque characteristics.
The show’s visuals are pretty decent – though lackluster and sometimes even awkward during the first 4 or so episodes, the animation quality steps up over the course of the show and solidifies itself fairly strongly around it’s midsection and onward. Punctuated by heavy shadows, stark lighting, and more eye-glasses glare than you can handle, Hellsing establishes a distinct visual appearance early on though initially some of its characters would move strangely and exhibit exceedingly odd postures because of their lanky designs. For the most part, the character designs of the cast all fit well with one another though there were a few exceptions such as Schrödinger and Rip van Winkle who felt outlandish and out of place when juxtaposed to Hellsing’s other more grim and callous designs. The occasional, oddly cliched-looking, gag scene also upset the show’s aesthetic on top of being completely unfunny.
Hellsing’s story is where it suffers the most for a variety of reasons. The first few episodes follow a pretty similar pattern as the viewer is introduced to the show and its characters. A vampire sent by Millenium is wreaking havoc and Hellsing and Alucard have to intervene. Some faceless background characters are killed and transformed into ghouls and there are some highlights of Integra, Seras, and Walter the butler before Alucard ultimately ends up killing whatever the threat is. This kind of bland introduction to the show leaves the first half feeling uninspired though with the proper introduction of Millenium near the series’ midpoint, things start to heat up. The initially gruesome aesthetic finds new footholds in the subject matter of war and the degree of its excessive nature doubles and triples as the action mounts.
One particular problem Hellsing had was in the pacing department. Given how it’s 10 episodes were divided into roughly 50 minute-long installments, it often felt as if each episode would drag out it’s own self-contained action and plot before expiring. Fights would last an exceedingly long time and the show never seemed to tire of vampires and supernatural abilities ripping through people and ghouls like endless fodder. This approach set up the atmosphere of the show quite well early on but its prolonged use to kind of fluff up the episodes grew tiresome after a while. Monologues as well were a huge problem for the show’s pacing as they would often state and restate the same esoteric thing for the sake of emphasis. This gave a lot of the dialogue a certain monotonous tone to it.
Possibly the biggest shortcoming of the show is in its final few episodes. Hellsing’s midsection does a decent job of revitalizing the show with improved animation, gory action scenes, and a surprisingly exciting war development. However, once the the pieces are in place and the story is once again in motion, it rather quickly devolves into incoherency. Hellsing is far more interested in the factions its characters belong to and the gore of its action scenes than the characters themselves and this leaves them feeling not only under-explored but downright confusing near the end of the show. Certain character twists and reveals make less and less sense, the viewer lacks context to understand the implications of many new powers and abilities being revealed, and the whole point of it all is kind of lost amidst the rambling presentation.
Hellsing’s soundtrack is likely much what you would come to expect of a modern vampire show. It’s Gothic and haunting yet dabbles with some guitar, electronica, and jazz with varying degrees of success. Most of the tracks fit the show well enough but there wasn’t a memorable tune to be found and they certainly didn’t rise above merely supporting the show’s visuals and plot.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Hellsing is crippled by a number of narrative issues and others besides yet it is not completely bereft of entertainment. It’s claim to your attention lies in its graphic content or rather – how graphic its content is. It has a handful of cool scenes and the uncensored display of carnage set against a dark and bloody atmosphere definitely allowed the show to stand out among other similar action shows.
I gave Hellsing a 5 because, while it presented a surprisingly grisly look at the vampire genre and the brutality of war, it suffered from a myriad of issues across all categories. Alucard felt invincible and damaged the tension of many of the scenes in which he was involved, Seras felt tonally confused and her awkward stabs at humor somewhat upset her later developments into more of an action-oriented character. The show’s visuals were at times impressive and at others a little crude and lackluster. Hellsing’s story was circuitous and even confusing despite a rather simple and predictable plot.
If you like blood, guts, and occult Nazism then this show was likely crafted specifically for you. If you are a fan of guns, bullets, and way too many of them then similarly so – you’ll love the kind of over-the-top, stylized action that Hellsing has to offer. Anybody turned off by gratuitous blood and violence should probably stay as far away from this show as possible as it truly makes it it’s business to deliver on those elements above all else and in the greatest excess.