Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: Hellsing Vol. 1 by Kohta Hirano

Hellsing Volume 1 by Kohta Hirano

Hellsing is a manga (Japanese-style comic) about a secret group protecting England from supernatural threats. The Hellsing group is family-run Protestant (presumably Church of England) covert operation that takes care of vampires, zombies, ghouls, and other hazards that the local police can't handle. This story begins with the death of the head of Hellsing, who is passing the company on to his daughter Integra. His brother isn't happy about this and decides to hunt her down and kill her before everyone else knows the old man is dead and she is put in charge. She flees to the basement levels of the headquarters where she comes across a dessicated corpse. The uncle's minions catch up with her there and almost kill her. In the gun fight, she's injured and some of her blood lands on the corpse, which forms into the vampire Alucard. Alucard is the ancient secret weapon, an undead monster who fights for Hellsing against the other undead in the world. He's been enhanced by various spells and potions so he's stronger and more durable than other vampires. He saves the girl and starts a new era for Hellsing. More adventures follow after this, including a confrontation with the top agent of the Vatican's covert operations force Iscariot.

The book is pretty quirky. The layout is like it was in Japan, so the book starts with what would (in the West) be the back cover and you read it from the back to the front. The comic panels and word bubbles are also laid out right to left on the page, which took a little getting used to but wasn't too hard to master. Also, most of the sound effects are still in Japanese even though the dialogue is all translated into English. It's easy to imagine what the sound effects refer to (sword slices, guns firing, feet creaking on floorboards, etc.). It just looks a little odd to have Japanese letters all over some frames and not know what they mean.

 The violence is highly stylized and frequent which is what I expected. There's a mixture of guns, swords, and fisticuffs. The theology is pretty light, there's just enough to set up conflicts between Protestant and Catholic and other religions. For me it was a little too light, since people of actual faith would hardly behave the way they do in this book. They don't even use holy water or crosses or other religious symbols and rites. Maybe that happens in later volumes. And maybe I'm looking for too much depth in the wrong place. The story wasn't so compelling that I feel the need to read the rest of the series. I may try some other manga to see if I like it more.

Parental warning: Offensive language is minimal and there's no sex (some of the females are busty but fully clothed). The violence is over the top and a bit gruesome. The vampires do occasionally lick blood from the floor or severed body parts, which might be disturbing. Also, some characters are stabbed with swords and knives sticking through. In one instance, a person has about twenty or thirty sticking in her.


  1. Ah man, I love this series. Maybe because I saw the anime versions first, and they are darn fun to watch. I see what you mean about the theology; I don't remember what parts vol 1 covered, but I do remember that the Hellsing group does frequently confront the Iscariot organization (which is fanatically Catholic), so there is a bit of a religious clash there. Otherwise, it is much less about religion and much more about vampires fighting Neo-nazis.

    Good review sir!

  2. Maybe with my expectations properly set I would enjoy the story more. I might give it another try since it is a very quick read.

    I wonder if the action scenes work better in the anime than the manga? Not that the manga is bad or hard to follow, I just wonder how much impact the format has.