Friday, December 19, 2003

One of the manga I wasted my credit on this week was the first volume of Hellsing, which is being released by Dark Horse in the states. Dark Horse insists on maintaining a higher price-point than everybody on the Tokyo Pop train; I was willing to shell out for Hellsing, but not so much for something I haven't heard of before. Dark Horse is really knifing itself in the back with this strategy - they aren't going to get much of a casual-browser lift when their obscure titles are more expensive than everybody else's obscure titles.

Hellsing is a violent vampire-killer story. The name is a wacky Japlish rendition of "Helsing", as in "Dr. van Helsing", but there's no relation to the fearless vampire-hunters of yore. Instead, Hellsing is a British black-ops organization dedicated to fighting monsters, Satanic cults, and the enemies of Her Majesty and the Church of England. It's technically an order of Knights, but in practice it's a bigoted Protestant madman's notion of what the SAS ought to be. Except possibly for the supervampire assassin Hellsing uses to wipe out its more formidable enemies, Dracula Alucard. Alucard is more than halfway on his way to Elder Godhood, but normally is restrained by his enslavement to the bloodline of the Hellsing family, and the only currently surviving member of that family, "Sir" Integra Hellsing. (The author seems a little confused about English usages - Integra is a woman, and not a cross-dressing one, either.)

At the beginning of both the anime and manga versions, Alucard mortally wounds a policewoman in a hostage situation, and "saves" her by turning her into his undead minion. Much violent, graphic mayhem ensues, between the monsters, the members of Hellsing, and their Catholic rivals of the Vatican's Section XIII "Iscariot".

For reasons known only to my id, I bought the run of Hellsing on DVD when they came out. There are elements of the Gonzo production that are worthy - a certain sense of style, viciousness, and the music - but overall it's something of an artistic failure. The TV series makes Celas Victoria (our undead policewoman/minion) the protagonist, and then makes her something of a simpering weebler with a highly variable character design. The writing on the later half of the series is weak, which seems to be something of a defining characteristic of Gonzo work - both Last Exile and Gadguard started out strong, but lost narrative way after a half-dozen episodes or so. Same might be said of Gatekeepers, come to think on it. Anyways, Hellsing TV: promising failure.

I thought to fall back on the source material, since I liked the premise. I've seen bits and pieces of fan-translated Hellsing here and there, but scanned images are not exactly the same thing as a well-printed GN in your hands. The verdict? Not bad, not great. The manga goes a lot faster than the anime, and there isn't a lot of the poorly-considered atmospherics in the source material. The anime ends up being a lot more, hrm, "Anne Rice" than the manga. The wild, silly Christian bigotries are original to the manga, and not an invention. Gonzo might even have toned things down. I liked that aspect of the story, but then I laughed at all of Moore's racist gags in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, so take that with the obligatory grain of salt.

The artwork is kind of variable, though. Various characters have insanely elongated arms, with forearms as long as their torsos and upper arms to match. Poor Celas continues her escapades in bad character design, although she tends more towards an elflin superdeformed alarm than the zaftig squatness of the anime character design. It doesn't matter as much, because she isn't as much of a protagonist in this volume. She also seems to be less of a wimp than the glum and conflicted Anime Celas; I rather prefer the manga version. We'll see how the series goes, but so far it's worth Dark Horse's danegeld.

Updated to add some actual description of what exactly the hell I was talking about... sorry about that.

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