Hellsing review

The mysterious Hellsing organization has been protecting the British Empire from supernatural beasts that threaten the people and the crown; armed with the ultimate killing machine, an all-powerful vampire named Alucard, Hellsing has been slaying monsters for over 100 years. When confronted with a villainous vampire priest in the British countryside, Alucard is forced to shoot Ceres Victoria – a human police woman taken hostage by the priest – straight through the chest. Given the choice between an existence as a ghoul or death by her new master, Victoria chooses to be reborn as Alucard’s ward… and her unlife as his servant begins.
Kouta Hirano’s Hellsing comic has been hailed by anime fans and horror fans alike as a masterpiece of the genre, the definitive vampire manga. A few years back, the manga was adapted by Gonzo for the small screen, with decidedly mixed results; the best part of the story hadn’t been written yet, and the show’s storytelling quality (and, woefully, animation quality) went down the tubes near the end of that show’s run. It’s been a long wait, Hellsing fans, but the adaptation you’ve been waiting for is finally here; Hellsing Ultimate is darker, bloodier, and faithful to the manga. It’s as close as we’re going to get to a perfect retelling.

The story in this first volume is going to be pretty familiar to anyone who’s even remotely acquainted with the series. This installment begins with a brief flashback to the first time Integra encounters Alucard in the bowels of the Hellsing organization’s stronghold, and quickly drops us into the middle of the battle in Cheddar, where Alucard meets (and kills, and resurrects) Ceres Victoria. There’s another action setpiece where the relationship between our (anti)heroes is further established, and then – in a segment that was obviously meant to be the second episode, but is included here to the delight of everyone – we see their first encounter with the maniacal Catholic vampire-slaughtering madman sent straight from the Vatican, Father Alexander Anderson. It’s all material that was covered pretty well in the TV series, so don’t expect any new story revelations here (minus the teaser shot we get at the end that points toward things to come, something that won’t make a lick of sense to anyone who hasn’t read the manga).

That’s okay, really; in places the storyline feels a little disjointed, like we’re watching vignettes with a recurring theme. In fact, it’s just like reading the manga. This might throw off people new to the franchise; everything that happens in this first volume will make perfect sense to the folks who saw the original TV series or read the comics, but newcomers might be a little confused by the sometimes choppy plot development. It’s possible the screenwriter was relying a little too much on the notion that his audience consisted primarily of people who were already intimately familiar with the storyline… but hey, fans won’t care one whit.

Really, the biggest and most exciting thing about Hellsing Ultimate is how faithful it is to the manga and how well the tone of the show is executed, and it’s really a pleasure to say that this retelling finally gets it right. The TV series seemed to be aiming for a broader audience; the violence was toned down, Alucard became a kind of sexy bishonen character, and it all felt a little watered down.

This time, we’re getting the full force of Hirano’s extremely straightforward, gleefully bloody and sadistic style. Alucard is rendered as a brutal, bloodthirsty monster with a sympathetic streak about a centimeter wide. He’s in it for the sheer joy of the slaughter here, and it’s much closer to the manga version of the character – his decision to resurrect Ceres makes a lot more sense in this context too, and his dialogue – especially at the end of the volume – helps us get closer to understanding why this beast would bother with a sidekick. Ceres herself is written much better as well; her pathos is more pronounced here, and while she provides the occasional comic moment, we’re given a glimpse into the character’s surprisingly brutal future. Even Integral feels like she’s more “in charge”. These are the characters the manga fans know and love, and they’re rendered with care and grace. Well, as graceful as this story can really get.

If it’s blood you’re after, Hellsing Ultimate is drenched in it. Not a single drop is spared; everything about the action sequences and the gallons of gushing blood seem turned way, way up, and frankly, it really captures the feel of the manga. In fact, everything seems a lot more extreme in Hellsing Ultimate, and that’s a good thing. The manga pulled no punches, and neither does this; it’s just as perverse and sadistic and violent as you could possibly wish for. If that’s your sort of thing (manga fans, you know who you are) then you’ll probably spend the 50 minutes of this first episode on the edge of your seat with a big dumb smile on your face. I know I did.

The production values are, somewhat surprisingly, hit-and-miss. While this OVA clearly had a larger budget than your average TV production, it’s pretty clear they saved the money for the big action scenes; dialogue exchanges are often a little awkward, and there are some questionable sequences in here that just don’t look very good. Regardless, most of this show is action, and that’s where the animation really shines. Once people stop talking and start killing eachother, you can almost see the show’s budget inflate in real-time; there are some very impressive setpieces in this thing. Furthermore, the show’s drastically improved character designs really help bring the manga to life; while we’ll probably never get something that perfectly captures Hirano’s near-psychedelic art style, this is as good as we’re going to get.

The only real complaint – aside from occasionally weak animation – is the soundtrack. While it might not be completely fair – this is an all-new production, after all – it’s impossible not to compare the score for this OVA to the score for the original TV series, and it comes up pretty short. The grungy, almost soulful music found in the TV show was a perfect match for the series in terms of establishing tone, while this new score feels weak and understated by comparison. It just isn’t anything to write home about, which is a shame, given the series’ excellent musical legacy.

Thankfully, Geneon USA had the wisdom to reassemble the crew at New Generation Pictures responsible for the English dub of the original Hellsing TV show, which was almost universally raved about as one of the few dubs out there that exceeded the Japanese language track. The same is true for Hellsing Ultimate; Crispin Freeman reprises the role he is perhaps best known for, bringing Alucard’s voice down a little bit, presumably to better reflect the darker nature of this version of the character. K.T. Grey and Victoria Harwood also return, as does Steven Brand, playing the cackling Anderson. The voices are all blisteringly authentic, and the genuine British accents really go a long way toward bringing these characters to life. Given that the show is set in Europe – and the performances are so polished and professional – it’s easy to say that once again, you should probably watch Hellsing in English. Besides which, the English track on this DVD is in 5.1, and the accompanying Japanese track – rendered only in 2.0 – sounds anemic and lifeless in comparison. It should also be noted that due to some East-West shenanigans, the subtitles still refer to Alucard as “Arucard”; no such problem plagues the English version. Just watch the dub. It’s better that way.

It’s going to be a long wait for the next episode in the series, and even longer until we get to the real meat of the story, Hellsing’s world-shaking encounter with the Millennium Nazi organization. There isn’t anything new about the story being told here, except that it’s a much better adaptation that was obviously created with much more reverence for the acclaimed manga it’s based on… which for Hellsing fans will be a real treat. This is a high-quality resurrection of a top-shelf anime series that deserves to be in the spotlight; you won’t be disappointed.
Overall (dub) : A+
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : B

+ The Hellsing manga finally gets the big-budget adaptation it deserves; English dub is a home run.
− Occasionally weak animation, underwhelming score; plot may be a little choppy for series newcomers.

here’s a mole inside the Hellsing organization, and they’ve been leaking classified information to the press. Walter discovers a snuff video on the Internet that features someone wearing a Hellsing badge; naturally, Alucard is on the job. The vicious and hedonistic Valentine brothers also make their appearance, launching an attack on the Hellsing organization that will rock Sir Integra’s important Round Table meeting to its very core!
Considered by some to be the best volume of the Hellsing TV series, volume two certainly packs a bigger bang than some of the others. The series comes to a head with this release, ramping up the action and what’s at stake (pun intended) for the main characters. This volume is made unique mostly by the episodes involving the Valentine brothers, certainly the most interesting villains the show has to offer.

Hellsing already had an interesting premise, and this volume fleshes that premise out and really brings the characters around after introducing them in the first volume. Ceres continues to struggle with her decision, unable to decide whether or not she’s willing to forsake her humanity and drink the blood her master offers her. While some consider Ceres’ struggle to be the centerpiece of the series, the relationship between Alucard and Integra is explored in greater depth. No matter what interests you about Hellsing, there will be something in volume two to excite you.

Without a doubt, the best episodes on the disc are the last two, which deal with the Valentine brothers and their assault on the Hellsing organization. They basically bring Hellsing to its knees, corrupting over half of the organization’s forces and assembling them against Integra’s secret weapon, Alucard. The Valentine brothers are ruthless and uncompromising, and they are written like true villains, which is extremely rare in anime. A lot of anime series feature villains that seem to show some sympathy for the heroes; they won’t kick them while they’re down. They stop and issue long soliloquies about why they’re evil, and always leave big holes in their plans for the heroes to walk through. The Valentine brothers are no such villains; they almost single-handedly take down Hellsing by virtue of having zero mercy. They kill everyone in their path and take every opportunity to destroy Integra, who they know is at the head of the organization. It’s refreshing to see writing like this, and it comes highly recommended for anyone who has the stomach for it.

The dubbing remains excellent in Hellsing. Jan, the more psychotic of the Valentine brothers, is voiced with a ferocious, carefree, hedonistic glee that is unmistakably authentic and one of the finest performances I’ve heard in a dub thus far. The dialogue he’s given is extremely tricky to pull off convincingly, but the actor did a fine job and the character is strengthened by his portrayal. I reiterate that the English voice cast for Hellsing is superior to the Japanese cast and anyone with even a passing respect for English voice acting needs to see it. The music is also above par, providing gritty rock rhythms to accompany the gruesome proceedings. Perfection.

On the animation side of things, Hellsing takes a slight dip in this volume. The characters are routinely off-model and it’s a bit distracting. The animation quality goes down in later volumes, and here it’s passable, but the mistakes are noticeable and distracting. That isn’t to say that Hellsing is poorly animated; it just could have used a bit more polish. The DVD presentation is flawless and one of the sharpest, most error-free video transfers I’ve ever seen.

Simply put, if you dig horror anime–or even just vampires or gothic artwork–you’re going to love Hellsing. It would be easy to recommend this volume above the others thanks to the strength of episodes five and six, but it’s necessary to see the first volume in order to get the full impact of what’s happening. Volume two is an excellent addition to an excellent series.
Overall (dub) : A+
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B-
Art : A
Music : A+

+ Great storyline, fun characters, awesome music
− Poor animation in some spots

Following the Valentine Brothers’ disastrous attack on Hellsing HQ, Integra must face new threats from Iscariot, who feel Hellsing is unfit to deal with the vampire outbreak and send Alexander Anderson back to London to take out Victoria and her master. Alucard sees this all as a great excuse to have some more fun. Later Victoria meets another “true” undead who provides clues to the identity of the vampire behind the FREAK chips, Alucard gears up to face a worthy opponent, and Integra has a dangerous encounter with her sister Laura.
“Hellsing” is becoming somewhat notorious as a series that starts off brilliantly but ends in total disappointment. Volume 3 of 4, “Search and Destroy”, represents the weakest installment of the series as the previously sharp storytelling begins to bog down in a bunch of cryptic imagery that never gets properly explained. But there’s still enough action, atmosphere, and attitude to keep fans happy, and the unique mix of Gun-Fu, Rock-and-Roll, and Hammer-Horror continues to make the show one of the standout releases of the year.

The first episode on this volume is actually one of the series’ highlights, featuring the return of everybody’s favorite papal assassin Alexander Anderson. More is learned about the workings of Iscariot, the Vatican’s own anti-vampire task force, but the real point here is to top Alucard and Anderson’s previous battle from Volume 1. Bored with hunting common freaks, Alucard is eager for a rematch with the mad priest, and we are treated to a longer, more intense duel in which both characters pull out all the stops, all the while hurling verbal insults and Scripture passages to great effect (savor the moment when Alucard calls Anderson “Judas Priest”). Unfortunately this is the last appearance of Iscariot in the animated version of “Hellsing”, as Anderson and company are dropped in favor of some new characters unique to the anime who lack the imaginativeness of the manga’s colorful denizens.

The next two episodes are somewhat unfulfilling. The action is sparse, and these dialogue-driven installments do remarkably little to advance the overall story. “Kill House” takes a cue from “Interview with the Vampire” and introduces Helena, a centuries-old nosferatu trapped in the body of a little girl. Victoria and MI-5 agent Harry Anders seek her out for information regarding the FREAK chips, and most of the time is spent beating around the bush as the disaffected Helena talks about the tragic nature of the undead. Though she speaks much but says little, this is the only episode to fully invoke the romantic and melancholy aspects of the vampire myth, and it does so quite well. The closing moments take a right-turn in schizo-ville, however, as the viewer is bombarded with a bunch a random scenes that may or may not be reality, and Alucard begins to demonstrate some weird inconsistencies in character when dealing with Integra. The pattern continues in “Red Rose Vertigo”, which throws in Integra’s sister-who-maybe-isn’t with three different names and shows Alucard shifting between deep concern and blithe disregard for his master’s well being. The true villain of the series also makes his first appearance, and though he sports one mean-looking gun Incognito isn’t half as interesting as Anderson or the Valentine Brothers. Cracks in the plot begin to appear, and despite ending on a truly wicked cliffhanger this is easily the least engaging entry of the series.

Vampire-in-training Seras Victoria continues be the heart of “Hellsing”; ironically the coming-of-age story of this undead girl is the show’s most human element, and it helps carry the series through a stretch of low-key episodes in which Alucard makes little more than a few cameos. Without her “Hellsing” would be all style and no substance, and since much of that knockabout style goes on hiatus here she becomes even more crucial, keeping things interesting and giving the audience a larger picture of the vampire world through her eyes. Few are the anime in which the sidekick is just as if not more interesting than the hero….even if Victoria can’t compete with her master in the Cool Department

“Hellsing’s” art continues to vary wildly between inspired and just plain lazy. There is some great layout work and on Alexander Anderson which uses innovative lighting tricks to convey his fanatic, predatory nature. Helena’s reclusive abode is perfectly gothic and moody. But there is only one noteworthy bit of animation, a brief sequence in which Alucard morphs into a swarm of bats and then reforms looking meaner than ever. Keeping characters on-model remains a major problem for the show, as sometimes Alucard and Integra don’t resemble themselves in the slightest.

Keen ears will notice that the background music is being recycled from previous episodes but the music is so darn good it’s easily forgivable. The soundtrack remains “Hellsing’s” constant and greatest strength, and the hard-rock battle themes are worthy of mainstream radio.

The vocal performances have gotten even stronger since the series’ first release. Early on Crispin Freeman struggled to nail Alucard’s dark nature but he has definitely found his voice, and his malevolent delivery more than holds up to George Nakata’s original performance. Yoshiko Sakakibara and Victoria Harwood have some heavy acting duty as Integra, and both meet the challenge with consummate skill. The rest of the Japanese cast is fair to average, but the English cast is superb, and the new characters continue the nice trend of coming complete with the appropriate British, Slavic, and African accents.

It is disappointing that “Hellsing” cannot maintain the high level of storytelling that marks the first half of the series, but at only 12 episodes it is easy enough to overlook when one considers the many much longer anime series that far outstay their welcome, and the wild cast of characters and great mix of genres keep things from getting too boring. Don’t let the bad things you’ve heard about the ending keep you away from this one, in today’s stilted anime market Alucard and company are a breath of fresh air.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C-
Art : C
Music : A

+ Alucard & Anderson: Round 2
− story takes a nosedive, new villains not as interesting as the old ones

Is this the end of the Hellsing organization? Integral has been duped into sending the bulk of her forces to the Tower of London, where Incognito’s unstoppable F.R.E.A.K. squadron ambushes the Hellsing army and threatens to completely wipe them out. Alucard and Incognito himself duke it out in a final battle between the two most powerful undead on the planet. Ceres Victoria struggles with her humanity once again and proves to be one of Hellsing’s most valuable employees. Also, the link between Alucard and Integral is explored, finally revealing Alucard’s mysterious relationship to the head of the organization. The end is near, and things are looking grim.
Pioneer’s biggest release of 2002 was Gonzo’s high-profile anime series Hellsing, based on the comics published by Young King Ours. It saw success immediately on US shores–before Pioneer even announced the title–and the fanbase for it grew exponentially in a matter of months. This volume, titled Eternal Damnation, is the final volume in Pioneer’s best selling release, and while it isn’t a complete letdown as many Hellsing fans have indicated, it isn’t exactly high art, either.

The first episode on the disc is without a doubt the best. Integral was left seriously injured at the conclusion of disc three, and here, she starts out in the emergency room. During her surgery, we are treated to an explanation of the mysterious relationship between Alucard and Integral, which is certainly the most interesting bit of character interaction that the series has to offer. We discover many things about Alucard’s true nature and the Hellsing organization’s political structure, all of which come as revelations. The episode is sort of dropped into the middle of the larger storyline, though, and as things happen around Integral’s operation, we’re left swallowing back story when presumably more important things are happening elsewhere.

Following that, the final three episodes round out the series and bring it ultimately to a very unsatisfying conclusion. The screenwriter cheats a little at the end; basically, we’re lead to believe that Integral, who’s been shown as extremely intelligent and strategic up to this point, is essentially tricked into sending the bulk of her forces straight into an ambush. Alucard consistently pesters her to become a vampire, despite the fact that he’s typically very subservient to her. Suddenly, the characters’ actions are inconsistent with their established personalities, and all it does is help further the plotline–which at this point is getting somewhat ridiculous. This was expected on some level, though; whenever an anime series based on a manga (in this case, a particularly short manga) runs out of the source material, they almost always resort to the “hero or organization has to fight an enemy that’s way too powerful for them” storyline. The entire Hellsing organization and all of the major characters basically get whupped by Incognito (looking remarkably like a throwaway Dragon Ball Z villain) and his freakish hordes. Everyone is pushed to his or her absolute limits, and then, in typical anime fashion, they bounce back. It isn’t that the end of Hellsing is particularly bad. It’s just that the series started out with potential to be vastly more unique than this, and it’s somehow depressing to see the same old storyline rehashed in a show that established itself for being fairly original.

That isn’t to say this disc isn’t entertaining, not by a long shot. Despite the routine proceedings, they still managed to throw in a few clever touches, and admittedly, the final two episodes did have a true air of excitement about them. A lot happens at the end that isn’t explained at all unless you’re somewhat familiar with the manga, which makes it a blast for hardcore Hellsing fans, but American audiences relying on the series as the sole material available for this series will be confused and disappointed. As much as I really didn’t care for the Incognito character, he doesn’t pull his punches and really sticks it to Alucard, Ceres, and Integral. It’s refreshing to see a villain in this day and age who doesn’t give a long speech before delivering the final crushing blow or have some sympathetic back story intended to make the viewer understand why he or she is trying to kill everyone. Incognito is pure, unadulterated, destructive evil, and the screenwriter did a fantastic job characterizing him that way. It’s too bad his character design isn’t as good. A big portion of London gets destroyed, Walter gets a chance to show off his combat skill one more time, and Ceres deals with her personal demons. Yeah, it isn’t original, but it’s entertaining. The four main characters in this series are so much fun to watch and root for that you probably won’t notice how hackneyed the storyline has become.

For a few episodes in the middle, the animation quality in Hellsing drops to an almost insulting level. It’s practically a slide show in episode ten, arguably one of the episodes that required better animation to achieve full emotional impact. The animation in this episode is pretty awful, even by anime standards. None of the characters seem to maintain model structure and the whole thing really falls apart at the end of the episode, where a few segments of footage are re-used much too soon, making the entire climactic confrontation seem silly. The final three episodes on this disc are just as well-animated as the first three, which is saying a lot, considering this is Gonzo. The animators seem to take extra care when animating Ceres Victoria and Integral, yet many of Alucard’s close-ups and movement shots are sloppy and off-model. It’s a shame that the series’ most interesting character gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the animation budget, but at least we aren’t stuck watching Ceres’ bust line change in every frame, as it did for those middle episodes. Ceres’ close-ups are particularly well animated, and as always, the backgrounds and musical score are above par.

This may come as a shock, but Hellsing is the first anime series I can honestly say I enjoy watching dubbed far more than subtitled. The dub for this series is excellent; the voices are spot on, and aside from some weak acting on Ceres Victoria’s part, the cast is above reproach and far better than anything else I’ve encountered. Crispin Freeman pulls off Alucard perfectly, and Integral has exactly the right British tone. Since Hellsing takes place in London, it’s somewhat strange to watch in Japanese. Everyone in the show is supposedly British, and since the English staff managed to put together a stellar British cast (aside from a few obviously faked British voices), I couldn’t think of a good reason not to watch the dub. Yeah, the Japanese voices are fantastic and sound just right for the roles, but honestly, the dub is so good on this series, I suggest anyone with a penchant for hating dubs give it a shot. You won’t regret it.

An unsatisfying end to a stellar anime series, Hellsing: Eternal Damnation is obviously required viewing for any fan of the series, whether you appreciate the changes made to the storyline or not. If you aren’t a fan but like gothic horror or simply good writing and interesting characters, start from the first disc and work your way down.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : A+
Music : A+

+ Entertaining end to a great series; animation is often excellent, fun characters and storyline, nearly perfect dub
− Dissapointing in the context of the series; awful animation in spots


About animemidwesterner

I started watching in 2010. After the cruel and unusual treatment I received via silence from my conventional American culture journal(s), I decided upon an anime Japanese approach to meet new people and have otakus comment. I can finally emulate pursuit of happiness in some fashion. Pursuit of happiness wasn't happening in dead silence. myanimelist.net/profile/renegadeviking
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3 Responses to Hellsing review

  1. Michelle says:

    I really like your blog!

    You should check out Manga UK if you don’t already read it too!

  2. Velda says:

    Hey there, I really wished to comment your site.

    Several words: its amazing! Thank you and I hope you might post a growing number of!

  3. g says:

    This show started out fine but died at the end. Glad Im not the only one who talked about this

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