This is my first encounter with the Hellsing franchise, but this is actually its third iteration. It began in manga form, with Kouta Hirano creating the original manga series which debuted in 1997. A television anime series followed in 2001, which used the same characters but strayed from the plot of the manga. Now Satelight have gone back to the original manga to create a series of big-budget OVAs.
The release of this DVD has been somewhat problematic. Manga Entertainment, against their wishes, were forced to shelve their original plans to package two episodes together. This irked many consumers (more information can be found here). So the question is – is it worth it?
The short answer is – Yes. Based on the evidence of this episode, Hellsing Ultimate is a high-quality and highly entertaining anime. It takes the familiar vampire myth and reinvents it with guns, girls, gore, and more. It’s visually arresting and action-packed, it really grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. It finds the right balance between violence and tongue-in-cheek humour. Above all, for me this was entertaining and fun.
Hellsing Ultimate I begins with two scenes which explain the roots of this series. In one scene, a young Integra Hellsing fears for her life, as her uncle pursues her with a gun in his hand. Integra is supposed to ascend to the head of the Hellsing Organisation, which serves to protect Britain from the threat of vampires. Her uncle wants her dead so that he may take control of the organisation. Integra’s saviour arrives in the form of Alucard, a powerful vampire locked deep in the Hellsing family basement. Moving forward 10 years to the present, Integra is both the head of the Hellsing Organisation and the master of Alucard. They are called to the village of Cheddar to combat a vampire outbreak. These opening scenes do a great job of giving the viewer enough back-story to enter the Hellsing world, but also they allow us to get straight into the action.
Alucard takes out the head vampire of the Cheddar attacks, but in doing so he has to shoot a young female police officer. But it’s not the end for young Seras Victoria, as she survives and becomes one of the lead characters. From here the action continues to come thick and fast, and later we meet another important character – Paladin Alexander Anderson, an enemy of the Hellsing Organisation. All the characters are strong and well-defined, with interesting motivations. For example, the lead protagonist Alucard is a powerful supernatural vampire who could do pretty much anything he wants. And yet he sides with humans and takes out other vampires. This makes for an interesting dynamic with both Integra and Seras. I also really like stories with shadowy, dark organisations, and here we’ve got three of them – The Hellsing Organisation, Vatican Section XIII, and the group behind the vampire attacks, unseen here but we know they are villainous and have thick German accents…
The story is not deep though, and in-depth analysis is unnecessary. The storyline is good and I like it, but ultimately it’s straightforward and it’s just a vehicle for the action. Hellsing Ultimate is a fast paced tale which doesn’t dwell for too long on one scene or locale. The plot advances rapidly, there’s not much filler or repetition. Along the way we’re treated to a variety of action-packed fights and shoot-outs. It’s relentlessly gory too. But it’s “cartoon-style” gore, meaning ridiculous amounts of blood spurt out from every gunshot wound, of which there are many. I suppose some people might be put off by that kind of thing, and it does have an 18 certificate. But for me I don’t mind and I think it suits this show. There are a few well-placed moments of humour too, giving a bit of relief from the gore and showing that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. At around 50 minutes in duration, it just flew by, and when the credits roll it feels all too soon. On the plus side, it is certainly worth watching repeatedly.
And what makes it bear repeated viewing is partly the sumptuous visuals. Right from the beginning this is a visual treat. Alucard looks fantastic, with his flamboyant Victorian-style overcoat, fedora and cravat adorning his tall frame. Artistically, thick lines are used to maintain the show’s dark, gothic theme. Dark reds and blacks are used liberally, so that when a bright colour is seen, such as the full moon, it has even more of an impact. The high-quality of the animation is obvious, everything is very slick and flowing. There’s also some variety with close-up shots of characters, particularly Alucard firing his gun, which are done in a deliberately “comic-book” style. CGI is put to good effect , such as for bullet shells and blood.
Another big positive for Hellsing Ultimate is the fantastic English voice acting. The show is set in the UK and therefore the English voice cast speak in appropriate accents. Using a mix of American actors and authentic British accents, each character is pretty much spot-on. Particularly impressive are the voices of Integra and Alucard. Integra is suitably aristocratic, composed, and authoritative. Alucard is similar, but his voice has an “otherworldly” quality to it which fits his character perfectly. I think that this excellent dub adds a lot to the series. For example, there’s a scene early on when a policeman tells his superior that he’s lost radio contact with his officers. On the subtitles, the superior replies with “What?” but on the dub, he replies with a disbelieving “Bollocks!” in a cockney accent. I think it adds a lot of character to the show.
There’s just one 52 minute episode here, but the generous helping of extras go some way to make up for that. Trailers and Japanese TV adverts are here, alongside character art galleries. There’s also a 30 minute interview with English voice director Taliesin Jaffe and the English voice of Alucard, Crispin Freeman. The duo also provide an audio commentary on the main feature. Whether people think this disc offers value for money is a personal decision, but I think it’s unfair to judge something on running time alone. In this instance I think it comes down to quality vs quantity, and this show has quality in spades.
Hellsing Ultimate I is very entertaining spin on the vampire story. It looks fantastic, and it’s got great characters and a decent storyline to boot. I found some of the ingredients that drew me to anime in the first place – it’s cool, it’s got attitude, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. The short duration certainly left me wanting more, because it really is high quality. For fans of this type of anime there can’t be many better shows.