Hellsing Ultimate Vol. #1 (also w/limited edition) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, December 14, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, December 05, 2006
What They Say
For over a century, the Hellsing Organization has been secretly protecting the British Empire from the undead "freaks." When Sir Integra Hellsing succeeded as the head of the organization, she also inherited the ultimate weapon against these undead enemies, a rogue vampire named Arucard.
Hellsing manages the rare job of taking a show that's already been out and doing it all over again, this time far better than it ever was.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The track is a solid 5.1 Dolby Digital mix encoded at 448kbps that's quite immersive at times with the sounds of bats, bullets and bullet riddled bodies sounding better than ever. Some of the scenes have such a strong amount of oomph to them in this mix that listening to it on a stereo only setup you realize just how much is lost. The English language track essentially mirrors this in its 5.1 mix but there is also the inclusion of a fuller sounding DTS 5.1 mix which is found only on the Limited Edition release. This seems to be a touch more expansive in some scenes as well as a touch deeper in richness. All the language tracks are clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.
Originally released in February 2006, the OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Fresh out of the animators cubicles, this is a fantastic looking show that takes the visuals from the manga and really brings it to life, though not without a few changes along the way. The source materials are obvious in gorgeous shape and the print is free of problems but it's not a completely smooth thing. While colors look fantastic and avoid break-up and cross coloration, there is a fair bit of noticeable gradient issues, sometimes also called color stepping, in which you can see the digital outlines of where the colors shift. It's only noticeable in a big way in a few key scenes but it's a fairly common problem with a lot of digital shows. Taking that out of it, the rest of the transfer is simply gorgeous and if you can watch this on a large screen with the lights off it'll be even more impressive.
Regular Edition Packaging:
The cover art for this edition is a great looking piece that has Arucard in the form where he's either being blown apart or coming back together. His face simply looks wicked here as the violence that's going on around him surely must excite. The color design and the feel of the illustration is just great looking and easily draws in the eye. The back cover is is laid out well with rune text in a circle form as the background with reds and blacks. A good bit of open space is given over at the top for a small version of the logo while below it is a good summary of the premise and a few shots of the show. The discs features are clearly listed while the remainder is the production credits and basic technical information. Unfortunately this release doesn't use the technical grid that more Geneon releases have been using lately. The reverse side of the cover expands the back cover background as does the insert which also lists the chapters for this episode. The insert opens up to a two panel spread that has the cover artwork on it while the back is a shot from the show with some basic info about Geneon.
Limited Edition Packaging:
Geneon takes things up a few notches for this edition and releases a gorgeous package. First, the case itself is one of the metallic ones that has shown up more recently where it seals properly and has the side binding that's made of plastic. Latching problems from cases like this a couple of years ago just aren't a problem. The front cover has the great looking illustration of a giddy looking Arucard up close with the cross hanging from his mouth as his clothes float all around him. The metallic aspect of this gives it a very eerie look and one that really makes the artwork stand out all the more. The back cover uses the same background as the regular edition but eschews shots from the show and instead provides the listings of the discs extras and a quite from Integra's father. The remainder of the cover uses the same design elements as the regular edition. Inside, the back side of the metallic case uses a close-up of the cover art from the regular edition which looks even more detailed. The insert uses the cover from the regular edition in its normal size while the reverse side of it lists the discs features.
In addition to the metal case, Geneon has secured the limited edition bust that was put out with the first volume of the Japanese release " in the same exact box. What the Japanese fans got, you get. The bust is a great piece that has Arucard looking quite insane with his clothes flowing around him.
The US release manages to kick the Japanese release all over the place when it comes to the menus as Nightjar has produced a great looking in-theme piece. Using the series logo as its centerpiece, waves of blood flow behind it while there are dried caked bits of blood strewn over that. The navigation strip along the bottom uses the same kind of font as the series logo which helps to tie it all together. Like a lot of Nightjar menus, they push they layer the audio of the menu in 5.1 as well which gets you right into the mood for the show. Submenus are quick to load and the transitions are very smooth. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.
With the regular edition, there are no extras.
With the limited edition, there are extras on the main disc but they're not actually in the extras menu " that menu is actually empty which is amusing. In the setup menu, there is a commentary track that you can access that's done with the ADR director, Taliesin Jaffe, and Crispin Freeman who plays Arucard. The commentary track from the Japanese release is not here however which is a disappointment.
The second disc included in the limited edition is all about the extras. According to the text, there's just under an hour worth of extras here. The first is an interview session with some of the English adaptation folks as Taliesin Jaffe and Crispin Freeman get to talk more along the lines of what they covered in the commentary track. The ending sequence is provided in its clean format and there are four versions of the original commercials made for Japanese TV. What I liked the best here though is the promotional videos as I really enjoy seeing how series are promoted; we get the "Broken English" video and the "Young King Ours" version as well as the full length first episode trailer. Also included is the version that has shown up on some Geneon discs as the extended length trailer.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Geneon's found itself in a bit of a tricky position with Hellsing just because of how it's being released. While Japanese fans, at least the older ones, aren't all that unfamiliar with the lengthy times between OVA releases, it doesn't sit so well with current US fans. Add in episode length, pricing issues and the general marketplace and it's something of a tough sell as many will have a "wait until more is out" approach. To their credit, Geneon has gone and made sure that they've offered plenty to entice fans to buy now with the limited edition release. In just about every manner, it takes the solid if lackluster Japanese release and makes it something really special.
The announcement in 2005 that a new Hellsing OVA series was going to be produced got the attention of a lot of folks, much more so than when the Hellsing TV series first came out several years ago. The property has become much more than it used to be by the arrival of the manga being distributed by Dark Horse as the releases have scored very well for the most part in the Bookscan lists. The TV series had its fare share of fans and they'd been able to go and find out just how much better the original is since that came out. With news that the new OVA series was essentially going to try and be one OVA per graphic novel and that they were intending to use those books as storyboards essentially, it sounded like a dream come true.
Clocking in at just under fifty minutes, the first OVA release manages to capture 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 Alucard. Under the leadership of Integra Hellsing, she's able to control Alucard 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 Alucard 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 Alucard 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.
In watching this episode now with subtitles, I was glad that I had managed to understand the basics of it when I watched the import earlier this year. Between the manga and the TV series knowledge, it was very easy to put together what's going on here and follow the flow easily enough. The OVA does feel like it has more quick cuts and slightly choppy pacing compared to the manga but it does have a lot to introduce in its first episode. In a way, if you're going to watch it raw, it's best to read the manga a bit before the episode and everything will be much easier overall. The close nature of the two mediums is something that's very alluring as they're doing such a wonderful job of bringing it to life.
What really surprised me with Geneon's release of this show is that they do go the extra length to author this twice. The main feature discs between the two releases aren't the same thing, from the menus to the audio. The inclusion of the extra DTS track doesn't seem to have hurt at all nor did the commentary track. In watching a good chunk of the show, the average video bitrate is a very solid 7 that rarely dips below. Not having any region free decks on hand anymore, I can't do any direct comparisons but there's nothing here that stood out as looking bad that I didn't see in the Japanese release.
For as flawed as the TV series was, I enjoyed it a lot but knew that it was making serious leaps away from the source material, something that's still being published. Having read the seven released volumes of manga since then, my anticipation for the show as the zombies and Nazi's start showing up is immense. Reading the manga since the announcement it's easier to imagine the scenes from it coming to life but even more so now having seen the approach they're taking. The opening episode of the OVA franchise isn't a knock your socks off kind of experience but it is one that says clearly what kind of path that they'll be following as they set out to separate themselves from what's come before. This release will likely completely reinvigorate the Hellsing fanbase and be something that's talked about a lot. Geneon has done a completely kick ass job of bringing this title over and making it better than the import. The Hellsing OVA is one of the best modern vampire anime shows I've seen yet. Very recommended.
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English DTS 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Audio Commentary,LE Edition Extra Disc: Staff Interview,LE Edition Extra Disc: Promotional Music Video Featuring "Broken English",LE Edition Extra Disc: Commercials
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray player via DVI -> HDMI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: N/A / B+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 50
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2