I always like it when Manga go back to their supernatural horror roots, so the news that they would be releasing Hellsing Ultimate was something that pleased me greatly.
Although a Hellsing series is already
available in the UK from ADV Films, Hellsing Ultimate is a big budget series of
DVD specials which follows the plot of the original Hellsing manga a lot more
closely. This first volume starts with the unfortunate policewoman Seras
Victoria coming face-to-fang with a priest turned vampire in the village of
Cheddar. Her colleagues have all been slaughtered and turned into Ghouls,
zombies that are controlled by the vampire's will. Just when it looks like
Seras will join them a mysterious man in a red coat arrives, and asks her if she
is a virgin. When she confirms that she is, her supposed saviour elects to
shoot through her to kill the vampire! The man in red is Arucard, a
vampire in the employ of the mysterious Hellsing organisation, and he 'saves'
Seras by biting her, and therefore turning her into a vampire too. Her old
life gone, Seras joins Hellsing and is soon employed as an agent alongside her
'master' Arucard. She is having a hard time adjusting to her newfound
vampirism, but there are other problems too. Vampire attacks are up in
England and Hellsing and their commander Sir Integra aren't the only ones who
want to know why. The Vatican have dispatched their own agent, the
fanatical Father Alexander Anderson, and he will kill any vampire who stands in
his way. To him Seras and Arucard are just more vampires to be destroyed,
and his mission is bringing him on a direct collision course with them.
Seras has another problem too, until she drinks Arucard's blood she remains in
his thrall, unable to act on her own. However, with Father Anderson
gunning for Arucard's head, will she have a chance to complete their vampiric
If you've seen the original Hellsing series, you will no doubt be feeling a large sense of deja-vu when you read the above. This is because the story covered in this first Hellsing Ultimate special is the same as that covered by approximately the first four episodes of the series. If you've seen the series, then you are no doubt wondering why you would want to buy the same story again. The answer? Because it's bloody fantastic, that's why. Stripped of the need to adhere to strict TV broadcasting standards and given a higher
budget, Hellsing Ultimate allows the source material to shine in all its gore-soaked glory. The animation and art is hugely improved, that's not to see that Gonzo's original series slouched in this regard, but this is just gorgeous. Every frame oozes sheer gothic menace, with brooding, dark but crystal-clear visuals really brining the story to life like never before. It looks fantastic, and the visual experience is augmented by excellent music and voice acting in both English and Japanese.
The story also moves along a
much faster pace, compressing about the plot of about two hours of
the original series into just 50 minutes. Despite the faster
pace of story it never feels rushed, and the main reason for this is
that it cuts out some of the filler to keeps things moving. A
battle with a pair of Bonnie & Clyde style vampires is shortened to
just a few minutes as opposed to the half-hour episode it originally
took, and more time is taken on the superb action sequences instead.
As I said previously Hellsing Ultimate doesn't have to adhere
to restrictive TV standards, and so the blood flows as liberally as
you'd expect from a series about vampires! It's violent and
action-packed too, but never so much that it overwhelms the plot.
The characters are very good, extremely cool and intriguing,
particularly the enigmatic Integra Hellsing and psychotic Father
Anderson. But what I especially liked is the English voice
acting. Most dubs feature American voices all round, no matter
where they're supposedly set or the nationality of the characters.
In this case however, the accents match the setting and
nationalities. Intera and Seras are English and Anderson is
Irish, and their accents match accordingly. Excellent!
You may wonder why I make a point of this, but the accents really add something to the series. It looks like some research has gone into the creation of the series - the police cars even have the right markings for example - so it's good to see that the English dub keeps this up as it adds to the sense of authenticity. When you couple this with a strong, if occasionally clichéd, story, superb animation and great action it makes for an excellent all-round package. The series is really given the space to breathe in the straight-to-DVD format,
and it's obvious that a lot of care and attention has gone into it. The action is frequent and bloody, Arucard makes for an excellent character and Seras is a little more than just the fish-out-of-water lead that you might expect. It's also good to see that in the middle of all the brooding drama and action the series has a lighter side too with some quite random moments of comedy chipping in every now and again.
Hellsing Ultimate volume 1 is a great release from Manga. It's action packed, brilliantly animated and hugely exciting with plenty of gothic horror and gore. It's the kind of anime that Manga once released for a pastime, only much, much better. It's a shame that Manga were prevented from releasing volume 1 & 2 as a double disc set as they originally planned (it looks like the Japanese licensee put their foot down on that one), but given the cut price and superb quality, it doesn't matter as much as it could have. If you like vampire series, or are a fan of horror then you absolutely have to buy this. It's Hellsing as it should be, staying faithful to the original manga and bringing it to life in superbly effective fashion. Hellsing Ultimate is one of the best action horror titles available in the UK, a must buy!
There's plenty on offer here to compensate for the relatively short running time. As well as the usual trailers there are galleries, Japanese TV adverts for the first four volumes of Hellsing Ultimate and interviews with English dub director Taliesin Jaffe and Arucard's US voice actor Crispin Freeman. There's also a full audio commentary, again with Taliesin Jaffe and Crispin Freeman, plus a clean closing sequence. Not bad!