There’s a quiet mansion in the countryside of England. Deep inside, an elite force of vampire hunters trains for its secret battle against the infestation of vampires spreading across Europe. The Hellsing Organization, a.k.a. The Royal Protestant Knights, is run by the ruthless Integra Hellsing, a descendant of Dr. Van Hellsing himself. She will stop at nothing to seek out and destroy the monsters and the puppet masters that plague mankind.
At the heart of Hellsing is its secret weapon Alucard, an ancient vampire bound to serve the Hellsing family by Integra’s father. At the start of the manga, Alucard offers to save a police officer named Seras Victoria by granting her eternal life as a vampire, but it has to be her choice. Die or live on as a creature of the night. Seras accepts his offer and finds the life of a bloodsucker to be a deep struggle as she tries to cling to the remains of her humanity.
As Seras adjusts to her new lifestyle, Hellsing falls under attack by the mysterious Millennium group, remnants of the Nazi Third Reich. Now Hellsing must fight not only to survive, but also to save Britain from Millennium’s apocalyptic schemes to destroy humanity itself.
The odd thing about Hellsing’s appeal is that every cast member is very one-dimensional, and yet each is unique, interesting, and memorable. First you have Alucard, the once great count with massive amounts of power who is virtually indestructible. Then there’s Seras, his pupil, who serves as eye candy—however, she’s pleasant and easy to relate to. Integra is the opposite. She’s the cold and respected Hellsing leader and the epitome of the “strong heroine.” Next up is Walter, the elderly Hellsing family butler who has good reason to own the nickname “Shinigami” (angel of death/god of death).
It doesn’t stop there. That’s just the main cast. There is also Hellsing’s rival group, Iscariot, a group of Catholic priests and nuns from the Vatican who think Hellsing is a bunch of heretic amateurs. And finally, of course, we have Millennium, the evil Nazi faction. Both Iscariot and Millennium have casts of interesting individuals themselves. Do you like a regenerating psychotic priest? Perhaps a katana-wielding nun is more to your taste? How about a cat boy or a werewolf? There’s no shortage of interesting characters to love. Just don’t expect them to live long. It’s a 50-50 shot that they’ll survive the length of the series.
Hellsing isn’t very popular in Japan, but it’s a huge hit in the western hemisphere. It’s hard to understand why it isn’t bigger elsewhere, but it could be because this series is so dark and violent and disturbing that it doesn’t appeal to a Japanese audience as much as it would to a North American one. Yes, the bisected corpses and severed heads are brilliantly drawn, but not everybody is into that kind of story. Still, if you don’t mind the incredibly graphic nature of this manga, it should not be passed up. The art is so detailed and full of motion that it’s sometimes impossible to tell exactly what’s happening. In a way, the chaotic art places the reader in the midst of battle where each creature is faster and deadlier than the next. To some, that’s fascinating, and to others, just frustrating.
For clarity’s sake, you should be informed that there are three different incarnations of the Hellsing series: the manga, the anime, and the original video animations (OVAs). The manga has been in production since 1999 and has only just reached its conclusion in Japan in October 2008. The anime, created in 2001, follows the manga source material only up to a point (production company Gonzo ran out of manga content to use and made up its own not-so-great ending, which completely excluded Millennium). The OVAs, from Statelight and Geneon, are much better and follow the manga more closely. Four of them are currently available in the United States; there will be 10 total when the series is finished.
The manga runs 10 volumes, nine of which are currently available in the United States. If you ever meet a fan of the anime, let them know that the manga is worth picking up now, especially because it’s easier to remember all the little details when read in one go. Be warned, though, that Hellsing is a risk. People either love it or hate it, but for those who love it, it can easily turn into an obsession.
Reviewed by Courtney Kraft on December 15, 2009
Hellsing, Volume 1