For the last few years I have been writing reviews (mostly anime, some live-action) for U.K. print mag MYM Magzine. What follows is the text of the submitted draft for my first commission back in 2013, reviewing the Manga U.K. blu-ray relese of Hellsing Ultimate OVAs 1-4. To read the final version as edited by David Axbey please buy back issue #17 of the magazine.
With this adaptation of Kita Hourano’s globally popular manga, digimation pioneers GDH return to the franchise they made into an international success with these first 4 OVA episodes, originally released from 2006 to 2008. Britain’s Protestant knights, the Hellsing order, defend the Kingdom’s borders from supernatural threats, deploying their secret weapon - the original vampire Alucard – under the direction of Sir Integra Hellsing, descendent of the original hunter.
It is otaku heresy to suggest that the Hellsing Ultimate OVA episodes are anything less than the apotheosis of manga-to-anime adaptation, perfect in the eyes of fans and the original creator. Sadly, everything that made the original TV series entertaining and popular – fine animation, good writing and direction, a great soundtrack, restraint, class – are here dispensed with in favour of spectacular chunks of simplified modern digital animation, slavishly adapting the original manga in excruciating detail. All the fan-favourite tropes are present and correct: the characters, the flowing costumes, the gun porn and the immense swathes of blood. The big addition is more humour, including the super-deformed comedy sequences from the manga.
Watching the episodes all at once rather than drip-fed over years causes distinct viewer fatigue, crowned by the utter bore that is the TEN MINUTES’ WORTH of Nazi ranting and singing at the end of episode 4 - a fifth of the episode’s total running time! The show indulges its newest Big Bad to such a degree that it goes from a simple villainous turn to the best advert for National Socialism since the last EDL recruitment drive, topped off with a bonkers SD ED sequence that is as tasteless as it is unfunny. The soundtrack is depressingly generic. Events frequently grind to a halt for digital blood to splash everywhere, or long speeches placed in static dullness. Presumably the latter were to make for some affordable scenes in-between the costly ones, but if the “rivers of blood” shots jarringly halt the combat sequences just as they get moving, then the dialogue sequences break up the overall flow of the episodes. All together they create a stop-start effect that destroys any build up of tension.
The video and audio on this blu-ray are first-class, with the episodes and English voice cast commentaries on disc 1 and the rest of the extras on disc 2. These include: two hours of English voice cast interviews filmed with the commentary teams; footage from Anime Expo 2007; promo videos; textless songs; Japanese TV commercials; trailers; and, in case you actually enjoyed the dreadful finale of episode 4, you can relive it with the original Japanese ED and a karaoke version of the Major’s speech. We kid you not – you too can play “Fascist Dictator Monthly” in the comfort of your own home, if that’s your cup of Fachinger.
All in all, this release is a technically impressive outing for one of the most popular anime ever. It’s just a shame that, like the film versions of 300 and Sin City, the raw pulp thrills on the page dissipate when the comic is transferred too faithfully to the screen.