Hellsing: Impure Souls is the first anime based on the Hellsing manga, a story about a vampire-hunting organization. Sadly, it fell short.
|Genre||Action/thriller, horror, seinen|
|Original run||2001 – 2002|
|Number of episodes||13|
|Purchase DVD Box Set||Purchase from Amazon.|
Hmm. Hey, everyone. Remember when vampires used to be cool?
Heh. Yeah, me neither. Just comes to show that we needed to… get our priorities straight.
Vampires have been part of popular fiction ever since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but there had existed vampire lore before that time. The character Dracula was modeled after a Romanian prince named Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler. And if you continue tracing back, vampire legends were essentially about revenants that may possess supernatural abilities. And in Chinese mythology, there were evil spirits known as jiangshi (the hopping vampires).
But much of what we know about vampires was hearsay and superstition. During the Middle Ages, Europeans suffering from misfortune believed that an evil force would cause them to get sick or prevent their crops from growing. This somehow led to people thinking that the recently deceased had came back to life in order to curse them. And so people took extra precautions when dealing with these so-called “vampires,” severing the heads of corpses and stuffing them with garlic.
Generally, vampires were associated with decay and fear. Some of their popular abilities included shapeshifting, draining a person’s life force (most often, blood), superhuman strength and agility, sorceries, and causing the earth to decay and bringing disease.
When we put it that way, it all sounds badass, doesn’t it? Which is why Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight doesn’t sit well with me. Instead of making the vampires into feared abominations, she made them into desirable and beautiful people who just so happen to possess all of those supernatural abilities but are also pacifistic for the most part. And somehow vegetarian of all things. It’s… incredibly lame, trust me…
Now thankfully, we still have modern media that associates vampires closely to their roots. One of these is the manga series known as Hellsing, which ran from 1997 to 2008. But in 2002, we got an anime series that used the manga’s characters… but not the plot. In this sense, it’s a bit similar to how the Fullmetal Alchemist had two anime adaptations: one that followed its own plot and one that followed the plot of the manga more closely.
And for this review, we’re going to cover the original Hellsing anime.
The Woes of the Hellsing Organization
This has got to be one of the most baller anime openings I’ve ever seen.
That song is called “Logos Naki World” (A World Without God), by the way.
Hellsing, also known as Hellsing: Impure Souls, follows the tale of the Hellsing Organization, a top-secret group that specializes in slaying demons and supernatural creatures to protect England. In a way, they’re like a black ops team that specializes in killing vampires and ghouls. At the helm is Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, a fearless woman who takes shit from no one and takes her job as leader very seriously. Recently, England had an upsurge of lesser vampires, some of which possess the ability to turn corpses into loyal ghoul servants. But luckily, the Hellsing Organization is more than prepared to deal with this threat.
But easily the big show-stealer of Hellsing is Alucard.
Holy shit. This incarnation of Alucard has got to be one of the most baller badasses in fiction ever. A grinning vampire clad in red and donning orange shades, Alucard is the most notable servant of the Hellsing Organization and its main hunter. His weapon of choice is a pistol that fires silver bullets, which specializes in killing vampires and ghouls. The interesting thing about him is that he’s not portrayed as either an anti-hero or a villain, as one would expect. He is devoted to the Hellsing Organization and, by extension, Sir Integra. And despite this, he is very cruel to his enemies and wouldn’t hesitate to both humiliate and rip them to shreds. It also helps that Crispin Freeman voiced him in the English dub, pulling off a great performance with this snarling (but somehow refined) voice.
In spite of the show’s gothic premise and interesting characters, things kinda fall apart in the middle.
During the first episode, we meet a young English girl named Seras Victoria, who was working with the police. During her first encounter with the supernatural forces, Seras was captured by a vampire. But Alucard appears before them with the intention of slaying said vampire.
But for some nonsensical reason, Alucard tells Seras that he would shoot a bullet through her so that it would hit the vampire and kill him. In exchange, he can bite her neck and transform her into a vampire to save her from death. And Seras just willingly accepts without considering the consequences.
Put yourself in that kind of situation. Would you trust a shady-looking man dressed as Carmen Sandiego to turn you into a vampire after HE shoots you through the stomach? The proper response would probably be, “No! DON’T shoot me in the stomach, you crazy asshole!”
Admittedly, “Police Girl” herself is an interesting character… well, at least for the first half of the series. After Alucard recruited Seras into the Hellsing Organization, she had to deal with the consequences of being a vampire: she can’t walk out during daylight, she can’t touch silver, she has to sleep in a coffin to ensure that sunlight doesn’t reach her and she develops an animal-like desire for human blood. She also has red eyes and noticeable fangs, making her stand out more from her human comrades. But in return, she gains superhuman strength, regeneration after sustaining heavy injuries, and nigh immortality. Because of this, she can wield heavy artillery with ease and becomes skilled at using them.
Seras Victoria is, by far, the character who receives the most development in Hellsing. She went from a meek police officer, who couldn’t bring herself to take people’s lives, to a strong-willed vampire hunter. Not to mention her childlike innocence at times is endearing. There is also her relationship with Alucard, who plays the role as her master. And this relationship is synonymous to the one that Sir Integra and Alucard shared, which adds in an interesting dynamic between the characters. Unfortunately, this character arc is not enough to redeem the show as a whole.
The main problem with Hellsing is that there is no real focus to a plot. The beginning episodes fall under a “monster of the day” formula with Seras’s character arc progressing. But since then, it’s hyperviolent imagery and some real disappointing antagonists. Combined with mostly slow pacing and a story that takes itself a bit too seriously, there are many times when Hellsing can feel like a chore watching through.
There were very few notable antagonists that put up a fight, like the Valentine Brothers and Alexander Anderson.
Paladin Alexander Anderson is one of the main highlights of the show. He is a Vatican priest from the Iscariot branch who is a highly skilled vampire slayer and the main nemesis of Alucard. He is one of the very few characters who can do some real damage to Alucard, which makes for an interesting rivalry. Alas, the show only gives a couple of opportunities for them to interact. I would’ve liked to see more of this guy, because he’s certainly one of the craziest priest characters I’ve seen in anime.
Most of the minor characters aren’t particularly memorable and are even look strangely ugly compared to the canon Hellsing characters. And whatever role they play in the show is so short-lived that it doesn’t really stick with you. Characters like Helena and Laura were probably notable due to their unusual circumstances, but are not still not interesting enough to make the episodes worth sitting through.
But occasionally, we do get a decent episode that stands out from the rest. For example, the flashback episode where a younger Sir Integra had to take over the Hellsing Organization and meet Alucard. This episode not only shows what Integra had to deal with before her leadership, but what her real relationship to Alucard is. While she is the master and Alucard is the servant, Alucard seems to possess a deep respect for her iron will even though he is clearly a much more powerful being who could easily take her life. It’s very interesting, to say the least.
Now, here’s another disappointment: the final villain. *sighs* Incognito. Not only does his character design feel out of place with the rest of the cast in the anime, but his goal is so disappointingly simple and dull. Basically, he wants to summon the god Sett and take his power so he can destroy the world. Yeah… how original…
I guess his freaky alien-like design is cool, as well as his baritone voice. But there’s nothing compelling about this character at all. He’s just a typical bad guy with a straightforward plan. It’s believed that as a vampire himself, he also has a master like Alucard. But we never get any information about this possible master, which leaves behind some unanswered questions towards the climax of the series. The battles between him and Alucard are one-sided and anti-climactic. How… boring…
And sadly, this is the reality of this potentially badass anime. It was an adaptation that came too early for its own good, resulting in a series that diverges from its source material. Because of that, new (and underdeveloped) characters were made on the fly and the plot had a difficult time in making sense of itself.
For example, there is one scene that I couldn’t help but piss myself in laughter in just how over-the-top it is. There was a vampire chick giving her boyfriend a blowjob. Then the boyfriend proceeds to fire multiple shots at his dead victims while laughing maniacally. This weird image is so crazy that I just laughed along. It’s hard to take any of that seriously when the show tries to go out of its way to be shocking. Instead, it just looks hilariously dumb.
Which is too bad, because the imagery can look appropriately morbid at times.
Because of the nature of Hellsing’s premise, most of the events occur during nighttime, under a red sky with a bright moon. Sometimes, the imagery reminds me of Batman: The Animated Series. And of course, the death scenes were pretty gruesome and gory. If you like this kind of hyperviolent shit, you won’t be disappointed. The general atmosphere is quite gothic.
The soundtrack is also quite nice at times, mixing jazz with rock. If you can’t tell from the anime opening, the music can be quite smooth and intense. So at least the show has that going for it.
Eventually, Hellsing builds up to a predictable climax where Alucard is saved by the power of his godly abilities and defeats the bad guy. Which brings up another issue: Alucard is OP.
Now, I’m fine with experienced badass characters. But Alucard has very little to him regarding flaws, which makes it difficult to root for him during his most intense battles when we already know he’s going to somehow turn the tide of battle to his favor anyway. So yeah, he’s kind of a Mary Sue. Or a Gary Stu, if you prefer.
Meanwhile, characters like Sir Integra and Walter C. Dornez are chilling in the background while Alucard and Seras get the most amount of screentime. It’s pretty disappointing that the show doesn’t take advantage of its potential and try to come up with something interesting on its own, just like Fullmetal Alchemist would do years later. The smaller episodic plots overall are not engaging enough to keep this show running.
So while the original Hellsing anime has a bit of charm to it as this dark and gritty show about vampires, it falls victim to its own limitations as a result of trying to adapt a manga that was still going at the time. It really sucks because I’m usually a sucker for these kinds of dark and edgy shows. So yeah, this anime is studio Gonzo’s fan fiction based on Kouta Hirano’s manga. Right, because anime studios have such a great history of coming up with good scripts without the original creator’s involvement. Overall, Hellsing has a cool premise, some decent characters, some gothic visuals and is slightly oozing in style. But it also has a poorly executed plot, sloppy pacing and boring subplots with equally boring minor characters. While not exactly a bad anime, it’s pretty mediocre. It’s watchable, but you can skip this show without missing much.
Thankfully, we did get a better anime adaptation known as Hellsing: Ultimate, which follows the manga more closely. But that’s another monster to battle for another time.
- Some of the character interactions, such as those of Seras Victoria, are done pretty well.
- Alucard kicks ass!
- The voiceovers for the English dub are good for the most part, though there are some noticeable voiceovers with faux British accents.
- The imagery is gothic and morbid, as to be expected from a show about vampires and ghouls.
- Soundtrack is pretty cool.
- The minor characters are poorly written overall and have generic designs.
- The plot gets really slow at times, making some of the episodes a chore to sit through.
- The main villain is a major disappointment.
- Despite Alucard's badass status, he is too powerful to the point of making the climax very predictable.