Hellsing is an interesting mix of excellent and terrible. There were some things I loved, and yet others that I hated. The characters really made the story, with the plot being a generic action movie standard, albeit with vampires. However, considering the characters, this means the story jumped between jaw-dropping awesome sauce and boring crud – and I’ll get to more of that later on.
The setting of the whole anime was actually quite fascinating. The action centers on the Hellsing organization, a secret vampire-fighting force run by the noble Hellsing family. The organization started around 100 years ago and maintains a dated but endearing sense of honor and loyalty to the crown. The portrayal of the secret underground of British government was excellent; anyone interested in British history will appreciate it. You will see everything from a modern day round table made up of the leaders of Britain’s military branches to fights between the vigilantly Protestant Hellsing and Vatican agents. This might seem ridiculous to one unfamiliar with European history, but the hatred between the two religions has been long and very bitter, and I certainly buy into an underground competition between the two in the present day.
The references to classic fictional works were numerous. I really believe that world of Hellsing fits into the old works of Dracula. Anyone familiar with them will appreciate the connections; and herein lies some of the problem with Hellsing. There were many, many small things that made the story better for me, and most people would probably gloss over them without a second thought. In relying more upon the viewer, Hellsing makes its story weaker to the masses, but stronger to a smaller slice of the population.
For the average viewer, the often boring, repetitive action scenes, and often difficult to follow drama will seem as hurdles to get to the real action with Alucard, every moment not including him a letdown. The real trouble with Hellsing’s plot lies in its delivery. Every other episode starts “in medias res”. To get a sense of what I mean, imagine an action movie. Right away, you are launched in the middle of an action-packed car chase, with no explanation. You have a sense of who the good guys and bad guys are, and you know everything will be revealed in detail later on – it sets a high level of tension to start a story off with a bang. Hellsing fails in giving adequate explanations quite often and the repeated use of the technique leads to a rather disorienting plot. Rather than feel the tension ratchet up another notch, which is what they were probably going for, I simply felt confused and disappointed.
As such, I cannot possibly give the story too high of a rating, despite some personal interest in the fine details. If you do share my interests, pay close attention, and you will be rewarded with the occasional gold nugget.
The animation is, in short, very average. The action scenes are quite good, and many moments surprised me, but for the most part they are only tolerable. Many character animations in particular had me scratching my head; I remember one scene in which Integra, wearing her normal outfit, distinctly appeared to be in pajamas. The occasional very poor image such as this one reduces the art level to a bland “ok”. On the other end of the spectrum, some of Alucard’s more interesting powers had me glued to the screen in anticipation – a strange mix of bad and good.
I really enjoyed the soundtrack to Hellsing. The opener is an interesting mix of piano, electric guitar and drums with a blending of slightly creepy-sounding lyrics – a great combination that really captures the mood of the anime. The closing theme is good, but oddly inappropriate, clashing with the opener. Many good moments in the anime are backed by acoustic guitar supported by vocal chords, polishing them off with a little extra flare. Some of the more intense battle scenes, especially towards the end, appropriately dip into a little hard rock, highlighting the intensity. Overall, a great job was done on the music.
The voice acting was a different story, although still good overall. Alucard was extremely well-done; bass overconfidence with just a touch of creepy laughter. I also particularly liked Integra’s manservant, Walter; he is just the right mix of understated elderly badassery – think Sean Connery. Integra, on the other hand, grated on my ears from the first moment. The young yet tomboyish leader of Hellsing sounds more like a 70-year old life politician than a determined leader of a secret organization. While she grew on me over time, her voice did not. Finally, the major character, Seras, is very annoying. Every time she whined “Master” to Alucard I wanted to strangle her so I didn’t have to hear it again. Once again, Hellsing mixes excellence with mediocrity, but I feel the good does outweigh the bad in this case.
While the characters of Hellsing are interesting they are also incredibly frustrating. Alucard is easily the great centerpiece. It’s not that the other characters were bad, per se: the creators of this anime apparently never felt a strong need to flesh anyone out. Seras’s past is barely scraped upon for 2 minutes, only serving to push me further away from her useless character. Her struggle to maintain some humanity in the face of vampiric urges never fails to come off as boring and uninteresting. I found myself zoning out whenever she came on screen for more than a minute. Walter, who I would have loved to learn more about, has frustratingly little background – he has unflinching loyalty to Integra and was a great friend of Integra’s father, but otherwise we are given no information. Integra is the most researched, but this still only consists of a flashback episode which details only one single event. This, apparently, is enough to explain all her motives. Sigh.
Alucard, on the other hand, is absolutely captivating. He is never fully explained, but mystery works in his non-human favor. If you are a Dracula buff at all (hint: spell Alucard backwards) you will pick up on all the little details that made him a masterful character, paying homage to the classics while carving out a new, unique feel for him. Although we see only the outside shell of Alucard, as with the other characters, his inner character is often hinted at and glimpsed in small hints of dialogue that make him all the more intriguing. Of course, he also has his fair share of vampiric powers, which naturally heighten his awesome meter. Yet again, Hellsing mixes the sigh-worthy with the awesome. Despite my captivation with Alucard, however, the other characters really drag the show down.
Hellsing is an interesting anime and one worth watching. However, with only one major character really driving interest, it quickly became a game of “watch to see what Alucard does next”. Too much time was spent on random action scenes I didn’t really care about rather than the development of potentially fascinating characters. I felt constantly “prepared” during Hellsing - I was always ready to be dazzled, enthralled, and immersed – and it seems they never quite hit the nail on the head. As I was drawn in by the good, the bad would inevitably show up and give me a good smack. It was definitely worth the time, and perhaps it merits watching just to be able to recognize the numerous Alucard cosplayers, but there are certainly many better anime.