Hellsing Ultimate: Flashy, but Plenty of Room for Improvement

This month, I got my hands on the first DVD of the much-anticipated Hellsing Ultimate OVA, and I have to say I’m a little disappointed.

The original show ranks high on my list of favorite anime, although I probably wouldn’t put it in the top five. Still, it combines vampires, gunfights, a dark and realistic setting and an exceptional plot into a single series, and to top it all off it was animated by Studio Gonzo – famous for such shows as Last Exile, Full Metal Panic! and Samurai Seven.

It’s a lot to live up to, but fans were salivating at the idea of being able to continue beyond the not-ending that wrapped up the original series. Since Ultimate was created to better follow the manga – and was written after the last of the books was released – it promised to provide both more of the vampiric action that had propelled the original show to fame and a satisfying resolution to the source of the technologically created “freaks” (as the lead characters affectionately call them).

Ultimate has proven itself up to the challenge… Sort of.

The animation has changed dramatically, though it would be hard to say it had either improved or worsened. This OVA simply does not craft a world with the same dark and gritty realism as Studio Gonzo, although it does an excellent job. The inclusion of “chibi” art at times, with the same style as seen in the episode previews in the original Hellsing series, adds a somewhat lighter and airier feel, which makes it more accessible to some fans, but detracts from the overall serious feel of the show.

Ultimate suffers less – by comparison – in the audio department, and might even surpass the original in some aspects. Several of the Japanese voice actors are different and the mannerisms of the characters have changed as well. The English voice-acting staff, however, is almost identical to the original show, allowing fangirls to sigh dreamily once more at Father Anderson’s Scottish brogue. The music, though different, still does an excellent job of conveying the dark and gothic atmosphere, and although I enjoyed the original soundtrack immensely, I have a weakness for orchestral arrangements.

What, then, is my major gripe with the first, 50-minute episode?

Ironically, it is the story – the one element of the show that has changed the least from the original show. Yes, it still follows the exploits of the Hellsing organization, hunting down and destroying vampires in the name of the Queen of England with the assistance of Arucard – vampire master – and policewoman-turned-vampire-fledgling Seras Victoria, but the way Ultimate goes about telling their stories is very different.

The inclusion of sex and virginity as important factors feels artificial (almost as much as the word “Draculina”) and forced, even though it is true to the manga. Similarly, the scenes where Seras delves into the darker side of what she has become feel hurried – at one point she even shifts from fairly normal to bloodthirsty and then back again, not really stopping to question why. Forget character development: this episode is all about hustling the viewer along from one action sequence to the next.

This problem with pacing is perhaps the most rampant one in the entire episode. The entire show feels rushed, racing from gun battle to gun battle with very little chance to build up dramatic tension in between. When comparing Ultimate to the original show, you really gain an appreciation for the importance of tension in creating an interesting and immersive story.

Perhaps this is to be expected, as the OVA progresses through the same amount of story in the first episode of Ultimate as in the entire first disc of the original show, but it still leaves a sour aftertaste on what could otherwise be an excellent cinematic experience. Couple that with an ending credits sequence that reveals far too much for the first episode, and you have my major gripe with Ultimate.

It’s probably still worth purchasing for the serious Hellsing fan in your life, and it’s definitely worth a rental if you can find somewhere that carries it, but the first episode, at least (which, in case nobody mentioned it, is the only episode on the first disc), has not been the promised Holy Grail that devotees of the original show have awaited. Let’s hope they work a bit on their story problems for later episodes.