Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hellsing (A Review)

Plot-wise, there's not much to say here. The Publisher's Weekly description of Kohta Hirano's manga series Hellsing as "violent camp" just about sums it up perfectly. You've got a sexy vampire chick in a miniskirt who tears zombies to shreds, Dracula in a red zoot suit and floppy hat, secret organizations galore, undead Nazis, killer katana-wielding priests, and copious buckets of blood. (Some of this appears in later volumes, in case you're confused.) In other words, there's little originality here, as Hirano has simply rearranged preexisting elements from the cultural imagination. Luckily, however, Hellsing never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. For one, the spectacular violence is pure farce that reminded me, oddly enough, of the catastrophic wedding of Perseus and Andromeda in Ovid's "Metamorphosis," in which someone ends up getting beaten with a flute. The story is actually quite darkly humorous at times. (For example, Alucard drinking through a straw from a bag labeled "medical blood" and Father Anderson's exaggerrated Scottish brogue.)

But what saves Hellsing from the Great Dumpster of Vampire Silliness is the truly amazing, expressive artwork. The characters are each individually memorable, especially Alucard, who is just a sneering, maniacal riot that makes Lestat look like Edward Cullen. Seras Victoria perfectly contrasts naivety and sex appeal, while Integra Hellsing packs a real commanding presence, even on paper. Best of all is the homicidal zealot Father Anderson. The action, meanwhile, is swift, dynamic, and vividly illustrated, especially the slick gunplay and the vampires' supernatural feats. If I had to characterize Hellsing in one word, I would definitely say "visual." I think it's one of those graphic novels that are more about the images than the story because, quite frankly, the story part is kinda lame. If you're looking for an action/horror film in print and don't mind turning your brain off, then this is the series for you. But that's okay - not every manga can be Ghost in the Shell and that's actually a good thing.

In short: dopey story, amazing art.


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