While it started with a bang, the Hellsing TV series ended with more of a whimper. It's a good thing, then, that Hellsing Ultimate has come along, promising to take one of the most promising vampire-based stories of recent years and do it right. Do these first two episodes live up to that promise..?
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.
Armed with an enormous "anti-freak" gun and possessing mysterious and frightening powers, Arucard is forced to shoot Seras Victoria, a policewoman held hostage by a vampire. "Do you want to live?" he asks Seras, whose very answer changes the course of her existence. Now reborn as Arucard's servant, Seras is torn between her conflicting humanity and her vampire urges...
What We Say:
You get three audio tracks on this release: English language in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS versions, and Japanse in Dolby 5.1. I listened to the Japanese track for this review. Hellsing Ultimate is heavy on the action scenes, and the soundtrack reflects the loving detail that's been put into the rest of the production, with clear dialogue, well-placed effects some decent music combining to create more of an audio experience than a soundtrack. There were no apparent problems.
Video is presented in its original 1.78:1 anamorphic ratio, and is hands-down one of the best-looking shows that I've seen in a while. Desite the dark colour palette, there's a huge amount of detail in the animation and backgrounds, with the series simply coming to life on screen. Animation is smooth, with some of the more horror-type scenes being positively creepy to watch. There were no obvious problems on my set-up.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Both discs use a blood-red main menu, with the centre of the screen home to images of the lead characters, flitting in and out while an ominous piece of choral music plays over the top. Options for Play All, Scenes, Setup and Extras are arrayed along the bottom of the screen. There's an annoying transition animation when an option is selected that takes 5-10 seconds to play and soon wears thin, but the menus are easy enough to follow.
There's a huge array of extras included with the release. Disc One contains a commentary track for episode one featuring Taliesin Jaffe (English ADR Director) and Crispin Freeman (Arucard), an interview segment, a selection of 4 promotional videos for the series from both Japan and the US, a textless version of the closing sequence, a set of 4 Japanese TV commercials, and Characters and Props & Backgrounds Galleries. Disc Two has a further commentary track and interview segment, this time with Taliesin Jaffe, Patrick Seitz & Josh Phillips (Luke and Jan Valentine), the Japanese trailer for episode 2, a US "viral" trailer, a non-credit opening sequence for episode 2, a Production Gallery, and 2 more Japanese commercials for the show. The commentary tracks are confusingly listed under Setup on their respective discs, while the galleries are video slideshows lasting around 3 minutes each and mostly featuring lineart sketches. All told, enough extras to keep you entertained for quite a while.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
A vampire and his ghouls have taken over a rural English town - with the local police and military completely unable to cope, Sir Integra Hellsing arrives on the scene to deal with the problem. She's the head of the secretive Hellsing Foundation, an organisation dedicated to defeating the vampire scourge and allowing the UK's citizens to live in peace. In this case, the vampire concerned seems to be a particularly powerful one, and so Integra unleashes her secret weapon - the vampire Arucard, a dracul of incredible power who has somehow been bonded into the service of the Hellsing family. The only survivor of the police operation is officer Victoria Seras, but she's not really going to be considered a survivor for long. Meanwhile, the activities of Hellsing's Protestant Knights draws the attention of the Catholic Church, and they're not happy...
I loved the <em>Hellsing</em> TV series while it was still following the manga - and then, around episode 10 or so, the series caught up with the manga and had to resort to creating its own material. It was all downhill from there. Now we're a few years down the line, that shouldn't be a problem anymore, and so we get the series done as it perhaps should have been. It certainly doesn't do any harm that a lavish budget has been given to the OVA, and the results of that are right up front where they should be, on the screen.
Each disc in this set contains one episode, each around the 50-minute mark in length, which moves along at a good, quick pace, with enough action crammed in to easily fill 3 or 4 "normal" episodes - after the initial scenes with Arucard's first appearance and Seras' death and subsequent resurrection as a vampire (Seras has an interesting history with vampires covered here that I don't remember being touched on in the TV series), the story moves on to a second vampire attack (allowing Seras to get into the vampire-killing groove and show off her new gun), the appearance of Father Anderson (a bad-ass priest and Alurcard's would-be nemesis) and, in the second episode, an all-out attack on the Hellsing HQ by the forces of darkness. You certainly can't complain that there's not enough going on.
It's not all deathly serious, either. There are some comedy Seras moments that are great fun to watch, and she fills the female fanservice role just as well as she always did. There's fanservice of another type here, too, if you're a gun fan, as the weaponry used in the series is lovingly detailed to an almost worrying extent.
If there's a failing, it's that there's not really much in the way of real story. The focus of these episodes is firmly on the action, in all its blood-soaked, demonic, weapon-packed glory. That makes it great to watch when your mind is switched off, but if you're looking for something with a little more depth or a detailed plot, you're not going to find it here. There's a pointer dropped at the end of episode two that something may be coming down the line, plotwise, but for this release it's case of simply sitting back and enjoying the mayhem.
Hellsing Ultimate is definitely an experience to watch, and if high levels of gore and action are on your list of priorities then this should keep you thoroughly entertained, although that all comes at the expense of plot - for these episodes that's kept to a minimum. The asking price is slightly higher than we're used to seeing these days, but overall this release is thoroughly worth it.
Japanese Language 5.1, English Language 5.1, English Language DTS, Episode 1 Commentary and Interview with Taliesin Jaffe (English ADR Director) and Crispin Freeman (Arucard), Episode 2 Commentary and Interview with Taliesin Jaffe, Patrick Seitz & Josh Phillips (Luke and Jan Valentine), Promotional Videos, Textless Closing, Japanese TV Commercials, Characters Gallery, Props and Backgrounds Gallery, Production Gallery, Japanese Episode 2 Trailer, US Viral Trailer, Textless Opening (episode 2).
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.