Back in the early noughties, the original Hellsing was a big hit. The 2001 TV series was a lot of fun, and overcame the occasionally wonky animation (from the notoriously occasionally wonky Studio Gonzo) thanks to a killer premise and a sense of cool. Unfortunately it all went a bit wrong at the end when the producers introduced a story not included in the original manga. Readers of the original work knew that Hellsing TV ends before the plot is about to get interesting. This is where the OAV series Hellsing Ultimate comes in. Intended to be a much more faithful adaptation of the manga, Ultimate consists of ten 50-minute episodes that tell the story from beginning to end.
It’s been quite some time since the last episode got a UK release, but luckily this time we get episodes 5-8 in one package. Not to forget that the series is also getting a Blu-ray release for the first time, so it’s like Christmas has come early for Hellsing fans.
For those yet to be introduced to the pleasures of the series, it’s set in a version of the modern day UK where vampires stalk the night. The top secret Hellsing organisation is charged with fighting the vampire menace (along with any other supernatural threats) and protecting the great British public. Their secret weapon in the fight is Alucard, a supremely powerful Vampire who has been indentured to the Hellsing family for generations and now fights those of his own kind.
The early episodes of Ultimate suffered from the same problems as Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood’s beginning – the sense that we are retreading familiar ground. Just as with Brotherhood however, once we got past this and into adapting material that didn’t make it into the original, it started to come into its own. In Hellsing’s case, we’re talking about the notorious Vampire Nazi invasion.
The invasion of our capital by a resurgent undead Nazi army – in blimps no less – is a major part of this new volume. If you want to see crazed vampire nazis going wild in London, then you will not be disappointed, as this is not exactly lacking in that department. Hellsing Ultimate is absolutely full of some of the most memorable imagery you will see anywhere in anime. It’s eye-wateringly violent too – if this had been made before digital animation techniques it would have led to a Japan-wide shortage of red paint. Just like its TV forbearer, the animation quality is not always great and there are times that characters look strange or off-model. Yet the visuals are often so crazily out-there and the action so audacious that it’s still worth getting the Blu-ray to see it.
The words ‘Hellsing’ and ‘subtle’ are never likely to feature in the same sentence unless accompanied by the word ‘not’, but that’s part of it’s appeal. This latest volume only pumps this up, and it’s unquestionably mad as a bag of badgers. The only question when this volume wraps up is how the hell are they going to top this?
The extreme, turned-up-to-eleven nature of Hellsing will be too much for some, but for most Hellsing veterans they know it comes with the territory. Having said that, as a Hellsing fan I was still occasionally surprised at how out-there this got at times. There are also one or two sequences that perhaps step a bit too far into the realm of unpleasantness for pure shock value, which I could have done without.
Aside from the occasionally squiffy nature of the animation (complete with some awful CG) the series has some other problems. Every Hellsing fan knows the best thing about the series is Alucard, one of the single most bad-ass characters in all of anime-dom. The creator has always seemed aware of this fact, and always been smart to avoid overusing him. However it’s gone a bit too far in this part of the story, and until the latter episodes Alucard himself is barely in it. Luckily, he’s not the only character worth rooting for, and characters like Integra and Walter also get their chance to shine. Even Seras Victoria who has often seemed like nothing but a shapely cypher finally gets to come into her own. The dub of Hellsing is often considered one of the best around – and its setting makes it a prime candidate for English language viewing. However in truth I always found the dub to be slightly overrated, with some of the fake accents sounding grating to these British ears. That’s not to say that it’s terrible by any stretch of the imagination, and the team at New Generation pictures have only improved in the decade since the original. The genuine Brits in the roles of Integra and Walter are as good as ever, and Crispin Freeman continues to have a whale of a time as Alucard. Seras’s voice actor was always the weak link, but KT Gray’s English accent has come on leaps and bounds in the intervening years. If you are a big fan of the dub, you’re in luck, as the bulk of the (extensive) extras on disc two relate to this English language version. It’s pretty interesting stuff, but if you’re a dub hater you might feel a bit underserved.
One area where the original definitely had the edge was in the soundtrack. Hellsing TV had one of the funkiest soundtracks this side of Cowboy Bebop, so Ultimate’s music can only disappoint.
Overall this is a good buy for any Hellsing fan. Hellsing has always been flawed but fun and this is no less the case here. You’ll see things on this disc you’ll find nowhere else, and it certainly earns its 18 certificate. One thing’s for sure – you’re very unlikely to be bored.