Review for Hellsing Ultimate: Parts 1-4 Collection
Would you believe that I haven’t actually been looking forward to this release? 2013 has seen the UK jump back aboard the Hellsing Ultimate gravy train after an excessive hiatus, and earlier this year we saw the arrival of episodes 5-8 for the first time, and also on Blu-ray. I watched them with the proverbial s*** eating grin plastered across my face, enjoying every depraved blood-drenched second of it, but with a couple or reservations. If you’re going to release the latest episodes in high definition, then it also becomes necessary to go back and revisit the first four in HD as well. And this is where my reservations come into play. I’ve had a long time to wait for the most recent Hellsing Ultimate release, more than long enough to watch those first four episodes again on DVD. In actual fact I’ve seen them three times so far, and while the first viewing delivered that jaw-dropping impact, the second time not so much. Would you believe that the third time I watched them, they actually put me to sleep? It’s a case of style winning out over substance, and Hellsing Ultimate is a show best left for the post beer and kebab wind-down. It’s hard to review something through an alcoholic stupor, so this time, to keep the show fresh; I decided to do something I swore I never would. I’d watch the English dub. It’s time to grit my teeth through a load of ‘Ullo Mary Poppins!’ from the supporting cast.
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.
Unlike episodes 5-8, which covered an extensive arc, the first four episodes of Hellsing Ultimate stand alone to a greater degree as part of an ongoing storyline. Here are some synopses.
1. No one ever listens to the psychopathic aristocrat. The police should have listened to Sir Integra Hellsing when she warned them about the outbreak of ghouls in Cheddar Village, but they scoffed at the mention of vampires. The only survivor turns out to be policewoman Seras Victoria, although survivor is questionable after the immortal vampire (and ultimate weapon of the Hellsing Organisation) Alucard shoots her through the heart and brings her back as a vampire. She doesn’t have long to get used to her new unlife, as vampire activity is on the increase, and they are soon hard at work hunting down the undead enemies of the British Empire. It’s when their work takes them to Northern Ireland that their problems begin. Catholics and Protestants still don’t like each other, regardless that the vampire problem gives them common cause. What should be a straightforward hunt becomes a territorial fight for survival, when the Iscariot group sends Father Alexander Anderson to stamp their presence in Ulster. The regenerating undying priest meets his match when he faces the ultimate vampire Alucard.
2. The Hellsing Group meets at the mansion to discuss the disturbing discoveries made in Ireland. The rules regarding vampires appear to have changed, with ghouls no longer perishing with their sires, and vampires suddenly appearing with microchip implants. Suddenly it seems as if the vampires are being organised by a mastermind, and that means trouble for Hellsing. But the debate doesn’t last long when a couple of vampires come knocking at the gates. Brothers Jan and Luke Valentine have learned the location of Hellsing, and they’ve brought an army of trained and armed ghouls to prey on the inhabitants of the mansion. Their mission is to wipe out the Hellsing Council, and Luke wants a piece of Alucard. As all hell breaks loose in the mansion, only three brave defenders remain to save Sir Integra and the rest of the council, and two of the defenders are dead!
3. Following the mansion incident, it becomes imperative to rebuild their forces. Hellsing’s butler Walter suggests the use of mercenaries, and he has the perfect group in mind, The Wild Geese, led by a man named Bernadotte. Meanwhile they’ve tracked down the rumoured Millennium organisation behind the attack to South America. The Nazis are back, their investigations into the occult and undead have continued, they now have a legion of ghouls and general undying nasties at their beck and call, and they’re getting around to the global domination that was so rudely interrupted. Alucard’s next mission is to head to South America, to search and destroy. With him travel Seras Victoria and Bernadotte. But the first thing they encounter when arriving in Rio is betrayal. Has Alucard finally met his match?
4. The vampire threat posed by the Nazis makes for some unsteady alliances in the fight against them, which sees the Vatican and Hellsing working together. But they are already behind in the game. The Nazis are declaring war on England, and the sound of vampiric goose-steps is getting closer. But even as the Zeppelin fleet draws closer to London, treachery strikes in the oceans. One of the UK’s aircraft carriers, the Eagle has mutinied; or rather the officers looking for bloodsucking immortality have wiped out the crew and handed the ship over to the Nazis. Alucard has to deal with this immediate threat, but vampires and oceans aren’t supposed to mix, and this could all be an elaborate trap.
There are no Universal logos this time, which suggest that Funimation used the existing materials to create their HD transfer for Parts 1-4, rather than starting again fresh, which would have required looking to the original IP holder for materials. Certainly, while the transfer is 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen on the disc, it doesn’t look all that high definition to me.
In fact, I doubt it would look much different if I just put the DVDs into the player and let it upscale them. The contradiction to that is that in the US, after initial complaints from fans, Funimation started labelling their Blu-ray releases to indicate whether they were in fact upscales or not, and they insisted that Hellsing Ultimate Parts 1-4 were native HD sourced. If that is the case, then my eyes do deceive me, as that Funimation master has made its way around the world from the US to Australia and eventually to here and Manga Entertainment, and it looks like an upscale to me, and not a particularly great one at that. There are good upscales out there that look better than their equivalent DVDs, shows like Baccano and the second release of Samurai Champloo on Blu-ray. This is not one of them, and it pales in comparison to the genuine native HD of Hellsing Ultimate Parts 5-8.
There are a few benefits of getting such an upscale though, especially in the UK where the original DVDs had the added handicap of NTSC-PAL standards conversions. We get the animation playing back at the native frame rate, and the greater capacity of the Blu-ray means that there is practically no compression to contend with. And the colours are marginally crisper than on the DVD.
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, and in this instance you do see the benefit of HD over SD. 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. For reasons previously outlined, this time I chose to watch the show wholly in English, and found it to be an agreeable experience for the most part, especially for the central characters (not counting Seras). 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.
Disc 1 has the episodes presented across a BD 50, and it’s here that you’ll find the four audio commentaries as well. You’ll recognise them from the DVD release of the first four volumes of Hellsing Ultimate.
In fact most of the extras with this release are taken from the DVDs, and as such are presented in 480i on a BD 25 as comprising disc 2 of this set. It’s easier to mention what is left out, rather than recounting the five interviews, the Anime Expo 2007 extras, and the various promo videos.
What you won’t find are any of the production art galleries.
What’s new to this release are the trailer for the US BD release (presented at 1080p), and the Karaoke of the Major’s speech, allowing for fans to chew the scenery as well. This was on the original US DVD release, but never made it to the UK. Also, alone among the repeated SD extras, the textless ending sequences are presented in 1080p this time around.
The disc rounds off with Shane from Neighbours thanking you for not pirating the disc, followed by Madman Entertainment trailers for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, King of Thorn, Evangelion 2.22, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, all of which are available in the UK on DVD and BD except the former, which is DVD only.
Have you seen Hellsing Ultimate Parts 1-4 before? If the answer to that is no, then please stop reading this review, and read the reviews of the DVDs instead.
Hellsing Ultimate Part 1
Hellsing Ultimate Part 2
Hellsing Ultimate Part 3
Hellsing Ultimate Part 4
I reviewed those discs after watching them for the first time, experienced them fresh, and was best placed to appreciate their pure style over substance approach. That’s the feeling that you will get when you watch this Blu-ray today, if you have never seen the show before.
But with this Blu-ray I am now watching these episodes for the fourth time. The style had faded, and all that remained was the lack of substance. I had to try Plan B with this watch, experience the show as I had never done before, watch it wholly in English, and hope that it would become as fresh and new as the first time. That was the hope, but the experience was just as mind numbing as the last two times, if not more. I fell asleep for the climax of episode 2, and again for the climax of episode 3, and I was drifting in and out of unconsciousness for all of episode 4. Next time I’ll have to try Plan C, watch Hellsing Ultimate in broad daylight, fortified by a gallon of coffee.
I get that Hellsing Ultimate is good. It’s as close to blockbuster, popcorn entertainment as you’re likely to get with anime, with larger than life characters, ridiculous situations, and over the top action sequences. I get that the production values are high, and it’s very carefully targeted at its gore loving audience. People will say that Hellsing Ultimate is brilliant, is awesome, and there’s no arguing with the amount of Alucard cosplayers likely to appear whenever an anime convention assembles. Hellsing Ultimate is good, seriously good. It’s also the worst good anime that I know.
It just doesn’t work for me. It’s disposable pop-corn entertainment; it’s the Michael Bay of anime. It’s the movie that you want to see in cinemas, spending more than is advisable on tickets and refreshments, with a set of 3D glasses wrapped around your face, giving it the same thrilled, screaming appreciation that you give to a rollercoaster ride in a theme park. You never, ever want to buy the Blu-ray of a roller coaster ride. If a show is going to have a lasting influence on me, it has to have subtlety of characterisation, nuance of plot. Hellsing Ultimate has none of that.
What puts this show to rest for me is indeed it’s larger than life nature. It’s a show where scenery has to be chewed, where anything less than grand theatrics and histrionics may as well be invisible. The actors have to savour every word they utter, lace every line with menace and intent. But with the overkill that something like Hellsing Ultimate has, it has the effect of resetting the ground state. I’m reminded of that episode of Blackadder 3, which has young Prince George learning the art of oratory from a couple of Macbeth fearing thespians. Stand with your legs splayed, your chest thrust forward, a look of impending violence upon your brow, and with a powerful roar utter forth your soliloquy. You’d think it’s pretty silly at first, but when everyone starts doing it, you stop noticing. The problem being that when a character does speak ‘normally’ a character such as Seras, you tend not to notice. And with Hellsing Ultimate following the ‘calm before the storm’ approach to its episode climaxes, it seems as if the actors dial down their performances a tad before cranking them back up again to chew that final bit of scenery down to a nub. It’s that calm before the storm that keeps putting me to sleep just before the good bits.
For me, Hellsing Ultimate is the most boring ‘best anime ever made’ around. It’s a one time only deal for me, which makes me want to suggest renting instead of buying. Of course watching it the first time will probably convince you to buy it, so it’s something of a hollow warning. As for this Blu-ray, the only reasons to upgrade the DVD would be if you’re a full on audiophile, and appreciate the lossless audio. The video quality of the Blu-ray near as makes no difference compared to the DVD, but I guess one Blu-ray case instead of four DVD cases will open up on shelf space. Anyway, next month Manga Entertainment are going back to where the anime adventure began for Kouta Hirano’s creation, as they have rescued the license for the original Hellsing TV series from 2001, and are re-releasing it on DVD. I hope it has the subtlety and balance that the OVA series so sorely lacks.