Whilst unknown to the majority of humankind, there exist creatures of darkness and evil that stalk the night, devouring any humans unfortunate enough to be caught in their grasp. On the side of humanity is Hellsing, an organisation dedicated to eradicating the supernatural forces that threaten the existence of humankind. At the head is Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, who commands a powerful militia and spends every waking hour fighting the undead. However, her vast forces cannot compare to her ultimate weapon, the vampire Alucard, who fights against his own kind as an exterminator. With his newly turned vampire servant Seras Victoria, Alucard must not only battle monsters, but any and all who oppose Hellsing, be they in the guise of good or evil…
The immense popularity of Kouta Hirano’s Hellsing manga (first published in 1997) very quickly led to an anime adaptation in 2001, just four years on, courtesy of Gonzo. Although fairly well regarded, the haste of the adaptation meant it quickly burned through the available source material, and veered off into the much maligned ‘anime original’ territory for much of the runtime. A few years later in 2006, a brand new series would go into production, Hellsing Ultimate, which aimed to be a faithful adaptation of the original manga, which at the time was drawing to a close. Eschewing the TV format for ten one hour long OVAs and releasing over a staggering six years by three different studios, Ultimate’s production certainly broke the mould, but the staggering quality of the results go to show that the lengthy wait was more than worth it.
To be totally upfront, Hellsing Ultimate is one of my all-time favourite anime. Whilst it doesn’t have the emotionally charged character drama of Sound! Euphonium or the genre deconstruction and beautifully abstract animation of Madoka Magica, I haven’t seen another show that manages to match the level of balls to the wall insanity and action seen in Hellsing Ultimate. It’s straight-up pulp, and I don’t mean that as any sort of insult. Ultimate knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t aspire to be anything more, delivering exactly what it says on the tin. At its core, this is a show about fighting Nazi vampires, and if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then it will do nothing to convince you otherwise, but if that does sound even mildly appealing, you will not be disappointed in the slightest. From start to finish, Hellsing Ultimate is an absolute thrill ride. From the mountains of over-the-top graphic violence, to the sheer absurdity found in its premise, this is ultimate popcorn fodder.
This isn’t to say that the self awareness takes away from the stakes, however, as silly as things may seem at times, there are several moments that are more serious, and whilst you’d think this would end up being at odds tonally with everything else, it ends up feeling more coherent than you’d think. It isn’t always perfect, but it works well enough. A big part of why it works is down to the lead, Seras Victoria, who essentially acts as the audience surrogate, as we see her adjust to the new world of vampires and monsters she’s been dragged into. She is an incredibly likeable lead, who you quickly grow an attachment to, as well as being the only character who goes through much of an arc, transforming from meek and mild-mannered to a Nazi-slaying badass over the course of the series, which is yet another aspect that is just immensely satisfying to watch.
Of course, you can’t talk Hellsing without talking about Alucard. Since his manga debut and especially after the 2001 adaptation, Alucard has quickly become a very iconic anti-hero amongst the anime fandom, and watching him here, it isn’t hard to see why. He has such an immense and memorable presence, helped greatly along by the fantastic Crispin Freeman, delivering a career-defining performance as the bloodsucker for a second time. Alucard’s status as one of the most overpowered characters ever is also on full display here, which definitely make for several of the series’ highlights.
Being handled by Madhouse (No Game, No Life, Death Note, One Punch Man), Satelight (Log Horizon, Fairy Tail, Symphogear) and Graphanica (Expelled From Paradise, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, The Heroic Legend of Arslan), you’d think that the animation would be an inconsistent mess, but it honestly looks superb. It’s incredibly stylish, and very high quality, but then again, with a production span of 6+ years, you’d probably expect it, and you can tell from watching it just how much time, effort and money was poured into this production.
I’ve already highlighted the amazing Crispin Freeman, but the rest of the voice cast in Hellsing Ultimate also put in solid performances. A rarity in anime, the voices of the mostly British cast of characters are actually filled by British voice actors! No Princess Principal trainwreck here. Whilst the role of Seras fell to Katherine Gray, an American, both Integra and Alexander Anderson, a Scottish character, are voiced by British voice actors Victoria Harwood and Seven Brand respectively. It’s a nice touch, and fantastic to see, and all those involved deliver fantastic performances. Hayato Matsuo also contributes a fantastic score, combining traditional string arrangements with electronica.
A blood-soaked romp, Hellsing Ultimate is the pinnacle of action anime, providing nonstop thrills from beginning to end, and is well worth sinking your teeth into.