Review: Hellsing (manga)

Hirano, Kohta, and Duane Johnson. Hellsing. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Manga, 2003-10. Print. Vol 1-10.

“Your job, gentlemen, is to fight these monsters with bullets, garlic, and holy water. Put a stake through its heart, cut off his head, burn the corpse, scatter the ashes at a crossroads. For further instructions, consult Bram Stoker.”
-Sir Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, Hellsing vol. 2.

hellsing
To say that this series is one of my favorites would probably be an understatement. Behind Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star, it is one of my favorite series. It demonstrates my love for the horror genre, when done well. (I have a tendency to dismiss most vampire stories that detract from the original mythos or do so in a way that’s disrespectful towards it.) Hirano, for all his fanboyish/otaku tendencies (of which he has many, and has been openly caricaturized in High School of the Dead‘s Kohta Hirano) has written a lovely manga that not only exemplifies the strengths and depravities of humanity.

Let’s get this out of the way right away: Hirano was, in fact, an ecchi/hentai artist before he began Hellsing, so before this work was penned, a lot of people paid him little regard, expecting nothing of worth to come from his writing/art, especially when it came to women/gender.

Boy were they ever wrong.

Hellsing is probably one of the first manga in recent recollection that not only has a completely gender neutral character (Heinkel Wolf) as well as a woman who is in charge 0f an organization where, in many regards, she is both alone as a person and as a female, having mostly men at her command (vol. 1). The fact that his was a series penned in the 1990’s makes a bit of a difference; prior to this time, outside of doujin (and hentai/shounen/shoujo-ai) titles, fluid sexual and gender roles were not in any series that made it to the main front of popular anime/manga culture. There are exceptions – Utena comes to mind, but for manga, there were not many early exceptions.

First and foremost, the characters in Hellsing are amazingly gender-fluid. Heinkel paved the way for future characters whose gender was purposefully blurred to make a point, such as Zoe Hange in Attack on Titan – whose very gender was supposed to “never be questioned” by the author himself. Though Heinkel has been adopted by female voice actors in both Japan and America in the anime adaptations, “she” is meant to have a masculine tone to their voice.  Partnered with the dual-personalitied Yumie/Yumiko, Heinkel demonstrates more than sibling affection towards their partner at times (vol 9). Heinkel’s role inside the Catholic group Iscariot also defies expectations – in the garb of a priest, they take down the heretics opposed to the church, all the while confusing everyone that meets them if they are a man or a woman, even in the Catholic Church (vol 4 & 5).

Sir Hellsing is another treat for gender neutrality. Though it is never explicitly pointed out that her dress is similar to that of a man, it is demonstrated to be comparatively masculine to other noble women (when rarely shown). She also smokes cigars, commands the most dangerous weapon in England’s arsenal against the undead, and is the commander to both a military group left to her by her father (volume 1) and a highly respected group of mercenaries (vol. 2). Whether or not she is “feminine” is irrelevant; for Sir Hellsing, the task that she has inherited – protecting England from the undead – is greater than whatever social role she might be expected to play. She never marries/is introduced to society to marry (vol. 10)- and her father, when alive, never expects her to fulfill those social niceities (vol. 1). Sir Hellsing remains stalwartly single – married to her life’s calling of defending Queen and Country.

It’s also interesting to note how some adversaries end up,  based on how they treat Sir Hellsing, either as a human being or as a woman. While Hirano may not have meant to make a statement on how people who mistreat/debase women may have to deal with their karma, it remains interesting how her enemies die based on their treatment of Sir Hellsing according to her gender and role. Where Father Alexander Anderson dies having fulfilled his longest wish of fighting Alucard to his demise (Vol. 9), and the Major to Hellsing’s final blow (Vol. 10), Enrico Maxwell dies at the hands of Ghouls (vol. 7).

Both Anderson and the Major respected and treated Sir Hellsing with respect, acknowledging that she is female but treating her as an equal in both command and battlefield experience. Anderson even remarks in the midst of the vampire outbreak on London that Hellsing should have an escort home, as letting a lady walk home alone is “not safe” and she is someone “worthy of regard” – against Enrico’s order to kill her on sight (Vol. 8). Enrico, on the other hand, calls Sir Hellsing a sow (Vol. 2), makes a remark that he hopes she is raped (Vol 5) and holds her in the lowest regard. Whether or not it was Hirano’s intent to call attention to her sex, Hellsing and her abilities are what make her a champion of England – not that she is a woman or man.

Monsters in Hellsing, most notably Alucard and Seras, are gender-neutral entities, just because of their basic inhuman nature. Though Alucard’s demonstration of his shape-shifting abilities is more prominent than Seras’s (he remains in his “girlycard” form for nearly half of volume 9 and was shown to have stayed in that same form during World War II) Seras is able to change her gender as well once she has fully accepted her vampire heritage (vol. 10). What makes this most interesting is that in order to completely remove any characters in Hellsing from the gender binary – they must not be human. Heinkel could even be argued to fit this bill, as by the end of Hellsing they have become a regenerator, much as Anderson had, and also left so scarred that there are no physical attributes linking them to male or female (10). Seras could be seen as hermaphroditic; because she drank Pip Bernadette’s blood, his soul now resides within her (vol 7). By that same logic, Alucard would automatically be as well if for no other reason than the over 3 million male and female souls within his own form (10).

The most powerful entities in Hellsing are those who ignore or are above gender boundaries. Sir Hellsing, Alucard, Seras, and even Heinkel demonstrate their ability to not only overcome the massacre of the Nazi strike on England, they do so in such a way that they become permanent influences to the next generation. Sir Penwell’s grandson does not take Sir Integra’s swordplay lightly, nor do any of the Judas Iscariot XIII disregard Seras’ abilities based on her physical form (10). England is shown to be a network of interconnecting fellowship against the dark world, rather than a country that stands behind the Hellsing name – and also demonstrates that they are prepared for what is coming in the future.

***

Overview: Such a good series, but I cannot recommend this manga in good faith to any one under the age of 16 if for no other reason than the sexual and violent imagery. “Unnofficial” parts of the Hellsing manga, such as Angel Dust and the short doujin dealing with Pip Bernadette’s grandfather, should be left to the 18+ crowd due to the gratuitous sex scenes. (Hirano did like him some porn, and it shows…)

Definitely a good read for any teenager who says girls cannot be heroes if they’re not physical, too – much of Integra’s best form is when she’s commanding, not fighting with her sword.

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