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Hellsing Ultimate DVD/Blu-ray Set 1 Anime Review

16 min read

Vampires, Nazi’s, the Catholic Church and a police girl. A truly strange mix that produces fantastic results.

What They Say:
The rogue vampire Alucard is the Hellsing Organization’s deadliest instrument in its mission to protect the British Empire from satanic ghouls and Nazi freaks. He is not alone in his assault on the occult; the master has a servant. Policewoman Seras Victoria accepted Alucard’s gift of dark salvation after falling in the line of duty, and now the remnants of her human soul struggle against her growing vampire urges. Together, they haunt the shadows as a sinister force of good – and tonight the foggy streets of England shall flow with the blood of their evil prey.

Contains OVA episodes 1-4.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as we get a good set of mixes here. While FUNimation typically uses Dolby TrueHD, this release gives us a pair of DTS-HD Ma 5.1 tracks which makes some sense since the original DVD releases from Geneon were big on DTS for the format. The show works the mixes pretty well as there’s a lot of good surround sound to be had here for both the big action sequences but also the small subtle ambient sounds and the music presentation. There’s a good bit of action in the show and the majority of it is definitely forward soundstage base mix but it provides plenty of good moments throughout that enhances it. When it goes big, it definitely fits the bill of what you want from this series. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally released from 2006 to 2008, this OVA series gives us the first four episodes of the show in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The release puts all four on one disc while putting all the non-commentary extras on the second disc. The show is in its native HD form and overall it looks very good here. The series uses a lot of dark colors and plenty of black space with what it has, as well as a good deal of red, all of which can be problematic at times. The transfer captures the disturbing look of the show very well while, especially with all the blacks that it has. There’s a rich flow to the animation as the whole point of the series was to go big with the visuals and getting in high definition brings it to life all the more. The previous DVD edition definitely had a lot going for it, but having it all here on one disc in this format definitely shows the attention to detail and quality that the show wanted to bring out.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds all five of the discs with the hinges inside as there are three DVDs inside and two Blu-ray’s. The front cover is solid as is uses the dark, murky and disturbing looking image of Arucard twisting and turning with his cloak around him. It’s not hugely defined but it’s the kind of cover that works for a title called Hellsing. The logo is the standard piece that fits just right. The back cover is a difficult piece unfortunately since it goes with an all black background with gray text that covers seventy-five percent of it. And it’s small text that’s impossible to read unless you’re in a brightly lit space, especially with the bits of red text as well. The shots from the show are decent but almost too murky, but they provide the only bit of color other than the red and blue from the technical grid. Which is just as hard to read with the same kind of gray text on black. The discs features are listed the same way when it comes to the extras, so it’s just not a good, clean read. The technical information is all accurate though. While there’s no inserts with this release, we do get artwork on the reverse side as it uses the familiar pieces with the left side showing off an active Seras while the other gives us a pretty grim looking Integra.

Menu:
The menu design for the release is painfully simple when you get down to it as the menu as a whole is just a full screen series of big action clips with a heartbeat kind of thumping music to it that ramps up from time to time. The navigation itself is along the bottom area and doubles as the pop-up menu where it’s just the text of the navigation itself with a cross in the middle of the four selections. It’s small, simple ande effective and is done in red to try and keep it “in theme” but just generally feels like it wasn’t even phoned in but rather sent in a text. It gets the job done but you have to feel that something like this title deserved a little more effort. Everything loads quickly and is effective in getting it set up so you can get to the good stuff.

Extras:
The extras on the first volume consist of four episode length commentary tracks by the production team that goes into how it was all put together. The show also includes a second disc of extras for the Blu-ray side so that everything else is in one place and not impacting the space available for the main show itself. There’s a good chunk of material here with the basics, such as the original commercials, the clean songs from the show and the original promotional videos. There’s some variety to it all and it does add up. The original ending for the fourth episode is included here as well as a nearly seven minute karaoke version of the speech from the fourth episode, something that I still think should be part of a contest of sorts at conventions.

With th show being very, very popular in its initial release, we get an extended series of pieces from Anime Expo 2007 with the cast panel talking about the show that runs for forty-two minutes and is just a lot of a fun. We also get a two minute piece showing off the booth from that Geneon had at the con of the mansion. There’s also an extensive series of interviews that were done for the original limited edition releases from Geneon that has the ADR director, Taliesen Jaffe talking with different voice actors for the series .They vary in length but generally hit closer to thirty minutes each than not and make for a lot of fun to watch.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the more popular manga series that stood out like few others, Hellsing definitely captured attention and imagination. Enough so that it got a TV series produced that wasn’t able to do what it needed to because of the constraints of the format and broadcast needs. So with that in mind, a few years after it finished and as the author worked closer towards finishing his series, the decision to bring it out as an OVA series that adapted it very, very faithfully took shape. And the payoff is definitely there as the show needed to be freed of the constraints of pacing and broadcast restrictions in order to truly shine. The end result is Hellsing Ultimate, which unfortunately ended up in limbo for several years as the original distributor, Geneon, closed up shop.

Right from the get go, with the episodes clocking in with an average of fifty minutes, it captures a lot of what makes the manga so exciting. Hellsing’s story revolves around an age old war of vampires, religion and something more sinister that’s about to be revealed in the next volume. On one side, there is the Hellsing Foundation, the group started centuries ago that has in its possession the old and powerful vampire Arucard. Under the leadership of Integra Hellsing, she’s able to control Arucard to do her bidding, something he revels in and enjoys. The two have a very amusing relationship where you can almost imagine each is ready to rip each others heads off but there’s an immense respect mixed into it as well. On the other side, you have the Church and those within it that have their own agendas for purifying the world and so forth.

Generally, there is little interaction between the Hellsing side and the Church as there are clear lines where one will not go. But England is finding itself riddled with vampires and they’re making a strong push for power. There’s an engaging sequence of events where Arucard arrives to deal with a gaggle of them led by a preacher who had just decimated a police division and he gets to show off his powers to them. But this event also brings into Alucards view a young police girl named Seras Victoria who barely survives the event and he decides to gift her the power of a draculina. She now finds herself deep inside this bigger war that nobody knew about but in changed form. She’s more violent, she has the growing powers of a vampire, and she’s finding new needs affecting her. Her introduction to all of this is rather sparse and before she knows it she’s off hunting with Arucard using a massive cannon rifle.

Naturally, Hellsing and the Church will collide but this is all just prelude to what’s to come. The arrival of Anderson and the subsequent fight, drawn out as it is, is beautifully animated and wonderfully violent. The animation looks much closer to what I envisioned it as after reading the manga for the first time. There is little real comparison between this and the original TV series which is almost worth just forgetting about at this point. The OVA series is able to go where the TV couldn’t and this is very obvious in the opening episode here. The differences are varied since the TV series did do a lot of things right but this release just feels like it’s been unshackled and can tell it properly. One of the best differences at least early on is that Seras Victoria doesn’t feel like a whiny crybaby of a girl that was scared all of the time. She’s a far different character in here once she turns. The TV series had me disliking her but the further I got in the manga the more she became my favorite character.

With a strong start, Hellsing Ultimate moves quickly to more varied settings, with the second episode providing a simple yet intriguing lead-in with Arucard’s past and the end credits scroll which has stills dealing with the epilogue, the majority of this OVA deals with a pitched battle within the Hellsing headquarters. A roundtable meeting has been called by Integra as she’s intent on going over the changes that she’s been seeing in the ghouls that were documented in the first episode. The changes in how the ghouls have been acting and being created is something that represents a significant change in what’s been going on and there needs to be some sort of agreement about how to proceed.

As this meeting is going on in the third floor conference room, Seras is finding her life becoming difficult to adapt to. Due to her continued problem of not drinking blood, Arucard has had Walter remove her bed and put a proper coffin in there. Without a proper day’s sleep within a coffin that contains earth from her birthplace, she’ll simply get weaker and weaker. The whole thing is just making her on edge. Walter doesn’t help much with the way he handles it nor in the way he’s dealing in the differences between her and Arucard. The introduction of their new weapons is priceless. From Arucard’s near-orgasm over his new custom weapon to Seras’ overreaction to the cannon she now has, it’s simply so over the top but kept within a strange form of reality that just thinking about it brings a smile to my face.

This is all just icing on the cake that is this second episode however. The bulk of it revolves around the arrival of a pair of brothers named Jan and Luke Valentine. Working for a mysterious organization that gets slightly revealed towards the end, the duo has come to Hellsing headquarters to cause nothing but chaos and destruction. Jan is the typical punk archetype who revels in bloodshed and violence. His using the ghouls to achieve his goal of completely destroying Integra gives him a power trip. Between his vulgar styling and the simple brutality of his actions, Jan showcases some fascinating destructive power in raw unmanaged form.

To provide balance to Jan, you have his brother Luke. Luke Valentine is the epitome of the cool, calm and collected type. With his long blonde hair and the pure white suit that he wears, you know that he’s simply evil incarnate. Whereas Jan is wild and all over the place, Luke provides a more measured approach in how he deals with his enemies. The people he cuts down is in its own way more brutal than how Jan simply tears them apart. Both of them provide an immense amount of bloodshed but Luke has the larger goal of wanting to take down the legend that is Arucard. The whispers and rumors about what Arucard can do have been motivating him for some time and there is a great amount of poetic beauty in how the two of them approach each other.

One of the best things about this episode however is Walter. Though certainly an intriguing enough character as seen in the first volume, his involvement in this episode expands greatly. Between his ability to handle both Arucard and Seras in “butler” form and the way he can provide proper context for Integra over the impending battle, he’s far more than he appears. The old man look is certainly real enough and he’s lived a long and sordid life, but the exterior belies the viciousness that’s controlled and tempered just under the surface. Pairing him with Seras serves to properly enlighten here but also to show just what kind of people the core of the Hellsing organization is made up of.

The second installment brings a lot of mayhem in the Hellsing headquarters itself as the brothers made their move. With the vast majority of those who provided security there now dead, that puts Integra in the position of having to beef up the staff again. This is done in an amusing way as she essentially hires out for a group of mercenaries. Lead by Pip, the Wild Geese is a group that’s in a way glad to be out of the sand traps they’ve been dealing in lately and working on something that seems to be a bit cushier. After all, how difficult a job could it be in jolly old England? When Integra starts in about vampires, it’s only natural they laugh about it. Seras is the perfect foil for this as she provides a few examples of the reality of things in a light mannered yet quite serious way.

At the same time as this is going on, Integra is surprised to learn that the Vatican is attempting to have a dialogue with her. There is a great deal of natural tension between the two sides and when she meets up with her counterpart in that organization at a museum, it’s like a powder keg that’s been set off but is still contained and ready to just go wide. It’s almost somewhat disarming at first as Enrico of the Vatican is acting in such a flippant and almost foppish way that you have to wonder what his real game is. When it starts to come out that they can help point Integra towards the Millennium group, it doesn’t matter to her what his real goals are as she is simply intent on eliminating this vile thread.

As we start to get a better idea of what the Millennium group is all about, it’s not a surprise that it’s all about the Nazi’s and has heavy ties to events that went on during World War II. Arucard has plenty of ties to what went on back then and a real sense of wanting to finish the job he though was already complete. Having the Major apparently down in South America adds a bit more international flavor to the series. What makes it work even better is that it lets Arucard hit the road. Seeing him on board the plane or the way he carries himself when checking into the hotel is worth the price of admission alone. The shift to that locale also helps in that the body count doesn’t seem like it’s getting too high in England and drawing unwanted attention. Arucard gets to cut loose in a wonderful way here, especially as he tackles one of the Major’s more powerful weapons.

When things get to the fourth episode, it goes very, very big and even pads the run time a bit in order to give us a wonderful six minute speech included. With the introduction of Millennium in the previous episode towards the end, this episode shifts the focus forward as Arucard and Seras have to return home to England – with the help of Anderson no less – in order to report in to the Queen personally what the deal with Millennium is. There’s some very amusing mild nods to the history between Arucard and the Queen which is unsettling to others but adds quite the air of mystery to the rather staid sequence at first.

This meeting is where the gauntlet is thrown down by the Major as well as he sends in Schrodinger to impart his message. With amazingly high security, the catboy is able to make it in effortlessly and provides some very amusing moments as he presents the video of what the Major wants to say. While this scares the pants off of everyone else, Arucard is in stitches with laugher by it and gladly accepts the Major’s challenge of all out war. The two have a history together that goes back to the 1940’s and there’s a sense that there is unfinished business between the two that will carry on for the ages until one of them is completely eradicated. The usage of the Nazi symbolism is something that has simply stuck for the Major since then and has provided a good rallying point for his vampiric troops as well as an easy symbol to utilize that invokes fear among others that they come across.

The taunts made towards Integra and the Hellsing organization are overt enough and the Major utilizes Millennium in a way that gets him results. Sending his First Lieutenant, Rip Van Winkle, to take over an aircraft carrier certainly gets him the attention he wants. And she does it in an over the top way by simply landing there and converting the bulk of the crew. But even then it’s just the start as she starts to paint the Nazi symbol large on the deck using blood as her paint. Like much of the series, it’s a barrage of powerful and striking images that are both cold and amusing depending on how you look at it. Watching Integra now trying to figure out the best way to get Arucard on there and dealing with the situation finishes out the second half of the episode.

The fourth episode of Hellsing has a lot to like about it, but it’s most definitely a transitional episode in the series. There are some great moments with the characters that don’t dominate, such as Andersen’s being given free reign to come home or the scene where Integra finally gets Seras to drink real blood from a person. A lot of the episode is focused on the rampant violence and bloodshed which is wonderfully brutal and beautiful and is certainly a major draw for the series. But it also has its weak moments, which is really the last five or six minutes of this episode where the Major rambles on for far too long about the single idea that “war is good” and he loves it. I recall the similar dialogue in the manga, but here it seems to draw on for far too long and it has too little impact because of it. Instead of ending on a violent bloody note or in a way that really makes you want to see the next episode, it leaves you with a bit of a snooze.

In Summary:
It goes without saying that for fans of this series that were picking up the original DVD releases, it’s been a hell of a road to get to this point. Plagued with delays beyond reason for many, we’re now at the stage where it’s all in our hands at long last. And even though it’s been several years since I last visited this world, coming back to it has been fantastic, especially in getting it in such a high quality form for such a lavish OVA production. Hellsing is a show that may not be quite as dark as it once felt like it was as things have changed since the original manga and other anime series, but it certainly does retain its sense of power and presence and really is quite engaging. With its wonderful mix of surprising humor in places that uses the same style as the manga to great effect and the powerful action scenes that lets Arucard go big while dealing with all the various foes it has, it’s a show that hits all the right marks for me. I loved this show the first time I saw it as it erased my memories of the TV series and revisiting it in marathon form was the experience I had hoped for. While it’s all familiar, it sets expectations just right for going into the new to me material with the next set. Hellsing Ultimate is just a lot of dark, twisty fun with a great cast in both languages. The wait looks to be worth it.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentary (4), Interviews with English Voice Director and Cast, Anime Expo 2007 English Cast Panel, Geneon Booth: Featuring Hellsing Mansion, Promotional Videos, Japanese TV Commercials, Karaoke of Major’s Speech

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: A

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: October 30th, 2012
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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