Animated Series Review by Diana DeRiggs, MaceVindaloo, VagBoy
Animation: Gonzo Studios, Japan
Publisher/Distributor: Pioneer Entertainment
Rating: Super Star Destroyer
There is a certain disappointment factor with animé:
1) it's animated, so most people consider it kid-stuff. So a lot of great stuff is passed by. Has it ever occured to anyone that animation might be the most creative and inexpensive way to show ... stuff? Like gore, or death, or the supernatural? Space battles, kick-ass gunnery? Or even idealized sex?? It can be very heavy stuff, which leads us to
2) "hentai" is the porn subset of animé. Very kinky stuff is often shown this way -- like aliens raping humans, or extreme stuff like cutting, death, etc. Eeuw. But it being animated, it never happened, right? The disappointment is from Japanese law, which allows porn of any violence or graphicness, as long as genitalia are never shown. They can be drawn or alluded to, but are typically masked or de-res'd so it's all pixelated-looking. Many visitors to Japan who laviciously order a lot of hotel porn are way upset by this. And
3) the translations often suck, to the point that it's often more amusing to listen to it in Japanese and make up the translations on your own.
But animé is a genre that has a devoted cult following for the adult stuff, and a massive popular following for kiddy shows. The latter doesn't bear thinking about really, but when you come upon good examples of the former, it is often like a breath of fresh air, and you get a real sense of accomplishment for having found it at all.
Fortunately, some great animé makes it to DVD and video -- yeah, some of it stinks, but like we said, a lot of it really, really rocks. A fine example of this is Hellsing. NOT the movie starring Hugh Jackman, but the 13-episode first-season Japanese series about the ordained, knighted Hellsing family of Great Britain, who serve God, Church, and Queen in ridding the British isles of the undead who would otherwise terrorize and eat the citizens.
Story in a nutshell: The Hellsing family has a big mansion in London, training facilities, a private army of about 160 men, lots of badass weaponry -- and a vampire on the payroll. Curious that they retain a creature they have vowed to wipe off the planet. His name is Alucard, and he looks a combination of Jimmy Stewart, Mick Jagger, Steve Tyler, with the attitude of Dogbert. Or maybe more like the Joker and Dark Wing Duck. He considers Integra Hellsing his master, but he also refers his servitude to humans as "pathetic, pitiable" and tells them "I'll never understand humans." But he wipes out monsters and vampires with a huge gun loaded with silver bullets, smelted from a blessed cross.
There is a lot of gore and violence. A lot of blood gushes, gunshots boom out, fingers rip through bodies. Alucard does get to drink and suck blood a few times -- and not always in a tidy manner. He comes across as disgusted and bored by the battles he needs to fight on behalf of his human master, but he does it with a flippant and amused air. Still, it's obvious he's not casual about his duties, and he does feel contempt for creatures he considers beneath him. And it seems he's really, really hard to kill. If you try, you know it'll just piss him off.
There are many websites with a lot of information and suppositions about Alucard (his name is an anagram, of course -- but I don't believe for a second that he is who you are lead to believe who he is), so there is not shortage of interpretations or downloadable wallpapers. It isn't your typical vampire / possession story, though. It's deep, well-constructed and beautifully animated. The story flows well, and shows that the scriptwriters are mature and skilled. They don't diss the art form, for sure! They know a good story and a good script will carry the day, regardless of the medium. The soundtrack is good, and the voice-acting and translations are top-quality, too.
Plenty of people think the computer animation is not as good as hand-brushwork, but we disagree. It's like comparing oils vs. watercolors. Same with those who consider the story disjointed, with too many characters. Choosing between one or two character's psychodramas vs. seeing everything that eventually made it past the cutting room floor is always a 50/50 thing. To each his or her own, eh? Hellsing is a really satisfying 3½ hours of viewing. However, it is DEFINITELY NOT FOR KIDS on any level (see the corpse -- this is from a scene that turns out rather happily, even if it contains murderous relatives ...). In fact, when it was first broadcast on Japanese television, it had a weekly slot at 2:30am.
There is a lot to see and think about, and you end up craving more -- another season, perhaps? Repeated viewings? Or at least some answers!
Some answers can come from the original comic book by Kouta Hirano (which is amusing in that it was translated, but retains it's original Japanese published format -- meaning you have to read it "backward"). There also exist more comics and more episodes, but they aren't available translated into English yet. Oh yes, we mentioned quality of the translations -- they are excellent, good enough to choose to watch the DVD subtitled in English instead of the English dub, of course. But the British accents are authentic, and the voice acting is very good, so do listen to those. Some of the transliterations in English work even better than the original Japanese. Thank God and Queen, blahblah, Amen!
By the way, there is a bizarre religious-y thing going on -- Prostestants vs. the Vatican, many "war of God" references (though some are funny, like just prior to being attacked by an army of ghouls, a vampire advises the target humans, "I recommend pissing yourself, followed by prayer to you impotent god, then the ever popular grovelling for mercy ..." Okay, go watch it, it's funny), some Masonic-type references ... it's hard to track, but don't take it seriously. Some hyper-religious types will likely get offended at the inaccuracies and by rather icky portrayals of the Catholic church (including references to the betrayor of Jesus -- "Section XIII, the Iscariot Organization" ... well, it's Easter today!) It's just some scaffolding for parts of the story to hang onto, we think. Plus author Hirano is noted for his "warrior of God" type of comedic adventure comics (another title of his is Crossfire which is about a nun with a warrior as alter ego who spouts stuff about how Catholics have built their religion on the blood of infidels, etc. It's supposed to be funny, and it is).
The DVD series was released three or four episodes per DVD, so you can buy them at $30 each, or $120 total for a boxed set of all four. There is also a 2-DVD version which comes at a somewhat more reasonable pricetag, but the one we viewed was purchased from one of the many dealers of discount DVDs. We got this one from ezanimez.com for $25 plus shipping, and have bought copies on ebay.com for as little as $20 including shipping. Do some searching around to find what you want for less! Or, like many people who have watched this, you might agree that it's worth getting the one-by-one releases. Your choice.
Yeah, it's violent and gory, but also quite amusing and funny. The flashbacks are profound, things are timed right ... it shows the effect Disney story and production planning has had on "second-class status media" that animation has become -- meaning just because it's drawn and colored like a comic, it doesn't mean it's not serious or worthy. Not that Disney would have anything to do with this story (though I think I wish they would)!
As vampire stories go, this one is much better than others. Even if the Japanese do have a weird and curious obsession with the British -- their blue eyes, their religion, their big boobs ... Okay, sometimes it's a little annoying. Like, we can't figure out what Seras Victoria is doing there at all, and what is with her uniform??? And those HUGE guns -- is that supposed to be some Freudian thing? Hmn ... the guys say big boobs are de riguer in animé, but why do they keep getting bigger?? And why isn't someone as cool as Walter given more play, at least to explain the "Angel of Death" moniker more clearly?? And what the heck is Alexander Anderson, if he isn't a vampire himself?? And though Integra Wingates Hellsing is awesome, why is everyone so loyal to her and respectful of her, to the absolute flaming, firey death? Argh, will have to watch it again ...
There is a backhanded Star Wars reference too ... the private army shoots and dies like stormtroopers, with a certain clone-like attitude ...
Images from http://hellsing.pioneeranimation.com
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