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Friday, July 09, 2010

Last Caress – Hellsing Volume #10 Review

A year-and-a-half can build mighty powerful expectations, the types of impossible hopes and desires even the most talented individual could never completely fulfill. Kohta Hirano is a very fine manga-ka. He has an artistic style that slams you in the face like a freight train and a willingness (or maybe lack of restraint) to lose himself in absurdity for the sake of telling an entertaining tale. But even with his considerable talent, Mr. Hirano is still more the court jester than master storyteller, one possibly hamstrung by a medium demanding lighting-fast output and oftentimes immediate positive feedback.

After six-and-a-half long years, rivers of blood, and mountains of corpses, did Hirano’s take on the now-worn vampire genre go peacefully to its grave, or did the beast sink into the damp earth clawing and screaming at the frosty night? Hit the jump to read more.

In the intervening period between Hellsing Volume #9 and this climatic Volume #10, I chose to avoid any mention of the ending, wanting instead to go into this book a blank slate, looking for a pure reading experience. With this in mind, Hellsing Volume #10, taken alone, presents a decidedly rushed summation of the decisive battle between the Hellsing organization’s remnants and Millennium’s freakish super monsters and hoard of nazi-vampiric ghouls. It’s not a particularly satisfying read, nor does it deliver any especially memorable moments.

To be fair, one should remember manga is made for Japanese audiences who can follow a series, before ever compiled into tankoubon, through fairly regular magazine installments—they receive a more natural exposure to a story’s ebb and flow than U.S. consumers with our irregularly released graphic novels.

As a whole, Hellsing has always moved at an electric pace, speeding through material and storylines, while abandoning much attempt at denouement. Still, it should be considered, regardless of how events developed, the series is essentially relating a single encapsulated narrative over ten distinct volumes. The first two books are largely autonomous, introducing characters and establishing concepts, but by the third and fourth we’re already delving into issues involving the Millennium group; and volume five sparks the remaining events that carry us through the rest of the series.

Possibly due to manga’s unique publishing nature, and stresses placed on creators to meet insane deadlines, there often seems to be a tendency of titles evolving into their stories, instead of having well-planned dramatic arcs. In the case of Hellsing, the resulting product has been somewhat lopsided. Before ever reaching these closing chapters, four books have been entirely devoted to Millennium’s invasion of London and the ensuing battle. That’s a ton of pages detailing scant else besides carnage and death, all leading into this last tome tasked with an unenviable job of resolving the remaining mess. Wrangling the existing plot together and creating a smooth resolution isn’t helped, either, when the three main protagonists are all presented in their own self-contained vignettes.

Volume #10 essentially stitches together the final throws of each character’s ordeal: Alucard faces-off against the traitorous Walter, Seras struggles to overcome the superior fighting prowess of a Nazi werewolf, and Integra pushes towards her fated confrontation with the Major. Even though this trio may share a similar goal, the lack of cohesion about their movements leaves one with the impression of jumping between three separate stories.

Further complicating matters is the climax of their individual trials came in the preceding book—Volume #10 is merely on clean-up duty. Alucard (as has been his routine throughout the manga) was going easy on the physically youthful butler—and besides, his true rival was the now-defeated Alexander Anderson, taking a good deal of wind out of this battle from the start; Seras had already found the inner resolve to vanquish her beastly opponent; and there was never any doubt who would win in a physical confrontation between Integra and the Major, it was only a matter of the steely heroine remaining alive long enough mount her attack on the bloated warmonger’s zeppelin. Much as compiling these portions is an obvious necessity, when they comprise the entire contents of a terminal text, what ultimately exists is far from a compelling read.

There is a slight unexpected twist, involving the crimson-clad bloodsucker and a certain Nazi catboy, but the turn is employed in such a forced manner and so late in the proceedings it provides little impact on the occult war that has decimated the misty British city. Sadly, this minor episode seems to exist purely as an excuse to add a bit more meat to the volume’s flagging epilogue, which shoots us about two decades into a future where Millennium’s chaos has been cleansed and Hellsing’s ranks have mostly been restocked.

I do appreciate Hirano not ending things on a dour note, an affliction I find unduly plagues too many a manga and anime. Hellsing isn’t meant to be highbrow stuff, and while one can legitimately question whether the battle in London should have raged across such a vast quantity of pages, the series overall has been just as good a piece of horror business as anything else you’ll find throughout the comic book medium. It’s just a shame the chapters in these last few volumes couldn’t have found themselves with a more judicious ordering, one that maintained a sense of dramatic tension and delivered a more dynamic finale.


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