Hellsing Vol. #1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Another Gonzo production released domestically by Pioneer Animation, Hellsing stakes its claim (pun intended) as the king of vampire anime. But is there enough good stuff here for you to sink your teeth into? (UGH!)
The audio is flawless, and only loses points for not being creepy enough. Overall, the audio is recorded a little too low, leaving some of the ambient, environmental sounds lost. Just crank up the volume on your surround speakers and enjoy.
The video is excellent, just as you would expect to see in a recently made show. Overall, it is very similar to the work Pioneer did with Soultaker, but slightly better, as there are none of the annoying digital coloration problems. Very, very nice looking for a TV show.
The cover art is simply stunning, with a close-up of Arucard in all his perverse glory. The back is clean and descriptive. The insert folds out to make a nice mini-poster, but doesn't really contain any useful information.
Another great Nightjar production, though this time, they might have carried the theme a little too far. The main menu is a medical blood pouch, and the animated transitions are gathering pools of blood. Behind the main menu runs an eerie little piece reminiscent of Carmina Burana. Backup menus are equally creepy and well done. This time out, though, the concept seems to overpower the actual selections. On the main menu, the choices are laid out nearly sideways, and on the chapter menu, it is a little difficult to see where the choices are located.
Of all of the extras, only the credit less opening held my attention. The "music video" is essentially an extended version of the Pioneer trailer with all the ghoulishly creepy scenes set to a really obnoxious techno song. For a show with such good music, the noise they set this to is really inappropriate. There's also an extended advertisement for an Arucard action figure and some Pioneer previews.
(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I don't like vampire dramas. It's not that I don't like vampires, but rather that I always find the stories utterly disappointing. I suspect that it might stem from the fact that of all monsters in our modern mythology, vampires are the most human. Their desires and powers and the fear they instill in us has its roots in the darkness of our own souls. There is little difference between the night-stalking blood eater and the corporate baron who makes his riches on the backs of his sweatshop employees, or the lover who abuses his mate to quench his own feelings of inadequacy. The monster, human in appearance, but totally immoral, lost, perverted, seducing and then inflicting pain on those still living, is one of our greatest, and deepest, fears.
Hellsing bypasses the metaphorical route entirely and stages itself as an X-Files type show about a mystery organization operating just beyond the bounds of the law to stamp out paranormal activity. The Hellsing organization is an ancient organization in England (presumably derived from famed vampire hunter, Professor Abraham Van Helsing from Bram Stoker's novel.) Whenever rumors of vampiric activity Hellsing sends out the troops to take care of the situation. Even though Hellsing is as well equipped as a small army, its star is Arucard (a bad transliteration of a pun on the name Dracula), a not-quite-evil vampire with almost limitless powers and a killer sense of fashion. Thank goodness he's on the side of good, or humanity would be in a world of hurt. Arucard's unstoppable attitude and unquenchable taste for blood keep the show engaging for the most part, and he is one of the few characters in the show you can picture with your eyes closed.
In the first three episodes, we just barely get things underway, though we've already got the grand conspiracies and human-interest stories building up steam. The Hellsing organization has been extremely busy of late and is at a loss to explain the recent surge in vampiric activity. As it turns out, the Catholic Church has been bioengineering vampires (perhaps to purge the unbelievers?), and the ostensibly Protestant (though more likely agnostic) Hellsing organization has to take them on. Though some will get upset by the religious connotations, those with at least some Sunday school in their past will find the whole thing preposterous. You want true horror? Take a look at the history of the Northern Ireland conflict. Anyway, the whole thing is just an excuse to throw in a bunch of crucifixes and haughty sounding dialogue about wickedness and wrath.
Meanwhile, the old story of a human becoming a vampire is played out to its tired extremes, when Victoria, a novice police officer investigating a murder scene, is killed and resurrected by Arucard. Though Victoria's challenges are supposed to inject some much needed humanity and warmth into the story, it's less than effective. Victoria seems to have been designed and animated by a completely different team from the rest of the show. Instead of the tall, lean, and angular look of the rest of the cast, Victoria is fan-service central, all bouncy bosoms and curvy hips. She never looks a part of any scene she's in. Moreover, the writers made a critical mistake in converting her to the dark side in the very first episode. Without any frame of reference on her humanity, we can't sympathize with her loss. Nightwalker mined this territory to much greater dramatic effect.
Though I listened to the Japanese track for my first viewing of the show, I went back and listened to some of the English dub. Since the show is set in England, the actors speak, for the most part, with British, or British-like accents. Some of the supporting cast and bit players sound great, but for the most part, the English dub is not compelling. In particular, I had issue with Arucard and Victoria's accents. Maybe they sound compelling compelling to one of the Queen's subjects, but after watching a fair amount of BBC, I suspect they don't.
The show isn't all bad. I have to say that even though the art design is repetitive and derivative, it's still quite effective. Perhaps the best aspect of the show's style is its rather direct sexuality. Starting with the openly dangerous seduction in the opening scene, and on to the Bonnie and Clyde vampire team in the second episode, Hellsing lets its adult characters breathe. With the exception of the juvenile fantasy pin-up, Victoria, Hellsing's sexiness comes from a maturity you rarely see played out in open in anime these days.
But what is truly fabulous about Hellsing is the music. Really not knowing what to expect from the show, when the opening credits hit during the first episode, I was completely thrown for a loop. I have expected some completely unmemorable gothic dirge or something similar to the dreadful techno music in the Pioneer trailer. Instead, the opening of the show is set to a groovy blues number. Hellsing takes a page from the Cowboy Bebop songbook and delivers up a soundtrack of glorious craftsmanship and variety, often with songs playing against expectation. If the writing in the show had half the wit and irony of its musical accompaniment, it would have been a great show indeed.
The original Vampire Princess Miyu OAVs had more to say about the human condition. Nightwalker was more entertaining, better written, and - dare I say it - sexier. Blood: The Last Vampire looked and sounded better, and was more haunting and poignant. The tough-as-nails and all-business Vampire Hunter D would probably make short work of the wise-cracking Arucard. Despite a few clever ideas and excellent music, Hellsing comes off as less-than-average vampire drama. However, those looking for mindless violence and posturing posing as coolness will probably find something enjoyable lurking in the English countryside.
Panasonic Panablack TV, Codefree Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)
Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2