Review: "Hellsing Ultimate" is Truly Ultimate
Lurking in the dark of night are fiends that would love to suck the very blood from your veins: vampires! Rising out of the past in an effort to bring upon their glorious future: nazis! The one warrior who can save Queen and Country from such unending foes: Alucard, and the Hellsing Organization! Hellsing Ultimate takes a return trip to one of the most-lauded vampire tales from the latter part of the 20th century, keeping things closer to the comic book roots than previously told. FUNimation has salvaged the series from the annals of abandoned anime authorities, but does Alucard still have a bite in a world where there’s more vampires walking around in the day than the vaunted Daywalker, and zombies have risen as the never-ending threat to our post-apocalyptic futures? Is the title appropriate for this series, and is it really Hellsing Ultimate?
To the unininitiated, Hellsing Ultimate was a series that was started by Geneon Universal, but given both the large gap between stories (almost a half-year per release, with 10 episodes releasing from 2006 to 2012) and the effective dissolution of Geneon as an animation-distributing company, the series has migrated from Geneon to FUNimation. This review covers two different releases: episodes 1-4 are released on their own in one set, while episodes 5-8 are released with a box to fit the earlier ones. Episodes 9 and 10 have not been released in America yet. Each episode is included in these FUNimation releases in both DVD and Blu-ray format.
The Holy Trinity, if you will, of our leads in the series are Alucard, Integra, and Seras. Each character offers up a different mindset and concept of attitudes going into this series. Seras is the newbie, the viewer-relatable introduction to the world that also is the show’s sole source of humor; many of her scenes are the ones that lend themselves to gags or inappropriate posing, although thankfully Seras doesn’t turn into fanservice-bait as much as she could have. Integra, the strong female lead largely devoid of personality, is the intimidation, the calm storm, and the series’ possibly only positive depiction of a person of any color other than “pale because vampire and/or British.” Alucard, at best, can be described as a Rob Liefeld-ian look into the excess of the ‘90s. While not pouched and incredibly muscular (in fact, Alucard is tall and lean), his attacks, attitude, and ambiance give off an “extreme” vibe from the late 1990s in which the franchise was birthed. In 1997, it may have been stylistically amazing, but in 2013, it’s cartoonishly over-the-top.
The story, reportedly, follows the original comic book series closer than the previous animated adaptation, and starts not long before the human police officer Seras is turned into a vampire by Alucard. She then joins Alucard and Integra as part of the Hellsing Organization, tasked with facing off against an upstart branch of Nazis attempting to rule the world via vampire legions. It’s not the most original plot, and much of story is glammed up with religious designs and dialogue like crystals on a phone case; decorative and pretty to the uniformed, but it doesn’t exactly add up to much (contemporary franchise-currently-remaking-itself-over-multiple-years Evangelion also falls victim to this concept). One fault of this iteration of the franchise is that there’s such a large gap between episodes and releases, it could be hard to keep the plot relevant or exciting; marathoning the eight episodes released mitigates this, but reveals a completely different problem; there’s no release (nor even word of) for episodes nine and ten in America, which may ultimately conclude the plot.
How does the plot actually carry itself? It’s disjointed and multi-faced; on one hand, you may have Integra smoking a cigar and belting orders and threats to allies and enemies with vaguely-political posturing that may or may not save the world in time for tea and crumpets. On the other hand, Seras may awkwardly lead a gaggle of Japanese tourists through a European museum with factoids as her only armaments in a desperate attempt to prevent, or at least stall, a destructive fight that would kill all in the area. On a third, ephemeral hand, you have Alucard, with all the characterizations of a Batman that’s gone too far off the deep end, pontificating and threatening with all the ferocity of a Frank Miller Batman with a bit of insanity from Anything Else Frank Miller Has Done. All of the characters offer up a certain aspect of humanity — the political savvy, the ferocious grandstanding, and the naivete and child-like innocence — but none offer a true combo, and thus a real person. Seras may get close on a superficial level, being altogether scared and brave yet knowing when to fight, but any sort of theatrical evolution of the character is negated because, when she does step up for battle, half the time it’s a biological “bloodlust” effect that comes from her new vampire-ness (or from doing the right combination once your Super bar is filled). It’s manufactured, hollow, and empty.
The series does has it’s charms in some of this; it’s the Baconator with fresh out of the fryer French fries and a Frosty from Wendy’s. The series is unhealthy, unimaginative, exploitative, and nothing you’ve not seen before, but it comes together in a combination that works to fulfill all your guilty pleasures. When the anime market is all-too consumed with “cute-or-sexy girls doing cute-or-sexy things” on one side and “500+ episodes of the same guys fighting different villains” on the other, it is nice to see a series that has an unattractive male lead, a female lead that’s all-business, and a touchstone twenty-something that is perfectly capable of remaining in her uniform and not popping the top three buttons off.
Extras are incredibly dense, either because Geneon put extra care in the release or there’s just more space to fill on Blu-ray, but it’s an impressive organization of items. Once you dig into the menus (and their horribly annoying background music), you’ll find commentaries on each episode. One episode having commentary is nice enough, but roughly seven hours of discussion is amazing for any Japanese animation release. There are also two convention panels: one from Anime Vegas 2010 and another from Anime Expo 2007, along with a video of the “Hellsing Mansion” seen at Anime Expo. Additional “made for America” features all focus on the English script writers, producers, and voice actors, including five interview featurettes, a “Participating in a Legend” featurette, the “Hellsing Cast Round Table Discussion”, and a “Fans Questions Answered.” In other features from Japanese sources, we have promotional videos, textless songs, a karaoke, textless endings, and Japanese TV commercials. US trailers are standard issue as well. And while we don’t get the two episodes that haven’t been released in America, there is the first part of “The Dawn” trilogy of short episodes, subtitled but not dubbed.
For sheer length, the two Hellsing Ultimate volumes combine to nearly a dozen hours of special features, which is incredibly grand for an animated series. While a few of the anecdotes revealed will be repeated once or twice, it’s all either entertaining, unique, or just commendable for being included in a world where most animated releases from Japan are bulk-packaged and feature only textless songs or trailers.
For fans of Hellsing, this is a must-buy. For animation fans that like a bit of horror or vampirisim (or the horror and vampire fans who like animation), this is definitely worth checking out. While it’s a bit unfinished (and it’s not hard to imagine another volume coming out with the last two episodes), what’s presented here are some of the most sincerely-attempted discs for animation enthusiasts. Many prime-time TV series in America don’t get the level of treatment that Hellsing Ultimate does.