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Hellsing: It’s Basically Gun Porn

Or maybe “violence porn” would be more apt…  Let me back up.


I’m not what you would call an anime buff by any stretch of the imagination.  I think Cowboy Bebop is the shit because, well, come on, but beyond that it’s somewhat rare that an anime (or by extension manga) series tickles my fancy.  Hellsing is one of those rare specimens, and I was idly wondering the other day just why that is.  You see, the series doesn’t offer great writing or much in the way of plot originality (Nazi vampires.  I think that speaks for itself).  In fact, when you boil it down it’s not much more than the DBZ formula slapped onto a Christian occult mythos.  With guns.  Its characters often smack of European stereotypes, and while it’s no Twilight (thank god), it does play it fast and loose with some of the vampire “canon”.

Of course, the series has its virtues as well: Hirano’s art style is fantastic, Crispin Freeman’s voice talents are superb, and the music in the original anime series is all kinds of sweet.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.  I’m talking about the “guilty” in “guilty pleasure” – the violence.  Now, lots of action-oriented entertainment has gratuitous violence, but Hellsing doesn’t just stylize or glorify its killing – it unabashedly fetishizes it.  Characters aren’t merely unaffected by their rampant bloodshed, rather they revel in it.  Alucard and the Major regularly soliloquize about war and killing like they’re big ice cream sundaes on a hot day, the pre-battle talk between Alucard and Anderson is more like foreplay than posturing (and check out those rictus grins of pleasure – creepy), and everyone has a gun the size of an aircraft carrier.*  The only other things I’ve seen come close to such prurient violence are certain scenes in The Boondock Saints and Shoot ‘Em Up, and even then it’s close but no cigar.

Here’s an example from the end of the third OVA (and it’s worth watching for the full effect):

Integra: What did you do to that SWAT team?
Alucard: I killed them.  [Integra gasps]  I slaughtered them like cattle.  There’s not one left standing.  Now, all that I require is your order, Sir Integra.  I believe the senior officials of the local police are under Millenium’s control.  These people who stand against me may be innocent humans, but I will kill them.  [with rising fervor]  I’m ready to strike them down without a moment’s hesitation, or the slightest hint of regret!  I can do this for you.  I’m a monster and I will do what needs to be done.  But what will you do, Sir Integra?  My guns are prepared for battle, my sights are trained, my magazine is fully loaded, I’ve pulled the slide and removed the safety, everything is ready and waiting!  Still, you must be the one to pull the trigger.  So what will you do?  I’m waiting for orders, my master….
Integra: [lights cigar** and pauses for a moment]  Don’t you dare question my resolve!  I’ve already given you your marching orders, soldier – you will search and destroy, search and destroy!  [Walter gives a creepy little smile]  Any resistance you encounter is to be crushed!  Hellsing does not run from our enemies!  Kill them all!  I order you to leave nothing but bloody stains in your wake!  [upon finishing her outburst, she stands over her desk panting]
Alucard: [laughter]  The final veil removed!  This is excellent news indeed.  You still know how to inspire my passion, Integra.

Yeah.  I didn’t make any of that up.  Once I began to really pay attention to this sexualization of violence, I found it really hard to put out of my mind, and started wondering just what it says about me that I enjoy a series that exhibits such deviance.  (I’ve yet to come up with a satisfactory answer.)

One thing that saves Hellsing, though, is the ridiculousness with which this is all carried out.  You get the feeling that the creators’ tongues are planted firmly in their cheeks when the Vatican’s Jolly Green Giant of a madman is introduced as a villain, or when the Napoleonic leader of Millenium invades London by flippin’ zeppelin.  Sure, it’s violence taken to an absurd extreme, but there’s a strange playfulness that serves to balance that out.  I don’t want to get into an argument about the effects of violence in media, but I think the creators’ realized that there really isn’t any harm, so long as it’s all in fun.

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* There’s also the whole recurring bit where Alucard allows himself to be shot up / penetrated before going on his killing spree, and his guttural sounds during said massacre, but you get the idea.

** I could make a Freudian comment here, but it’s just too much.  Seriously, this scene is just too rife with weird sexual imagery and language to go into here.

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