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Of Monsters and Men

So one of my friends just discovered the morbid, juicy, horrifying joy of Hellsing Ultimate. I had been watching the OVAs on and off for the past few years, but I finally finished all ten of them sometime last year. Due to our recent conversations regarding the infamous Alucard, I felt the urge to pop by for a quick chat about our beloved vampire and what his archetype means to me as a writer.

Now, I’m sure you might be confused as to why I didn’t title this blog post “What Hellsing Ultimate Taught Me About Writing.” That’s mainly because this is less focused on the subject of writing and a little more focused on the general concept of villain protagonists, and bad boys in general. Hellsing Ultimate has certainly done a lot of things for me (scared me shitless, made me laugh my ass off, and prove that there is no going back once you find a vampire who has killed 3.4 million people attractive), but it’s not so much lessons as it is just eye opening introspection.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who aren’t in the know, Hellsing Ultimate is a set of Original Video Animations that are based on the manga entitled Hellsing by Kouta Hirano. It deals with Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, the head of an organization in charge of stopping supernatural threats under orders from the queen in the 1800’s. Integra is the master of Alucard, the No Life King, aka the most powerful vampire who has ever existed and will ever exist. There’s a reason his name is Dracula backwards, people, and you will find out why within the first five minutes of meeting him. I can only recommend the series to those with a strong stomach. The manga was first adapted as a short series with the same title in 2001, but it did deviate from the canon so it was remade with a bigger budget and better visuals in 2006. It is without a doubt the most violent and disturbed anime I’ve watched from start to finish. Granted, there are worse out there (oh God bless you if you’ve watched Berserk or Gantz, ugh), but Hellsing Ultimate is special because it’s so dark and twisted yet compelling and beautiful.

The reason why I’ve chosen Hellsing Ultimate as a subject for a blog post is because I’m beginning to realize why we have so many bad boys in modern day fiction of any media. Now, I use this term incredibly loosely with regards to Alucard. Alucard is a straight up villain, no bones about it. He murders other vampires and supernatural beings not because they hurt the innocent, but because it’s bloody fun to him. He’s a blood knight. He enjoys slaughtering his opponents and drinking their blood and generally being the strongest being in the known universe. By all accounts, we should be rightfully repulsed and terrified by him…and yet, we aren’t (or at least I’m not). Why? Because Alucard has layers. Tons and tons of layers.

For example, Alucard’s relationship to his master, Integra, is by far his biggest saving grace. If this were any other stereotypical mature shonen manga series, Alucard would’ve turned Integra into his slave and had his way with her, but this series was written by someone who has a taste for excellent writing. Alucard is without a doubt attracted to Integra because of her strength and unflinching sense of duty. It’s relatively clear that if she allowed it, he would be her lover, but she doesn’t for several different reasons. Throughout the series, we come to find out that he not only respects Integra, but he has genuine affection for her as a character. The proof comes in the very last scene of the OVA (BIG HONKIN’ SPOILER ALERT) where after a thirty year absence, Alucard returns to his beloved master. The normally stoic Integra tells him that she’s become nothing more than a grandma (slang term, she didn’t have kids, the translation is “obaa-chan”, in case you’re wondering), and how does Alucard respond? “That’s fine.” And then you see the tenderness in his eyes as they exchange the final lines:

Integra: Welcome home, Count.

Alucard: I am home, Countess.

Holy. Crap. I’ve watched Alucard tear hundreds of people apart with his bare hands (and teeth) like they were dinner rolls, and yet this guard dog of infinite wickedness becomes gentle in the presence of his master. Hell, one of the most telling things about Alucard  is that he loves the fact that he’s her servant. He only threatens her once when she was a teenager and they met for the first time. He doesn’t attack her or sexually assault her or anything. That is incredibly interesting to me as both a writer and just a fangirl in general. Mind you, Integra is NOT a vampire. She has no powers. She’s just a tough dame and that was enough to impress the most powerful vampire in the world. You can’t beat that, man. That’s good writing.

Now, let’s swing around to the main course. My attachment to Alucard has crept through in my recent work, as I’ve come to realize while I’m editing the final draft of She Who Fights Monsters. I admit that my main villain, Belial, has more than a little Alucard in him. First of all, Belial’s character model looks like this in my head:



Second of all, Belial has exactly one redeeming quality and that is his strange connection with Jordan. If you’ve read the first novel, you know that he is not a nice man. He’s a murderer and a liar and he has every intention of ruling the earth someday. However, I could have just made him a one note villain (after all, Mulciber is a static villain), but something told me to go a different way with him. I like the idea that not all villains are 100% pure evil with nothing else to them. I like seeing villains who have layers and depth instead of just twirling their mustaches and plotting the demise of the protagonist. I especially like if they can be civil about it, because there’s nothing as amusing as a villain who is polite and well-spoken, but can also tear your head off without blinking. It’s fun to explore the concept of restraint, because if we’re being honest, both Alucard and Belial could have taken what they wanted at a moment’s notice, but that would defeat the purpose of their characters.

Bad boys tend to stick with me more than good guys (for the most part, trust me, I like my nice guys like Hercules, Harry Dresden, Kenshin Himura, Phoebus, and Suou Tamaki) because there’s the constant struggle between being evil and having a less-than-monstrous side to them. It’s exactly why I’ve become a total sucker (haha, I made a PUN) for Integra/Alucard fanart now. I love seeing this gigantic, long-limbed, maniacal bad ass so tenderly wrapped around his master like a big evil puppy. It’s so incredibly ridiculous and yet it works. Alucard, and subsequently Belial, are not Jerks with Hearts of Gold, but they do have a soft spot for exactly one person in their lives, and that’s why I enjoy them. I think that’s why our monster men are the ones we remember more readily than our valiant knights in shining armor.

…*cough* And it doesn’t hurt that Alucard looks like this on a semi-regular basis:


And I hope you were able to get something out of this post other than “OMFG BAD BOYS R SO CUTE.” I swear, I had a point I was making. I just got distracted by the pretty. No, seriously, though, don’t fall in love with Alucard. He’d eat you for breakfast and keep your blood in a wine glass by his coffin at night. That’s not a euphemism either.

I bid thee good day, my darlings. Thanks for reading.


Things The Legend of Korra Taught Me About Writing

Legend of Korra

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of The Legend of Korra being back on the air with new episodes. And, subsequently, my high-pitched fangirl screaming.

So to celebrate my favorite hard-headed Avatar returning to the air waves, here’s some things that LoK has taught me about writing.

1. You can’t please everyone. Well, if you follow me on Tumblr, you know what I’m about to dive into. After the hour long premiere of Korra last Friday, I excitedly hopped onto Tumblr and entered the Legend of Korra tag in order to reblog my guts out in excitement. However, when I arrived, I found that nearly the entire tag was filled to the brim with negative comments. I was stupefied. In my opinion, it was a fair premiere–nothing more, nothing less. I couldn’t understand how it seemed like half the fandom absolutely hated it, and for some pretty petty and perhaps trigger-happy reasons. It kept getting worse the more and more I scrolled down until I finally got pissed off and did something I soon regretted. I made a post saying that the premiere was better than no premiere at all. Albeit, I was being sarcastic. Boy, howdy. The post reached over 1,000 notes within an hour. Half of them agreed with me. The other half vehemently did not. I received at least five angry Anon messages in my Inbox. I lost eight followers overnight. So. What did I learn?

Writing is subjective. If you wanted to get down to bare bones, there probably is not definitive way to decide what is “good” and “bad” writing. All we can do is weigh in and see what the general consensus is. As a result, it’s impossible to write something that makes literally everyone happy. You could ask every single person on this planet what they like and try to incorporate that into the end all, be all novel…and someone would still hate it. Because we’re human. Because we’re flawed.

Did the Korra premiere have issues? Hell yeah. All over the place. But it’s clear–at least to me, if no one else–that the writers/animators/directors actually care about the characters and the storyline and they made the best story they felt they could based on the direction the series is going. In order for Korra not to be a retread of ATLA, they are taking more risks and diverting from the source material. In some ways, it works. In others, it doesn’t. This is something that every writer–myself included–will face whenever they put ink on the paper. Someone’s going to disagree with you. Someone’s going to hate you and your work. But it’s part of the job. We aren’t here to be liked. We’re here to art, and art hard.

2. Pacing can make or break you. Now it’s time to travel back through time to the first season of Korra. I liked the first season. It had some truly gorgeous fight scenes, one hell of a creepy villain, and some excellent characters to explore. However, the one complaint that nearly everyone has brought up is the pacing. Sadly, LoK started out as just a mini-series. They had absolutely no indication or promise that it would make it past twelve episodes. As a result, the writers had to cram an entire season’s worth of story into half a season’s worth of episodes. This meant taking huge shortcuts with plot elements, character interactions, and overall story arcs.

This unfortunate drawback imparted an important detail to me: know the length and duration of your story beforehand, if at all possible. Some writers do this very well. Jim Butcher, for instance, does an excellent job with stringing together elements from the first Harry Dresden novel all the way to the latest one. Some writers struggle with it. The writers of Supernatural, for instance, are great at bringing back certain minor characters, but they massively abuse it by simply bringing them back to bump them off, or completely forgetting a major recurring character entirely because of whatever reason. (*cough* ADAM *cough, hacks up a bloody lung and cries because at least it’s not burning in hell like Adam*)
Pacing is just as important as any other threads that hold a story together. It’s important that things happen naturally, even if their nature is something irregular or bold. The story needs to have plot points that are organic, and the characters’ actions should reflect such accordingly, or you’ll give your audience a massive case of whiplash. You don’t want to do that. Medical bills are expensive.

3. Memorable characters can make your story soar. Okay, so it’s no secret that I like Korra. She’s ballsy and awkward and headstrong. I also like Mako, despite the fact that over half the fandom hates his guts. Whatever. But you know who will always stick out in my mind as a great character? Lin frickin ‘ Bei Fong. This is yet another aspect that the writers of ATLA and LoK are really good at–developing side characters and making you love them. As a reader, you usually expect to like or want to follow your main protagonist, but I’ve noticed that good writers can also write great supportive characters. I’ll give two examples for science reasons: Waldo Butters from the Dresden Files and Jason Schulyer from the Anita Blake novels.


Alright, shut up, it’s time to talk about the Dresden Files. If you’re not reading them, hold out your hand so I can smack the back of it. If you are, please email me with all your feelings about Cold Days. I need to share. Anyway, Waldo Butters is by far one of my favorite characters in the novel series, and that’s saying a lot considering I am 1000% head-over-heels in love with Harry. Butters was introduced in Death Masks and later received supportive character status in Dead Beat. This was easily one of the best decisions Butcher made. He is a wonderful offbeat character who started out as an awkward dorky guy who didn’t have much courage, and then turned into this hilarious, quirky friend of Harry’s. There is nothing I love more than to trip over a character and fall in love with them like a cheesy rom-com.


Jason Schulyer, however, won me over basically the first time he was introduced in The Lunatic Cafe. I mean, let me describe his character: he’s a male stripper whose stage name is Ripley (yes, as in Ripley from the Alien movies), he’s a werewolf who spends his nights feeding his blood to his vampire master, he’s bisexual, and he’s a total lecherous pervert with a noble streak. I mean, come on. Doesn’t he sound like he should be the actual protagonist of the novel series? The point I want to make about Jason is that he is so entertaining that I actually kept reading the Anita Blake novels specifically for him after the series went in the crapper after the infamous Narcissus in Chains. It is completely absurd that I liked him so much that I would put up with the purple prose, horrible sex scenes, misogyny, and general unpleasantness that is Cerulean Sins and Blood Noir, but it still happened anyway.


To circle back around to my point, The Legend of Korra did exactly that–it gave me an extra reason to tune back into the story for season two. Anytime a reader finds more help to love your series, that’s an achievement. For example, my editor told me that a minor character from The Black Parade made her laugh so hard that she hopes he reappears someday. I had no intention of ever bringing him back, as he was just a one-off villain, but thanks to her, he might show his face again. Details like a well-rounded cast of characters can be that boost to an author’s reputation that they never knew they needed.

Well, I think I’ve gushed enough. If you’re curious, The Legend of Korra premieres Fridays at 7:00pm EST on Nickelodeon. Join us. WE ARE LEGION.

*waves hands, whispers* Water tribe.