Review for Hellsing Ultimate: Parts 5-8 Collection
Can you believe that we’ve had to wait more than 4 years for the follow up to Hellsing Ultimate? Anime fans are a patient lot at the best of times, but that is pushing the limits. Then again, Hellsing Ultimate is the franchise that just won’t die, much akin to its protagonist. We in the UK are in the odd position of actually having some continuity with our release, as it’s all coming through Manga Entertainment. From day one, it was a bumpy ride, with Manga’s initial plans to release the show in two episode collections (Hellsing Ultimate is a series of OVA episodes that faithfully adapt the manga, as opposed to the Hellsing TV series that was long ago released by ADV), but the licensors nixed that at the last minute, and we got the first four episodes as single volume releases.
That was back in 2009, when Geneon who dubbed and released the show in the US was still a going concern. Then Geneon stopped its US operations, and it has taken this long to get the next set of episodes out, this time through Funimation, although they’ve had the foresight to maintain the original English dub cast. In four years, we’ve had Blu-ray, and we’ve had the world moving to collections instead of single volumes. Episodes 5-8 of Hellsing Ultimate are being released in one go in the English speaking world, and I get to review the Blu-ray release.
Of course this is nothing compared to the confusion surrounding the series in Japan, where it very much follows a ‘ready when it’s ready’ approach to production instead of sticking to any set release schedule. Also, while the show has hopped from Geneon to Funimation in the US, it seems that every episode of Hellsing Ultimate is produced by a different studio in Japan. Anyway, what you need to know is that episode 8 isn’t the end of Hellsing Ultimate. As it follows the original manga, volume for volume, there are two more episodes yet to be released in the West, and companies are doing the licensing waltz as we speak. Also, you may be interested to know that if you want consistency on your shelves, Manga Entertainment will be re-releasing episodes 1-4 later in the year, this time on Blu-ray as well.
Vampires exist, as do the legions of the undead, and the Hellsing organisation has been tasked with guarding the British Empire from their onslaught. The current head of the organisation is Sir Integra Hellsing, who inherited the position from her father. The ace card she holds is Alucard, a renegade vampire who fights for humanity against his own kind. If only vampires were the only problem they had. Britain is a Protestant nation, and Hellsing works for the Church of England, something that rubs the Vatican the wrong way, who have their own Iscariot organisation to battle the undead. The ideological differences between the two groups have them locking horns on more than one occasion, and while they are distracted, the vampires can feed. But while political infighting has been keeping the two rival groups distracted, a sinister power from the past has been reborn, and now the master race is calling the shots.
Previously, it became clear that the promise of eternal life was a devastating temptation, when mutiny hit one of the UK’s aircraft carriers in the Atlantic. Before it could be in a position to turn on the motherland, Alucard was sent to deal with the vampiric traitors. But that was just a diversion to let Major Max and his Nazi hordes advance on the UK in their fleet of Zeppelins. As the sinister swastika appeared in the sky, Alucard was left stranded on a burnt out hulk in the middle of the ocean.
The Nazis have invaded! Nazi vampires that is, falling from the night sky from their Zeppelin armada, on their mission to fulfil the Major’s lust for death, depravity and destruction. As London goes up in flames, and the terror begins to spread around the world, the UK’s defences are on the back foot, crippled by blitzkrieg tactics from without, and traitors from within, while the poor victims of the attack merely add to the enemy’s ranks when they rise up as ghouls. While Maxwell and the forces of the Vatican watch from without, ready to reclaim the land of the heathens from whoever survives the night of terror, the Iscariot organisation is already on British soil, ostensibly to observe, but you can’t stop Alexander Anderson from reaping vampires. As Integra Hellsing attempts to return to Hellsing headquarters, the mansion is left in the hands of Seras Victoria and the Wild Geese to defend. And slowly but surely, Alucard’s wrecked aircraft carrier sets sail for the UK. Is time running out for the Major and the Millennium Organisation, or will Britain have fallen to the vampires by the time Alucard returns?
Episodes 5-8 of Hellsing Ultimate are presented on one dual layer BD disc, with a whole second disc worth of extra features as well.
We’re assailed with Madman Entertainment, Manga, and Universal Geneon logos on insertion of the disc, which is a bit of a surprise given Manga’s previously tweeted reluctance to release Geneon properties. I suppose a title as big as Hellsing Ultimate will serve to be the big equaliser. All of the positives that come with anime on Blu-ray are there, the progressive playback at the correct frame rate, the rich and vibrant colours, and the lack of visible compression. Hellsing Ultimate looks absolutely gorgeous on 1080p widescreen 1.78:1.
Having said that, this is not a title that challenges the limits of the HD format. For one thing, most anime is created at less than 1080 lines of resolution, and is scaled up accordingly. Some shows like Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood are animated at something as low as 540. Hellsing Ultimate’s imagery seems to vary from scene to scene when it comes to resolution. Sometimes in the early episodes, it seems as low as SD, other times, such as the end credit sequences, it feels like the full 1080 lines are being used. Generally it’s somewhere in between, and where the HD resolution really helps is in the boldness of the outlines, the sheer pop of the colours. Also, with the England locations either wrapped in mist and fog, or swamped by smoke and debris, clarity and sharpness is rarely tested. I have to admit that I failed to notice any digital banding whatsoever, which is a big plus for an HD anime.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR, and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You get DTS-HD MA 5.1 English and Japanese audio, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track for the English dub. You have to whack the volume up a tad to get the best out of it, but Hellsing Ultimate really does deliver in the audio stakes, with its grand orchestral themes, and resonant action sequences. The sound stage is put to good use, with discreet placement of effects, and enveloping ambience. I went with the original language track as always, and was more than happy with its bombast and over the top characterisations. I still don’t like the English dub, but I am beginning to appreciate it more. My problem is still that of a native UK resident listening to English accents made for a US audience. It all goes a bit Daphne Moon at times. You have to see past that to realise just how good a dub it is, how good the actor performances are, and how well it translates from the Japanese to the English, adding layers for the English speaking audience without losing what’s essential about the story. I may not like it, but this is by no means a bad dub, something made patently clear to me most recently after having sat through some Sentai efforts.
One subtitle had Integral Hellsing instead of Integra, but that’s the only problem that I noticed.
The content on both discs is presented with animated menus. Best to be quick on the selection buttons the first time around to avoid spoilers.
Disc 1 has the episodes, and also the episode commentaries, in which ADR director Taliesin Jaffe hosts in turn Gildart Jackson (voice of Major Max), Yuri Lowenthal (Pip Bernadette), Rachel Robinson (Zorin), and the vampire himself, Crispin Freeman (Alucard). These are great commentary tracks, well worth listening too, varying from the incisive and academic, to the daft and irreverent. For someone like me who is unfamiliar with certain aspects of the occult, and bible history, it’s great to hear some of the ideas of Hellsing Ultimate, some of the imagery on screen dissected and analysed, and I highly recommend watching these commentaries straight after the episodes.
Disc 2 is jam packed with extra features, and all of them in 1080p HD, which makes the Blu-ray all the more worth it. Just like the first 4 episodes of Hellsing Ultimate, these 4 get far more than the usual treatment for anime, showing the passion that the fans have for the show.
Participating in a Legend lasts 45 minutes and is two featurettes back to back in which the English voice cast, and the US production team talk about the show and the characters.
Hellsing Cast Round Table Discussion lasts 44 minutes, and has the voice director Taliesin Jaffe get together with several of the voice cast, including Crispin Freeman to have a more relaxed chinwag about the show.
Fan Questions Answered lasts 23 minutes, and this time the voice cast specifically answer questions, unsurprisingly from the fans.
Anime Vegas 2010 Hellsing Panel is pretty self-explanatory. The Q & A gets a little more hands on as the cast and crew face the fans at the anime exposition. This is the biggest extra feature with the collection, running to 70 minutes.
The Dawn: A Supplementary of Hellsing lasts 9 minutes, and is something of a prequel story for the show, giving us a glimpse of the Hellsing organisation during the closing years of World War 2, with a young Walter taking Alucard, dans coffin into battle, while a couple of familiar Nazis dabble with the occult. I wasn’t sure if this was a little bonus animation, or a preview of volume 9, but either way it does end with a 'to be continued' caption, indicating the next release, whenever it comes, should continue the story.
Then to conclude the disc there is the usual minutiae that come with the average anime disc, all four textless credit sequences, the US trailer for the disc, and Madman trailers for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, King of Thorn, Evangelion 2.22, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Have you ever sat in front of the television with a dumb grin on your face, just revelling in ultra-violence, gore, and manic excess, with scenery chewing performances from even the most insignificant of characters? That pretty much describes my viewing for the last four nights. Hellsing Ultimate carries on in exactly the same way that it left off four years ago, wall to wall insanity, with no limit untested, no taboo left un-shattered. If you thought Alucard’s confrontation with Rip van Winkle in episode four was uncomfortable, just wait until you see the revelation of Seras’ past in episode seven.
It is relentless blood and guts in these four episodes, with Alucard left stranded in the middle of the Atlantic, and the Nazis finally invading the UK. Zeppelins and Doodlebugs herald the goose-stepping vampires, and episode 5 follows their relentless blitzkrieg across London, leaving just a few staunch defenders trying to rally. The sixth episode continues with greater focus on the survivors, and setting up the forces of the Vatican as a story element yet to come. Alexander Anderson and Integra Hellsing have become unlikely and reluctant allies, while the Major’s attention turns to the Hellsing mansion, where the Wild Geese and Seras Victoria are defending. Zorin and a squad of stormtroopers begin the attack, which you see the conclusion of in episode 7, notable for its character development for Seras. Episode 8 sees the return of Alucard to the country, and all hell breaks loose as we learn of Major Max’s true aims in his resurrection of the Reich.
And that’s really all that I can write, which does beg the questions, why so brief a recap of 3 hours worth of a Blu-ray, and why just 7 out of 10 for a show that plastered my face with the proverbial s***-eating grin? It’s really two sides of the same answer to both questions, and it boils down to the style over substance nature of Hellsing Ultimate. There are three hours of anime on this disc, but there really isn’t all that much story to be had. Alucard’s stuck in the ocean for three of four episodes, and while we’re waiting for him to return, we get to see the invasion, and how people react to it. The pace is relentless, it’s action packed, with vibrant, reckless imagery, edge of the seat narrative and vivid and memorable characters. In terms of actual story development, not a lot happens. There’s just a couple of key points in each episode to hold in the mind, and in comparison to the first four episodes, these episodes are actually a lot less dense in that respect.
The second point is probably a wholly unfair and unwarranted observation, but I have to make it nevertheless. I’ve lived with the first four episodes of Hellsing Ultimate on DVD for four years now, more than enough time to re-watch the show more than once, and that is something I have done. The first time I watched those DVDs, I had the same, silly grin reaction that I have had to this Blu-ray, and writing those reviews on the strength of that, I marked them highly. The second time I watched them, I was disappointed to learn that I didn’t have the same reaction. In fact knowing what each episode held in store, diluted the impact, and I actually began to find the visual excess and over the top characters a little tedious. Would you believe that the last time I watched episode 4, it put me to sleep?
It is unfair of me to extrapolate on the basis of the first half, but that paucity of narrative is even greater in these four episodes. I suspect that re-watching them will have a similar soporific effect. Episode seven’s OMG moment will leave your jaw hanging open when you first see it, but once you’ve seen it, it won’t have the same impact. You simply have to watch Hellsing Ultimate Episodes 5-8, especially on Blu-ray. It is pure, unmitigated style. But you don’t have to re-watch it...