- STRIKE WITCHES *** KING OF THORN *** STEINS GATE *** GA-REI-ZERO *** DEADMAN WONDERLAND
- TENCHI UNIVERSE *** ONE PIECE
HELLSING ULTIMATE has been tackled once before on AV - - sort of. It seems our fearless editor gave up on this one about 5 minutes in, much to the annoyance of the talkback crowd that came to hear his opinion. Well, fear not, dear readers! The opportunity to review HELLSING ULTIMATE has been passed to a viewer much more accepting of Kouta Hirano’s ever-popular backwards vampire lord, Alucard. Namely, me!
In concept, HELLSING ULTIMATE is one of the easier series I’ve had to sum up. As if Bram Stoker had created Showtime’s DEXTER, HELLSING ULTIMATE is about a righteous vampire who fights on the side of good, hunting down those lesser blood-sucking ghouls who have chosen to suit up for Team Evil. Of course, there is much, much more to it than that, but you get the jist.
Published as a manga beginning in the late 90's, HELLSING first made its way into my life by way of a thirteen episode animated series, adapted for TV in 2001 (which I was a big, big fan of at the time). However, somewhere around the 8th or 9th episode, they ran out of manga to adapt, and the show’s writers started to craft their own original story which, sadly, couldn’t hold a flame to the prior episodes. The result was a handful of final episodes that wound down in a profoundly disappointing ending, never to be followed up with a second season.
Then, about five years later, something glorious happened.
Despite the less-than-stellar results of the original adaptation attempt, HELLSING (the manga) was still gaining in popularity, and the powers-that-be decided they warranted another series. However, they wouldn’t make the same mistakes twice. They vowed to adhere more directly to the source material, and wouldn’t rush through the production in some crass attempt to cash in as quickly as possible (as had clearly happened the first time around). Thus, HELLSING ULTIMATE was born, with subsequent volumes to be released on a semi-yearly basis.
So, with that history lesson complete, how is the new and improved HELLSING ULTIMATE? Pretty damn good! Not quite the home run this particular fan had hoped for, but definitely worth a spin for anyone into extreme violence, the occult or well-dressed anti-heroes.
And for a show that averages a blood spurt every ten seconds or so, there are a lot of really clever things happening at any given moment in HELLSING ULTIMATE.
Beyond being a vampire-destroying vampire, Alucard is a character with a rich and rewarding backstory that smartly pulls from established historical lore; both well-known and more obscure. Having lost a battle to Van Helsing himself, Alucard now serves his debt as member and protector of Hellsing, a secret organization under the Church of England’s command. Tasked with protecting the UK from various evil opponents, Alucard and his comrades have no shortage of ghouls, demons, and beady-eyed undead walkers to dismember in the name of the Queen.
And that’s to say nothing of that darned Catholic Church, who see Alucard as a satanic abomination to be eradicated by their own shadowy organization, Iscariot, represented by an insane, genetically-enhanced, blade-wielding priest named Father Alexander Anderson. There is also a zeppelin full of super-Nazis who will need tending to - - though that storyline really picks up in the later volumes of the show.
In terms of its production, there is just as much to wrap your brain around as there is within the narrative. While Hirano’s settings and props tend toward straight realism, the characters are anatomically abstract, with eyes prone to quadrupling in size and impossibly long limbs that swing like those of marionettes. Knives, silver bullets, and gloved fists (almost everyone wears gloves - - classy, right?) punch absurdly huge holes in their victims, and blood sprays as if from pressurized soda cans again and again (and again and again and again).
There is even a bit of 3D animation mixed in, which is noticeable but never upsetting, and almost always reserved for appropriately-solid objects such as weapons or vehicles. All-in-all, it’s a great looking show that sits well on my shelf among the dark and disturbing works of Yoshiaki Kawajiri, another vampire-obsessed animator who was an undeniable influence here.
It’s hard to imagine having seen HELLSING ULTIMATE without ever seeing the first HELLSING animated series, so I can’t avoid but compare the two. Though the first series’ story bottomed out, it had style for days, and proved more difficult of an act to follow than I would’ve predicted. While HELLSING ULTIMATE is no slouch when it comes to making a strong impression, there is one area where it sadly never lifted itself over the bar set by its predecessor, and that’s the score.
Where the first adaptation lacked the humor and subtlety of the second, it had some of the best musical backing I can think of in anime, a wonderfully unholy mixture of acid jazz, rock & roll, and classical chamber music. HELLSING ULTIMATE, sadly, does not have that, or anything even remotely close to it. What it has, instead, is a generic orchestral score that might seem just fine if you didn’t know how good it ought to be.
While this review is a largely positive one, it’s important to note that it only pertains to the first (and mostly Nazi-free) box set containing Volumes I-IV. From Volume V onward... well, you’ll have to come back for my next review to hear what I think of that.
Alexei Bochenek is a lifelong tech nerd and film buff based in Los Angeles. He writes for various online publications and edits the Los Angeles events website LALookout.com. Follow his Twitter: @alexeigb.