Hiroshi NakaRomi ParkHellsingYuko Kaida
Hellsing Ultimate
Medium: OVA, series
Year: 2006-12
Director: Hiroyuki Tanaka (director), Ken'ichi Suzuki, Tomokazu Tokoro, Yasuhiro Matsumura
Original creator: Kouta Hirano
Actor: Chikao Ohtsuka, Daisuke Namikawa, Fumiko Orikasa, Hiroaki Hirata, Hiroshi Naka, Houchu Ohtsuka, Joji Nakata, Katsunosuke Hori, Maaya Sakamoto, Masashi Hirose, Mitsuki Saiga, Motomu Kiyokawa, Nobuo Tobita, Norio Wakamoto, Romi Park, Ryoko Shiraishi, Sho Hayami, Takehito Koyasu, Wataru Takagi, Yoko Soumi, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Yuko Kaida
Keywords: Hellsing, anime, horror, vampires, rubbish
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 10 episodes, roughly 50 minutes each (plus three bonus mini-episodes)
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=5114
Website category: Anime late 00s
Review date: 24 May 2023
I love Hellsing. The 2001 Gonzo series was one of two series that got me into anime. (The other was Vampire Princess Miyu, which is much less remembered these days.) I don't know how many times I've watched it. That said, though, it takes liberties with the original manga and goes off in a completely different direction in its second half, partly because the manga wasn't even halfway through at the time.
This is a far more faithful adaptation. It covers the whole manga from start to finish, including its far more ambitious action scenes. It has a bigger budget, more lavish animation and a stronger Japanese voice cast. It goes off in a different direction from the Gonzo series as early as ep.3.
I hated it. I could barely sit through the later episodes.
One of my problems is that I'd unfortunately seen the anime of Kouta Hirano's other famous manga, Drifters. It's not much good and it makes Hirano's habits obvious. The main one is to have people grinning evilly at every possible opportunity, because it looks cool. That's the main priority, frankly. Guns. Fights. Looking cool. There's not a huge amount under the surface. In fairness, Hellsing is extremely cool, but it wouldn't have hooked me if that were all.
No, the Gonzo anime's crucial change was making Seras Victoria the viewpoint character. Among all the grinning badasses and warring Catholic vs. Protestant vampire hunters, Victoria's an ordinary cop who got turned into a vampire by Alucard. She'd been mortally wounded. It was either that or die. I love her. She gives the Gonzo anime a heart and we see all the outrageousness through her eyes.
The Ultimate OVAs (and I'd guess the manga) aren't particularly interested in her. She's not absent, but she doesn't seem particularly important and she's already doing the Evil Grin less than half an hour into ep.1. What we have instead is just big men waving their big dicks. (I don't mean that literally. This isn't hentai.) Look, Alucard has a gun. Look, he's grinning. Everyone loves letting the enemy shoot a million bullets into them, because it lets them stand up again afterwards and prove HOW COOL they are. Oh, sod off. It's empty. There's the odd human element occasionally, some of which is even quite well done, but there's just not enough of it amid the gun wank. Kouta Hirano admires the even more nonsensical Trigun, which I think says it all.
We're supposed to care when immortals fight to the you-can't-actually-die. We're supposed to care about cartoon vampire Nazis led by a one-note rip-off of Ronald Lacey from Raiders of the Lost Ark. We're supposed to believe that the Catholic Church would have top assassins called Iscariot and put their soldiers in Klu Klux Klan uniforms. Also, indeed, that today's Vatican regards murdering Protestants as either pest control or a fun afternoon.
I should pick out the good bits, I suppose.
1. Theoretically, Seras Victoria is quite good. She's still the same character she was in the Gonzo anime, after all. She can be charming. All I wanted was for her to get more screen time, ideally in scenes that weren't yet another fight. The later episodes do some worthwhile things with her (in between the inevitable fight scenes and Look At My Stupidly Enormous Gun) and I might have been interested if the show hadn't already lost me long before. (Or, maybe, if I'd never seen the Gonzo series. The comparison certainly does Ultimate no favours.) I like what the series does with her and Pip Bernadotte.
2. I quite like Sir Integra (who's a female "sir" because this is a silly Japanese anime and no one bothered researching British formal titles). I always have. She works best when she's mean and angry, I think, although alas she gets her share of grinning too. Unfortunately, though, her "search and destroy" catchphrase is used even in circumstances that make her look stupid. (She says it in ep.10 when there's only one enemy left and he's standing right in front of her.)
3. Ep.5 is about the incompetent but brave Mr Penwood. He can't fight. Again, this episode would have been good if I'd seen it when I still gave a toss. (Ep.5 is too late.)
4. First Lieutenant Rip van Winkle is adorable. (And a vicious psycho killer.) She doesn't last long against Alucard, unfortunately, but she brightens up ep.4.
That's about it for the good stuff, I think. The show's idea of comedy is particularly painful. You'll get silly scenes where the characters are crudely drawn and have rectangular mouths. This never, ever works. It's unfunny whenever they do it. Gonzo did a little of that too, but only after the end credits.
Oh, and the Gonzo series has iconic theme music. Ultimate doesn't.
The Dawn mini-sodes are set during World War Two and star Walter (cool old butler who can slice vampires into salami) when he was a tedious brat. This isn't an improvement.
I wouldn't have hated Ultimate as much if I hadn't seen the Gonzo series, but I'm pretty sure I'd still have had a low opinion of it. It's stupid. It has unbelievable dialogue and absurd action scenes because it's always taking the shortest line to the next Moment of Cool, regardless of cliches. It's so in love with its fight scenes that they soon get boring. Occasional scenes and even entire episodes will be quite good, though, and you could certainly make a much better series by trimming all the empty nonsense, i.e. about 80% of its running time.
What's more, this hypothetical better version exists and we've been enjoying it since 2001. I'd heartily recommend that instead.