Art and Soul 4: Anglican Vampires, Oh My!

The anime, religion, and ethics audio column returns after a long hiatus! This time, I’ll be tackling the burning question: why is the Hellsing Organization so insistently Anglican? Does it have anything to do with the real Church of England? Or is it all part of an elaborate Japanese fantasy?

This is not a very serious article. Please don’t put me on a heresy trial!

Full transcript follows after the cutaway.

Art and Soul 4: Anglican Vampires, Oh My!

I have to confess: no piece of media, lesson in church history, or theological tome has made me feel prouder to be Protestant lately than the television series Hellsing. Sir Integra Hellsing, in her devotion to God, Queen, and Country, is a fine example of Anglican Protestantism that would do Cranmer and Richard Hooker proud. Anglican and Episcopalian clergy are frequently stereotyped as being effete, elite liberal wimps. But Hellsing has the awesomest vampire in existence on their side (mostly), Alucard. He alone, like James Bond for Britain in general, has raised the standard of Anglican masculinity for all time.

What’s so funny about all this, of course, is how utterly fantastical this is compared to the reality of Britain and of the Church of England in particular.

Only 1% of Britons actually attend a Church of England service each Sunday, and that number is decreasing. Despite having a brilliant, respected theologian as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, he seems unable to contain the breakup of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Anglican and American Episcopal churches are both in steep numerical decline, with the majority of congregants being senior citizens. Many of its beautiful churches in both the US and Britain are emptying and being sold or no longer being used as houses of worship.

The sheer fanatic devotion to Anglicanism displayed by Sir Integra is also out of step with most of Anglican history. It was a church, after all, founded to allow a king to have a divorce, and by the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Anglican theology had decided to take a “middle road”–via media—clumsily marrying the best of Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism. It is, in short, a church that was founded on political and theological compromise. Its unity ultimately would have to come from something other than theology, despite the best efforts of the Puritans and Bloody Queen Mary to swing the church to Calvinism and Catholicism respectively. Ultimately, the Church became part of an expression of Englishness more than anything else. It’s not an accident that Sir Integra ties the Throne, Church, and Country together, and its also not an accident that she bristles so strongly at possible interference with the Vatican, insisting: “This is a Protestant nation, and the Vatican has no right to interfere here!” Memories of the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, and Bloody Mary no doubt floated in her mind.

My Protestant blood soared at that moment. You tell those papists to shove it, Integra! And to this day, there is still some residual nationalist anti-Catholicism within British institutions. Tony Blair did not officially convert to his wife’s Catholicism until he left his Prime Minister post, for instance. The monarch is still explicitly forbidden to be Catholic, as he or she is considered the head of the Anglican Church and “defender of the faith.” Guy Fawkes Day celebrates the execution of a Catholic conspirator who wanted to blow up Parliament. So it’s probably best to see Integra’s feeling as nationalistic rather than religious, though the Vatican in Hellsing acts much more like the old Protestant conspiracies about scheming Jesuits threatening to undermine all of society for the Pope.

Which leads to a final interesting question: why would the traditionally non-Christian Japanese be so interested in making sure the Hellsing Organization is Anglican? I heard an interesting interview on the Anime World Order Podcast with Helen McCarthy, a well-known anime scholar from Britain. She opined that the Japanese have sometimes seen Britain as a fairy-tale version of itself, and specifically mentioned Hellsing as an example of this phenomenon. The parts that really fascinate the Japanese are the bits about the aristocracy, castles, the monarchy, knights, and the like. Code Geass can even be seen as a modified version of this fascination, though less flattering overtones: these elements are now used to oppress Japan. McCarthy pointed out that Japan and Britain have many similarities: they are both highly developed islands competing with large mainland rivals, with strong national identities forged from very early on. Seen from that perspective, Hellsing can be taken not just as a love song to British life but to the peculiarly developed sense of Japaneseness as well. So maybe the point isn’t that Alucard and the Hellsing Organization are Christian, but that they, more than anything else, know who they are and what they stand for—the traditional symbols of British identity, read by the original audience perhaps as Japanese identity.

Or, perhaps, it was just a cool backdrop on which to set really awesome vampire battles and to have the Tower of London blowing up. Who knows. I’ll just say this: I’d be part of a denomination with Alucard any day.

One thought on “Art and Soul 4: Anglican Vampires, Oh My!”

  1. The first time I watched Hellsing I was heartily amused by the way the the Organisation and Section XIII seemed to spend more time fighting each other than fighting vampires. It was oddly true to life, despite the general lack of vampires and insane, regenerating priests in the real world.

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