Monday, November 17, 2014


I've recently finished all but one of the ten collected volumes of Kouta Hirano's HELLSING. The only one I missed was number nine, and by the time I got to eight, I was pretty sure that I would be able to fill in most of any missing pieces.

HELLSING takes place on a vague future-Earth some time after the end of World War II, but all of the action takes place in Europe and I found no allusions, at least in the English translations, to Japan's role in the war.  It's also a world in which vampires, werewolves and various other freaky phenomena have always existed alongside humanity, though apparently only in recent years have they become allies to a number of warring factions.

The title of the series is one of those factions, an English-based organization named after the original vampire hunter Van Helsing. Van Helsing's victory over the vampire-lord Dracula didn't take quite the same way it did in Bram Stoker's novel. For one thing, the creature once called Dracula still lives, but Van Helsing-- or someone-- chained him in the dungeons beneath Hellsing Institute. When he's released from captivity by the vampire-hunter's descendant, the fearsome female Integra Hellsing, he takes the name "Alucard" and becomes Integra's bondservant, as well as her foremost agent in the defense of Hellsing.

Hellsing Institute has not one but two major factions ranged against them.  One is a group called Millennium, a neo-Nazi group whose leader, the mysterious "Major" (implicitly a holdover from the original Nazi regime), wishes to foment an endless state of war for no reason but for the love of destruction.  The other is the Vatican itself, which sports its own cadre of Catholic commandos and frequently spends more time fighting the English Protestants than the menace of Millennium.

I'm not sure why I didn't like HELLSING better. Hirano's art is good but displays an unfortunate tendency, seen in many manga works, to depict battle-scenes as a jumble of confused activity, with no appreciation for the virtues of white space.  The writing is decent for this sort of fevered adventure-opus, where Alucard, his supports cast and his enemies are all tough enough to cut nails on their tongues.  But Hirano doesn't really give the average reader much reason to identify with any of the characters, so that most of them have a fairly artificial feel.

Vampire myths have become some of the fecund literary myths of the past fifty years, but only once does Hirano excel himself in this sort of mythopoesis. In Book Eight, Alucard has a flashback to his experiences during his years as the Romanian Christian voivode (ruler) Vlad Tepes-- though this name is not used. During a major field-battle between Alucard's Romanian troops and those of the neighboring Turks, Alucard equates the slaughter on both sides with the idea of a holocaust, in the sense of a major sacrifice to deity.

"Fight. Everyone fight. Fighting is prayer itself. At the end of so much prayer [that] it astounds, God will descend. Jerusalem will descend!"

I don't know whether Romanian Christians of the 15th century might have entertained this specific line of thought, but the idea of attracting the attention of God/the gods with a mammoth sacrifice of lives seems characteristic to the nature of early humanity.  As expressed it even holds some resemblance to myths in which mortals may attempt to "bully" the gods into responding to their prayers, not by respectful pleading but by defacing or striking the icons of the deity to elicit a response.

It would seem, though, that Hirano had no deep interest in the metaphysics of worship. The sequence described serves the purpose of establishing Dracula/Alucard's profound alienation, for neither God nor Jerusalem descends in response to the wholesale slaughter.  On the whole HELLSING is a moderately enjoyable balls-to-the-wall example of "horror-adventure," but it fails to touch on the deeper resonance of the modern vampire myth.

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