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For generations the Hellsing Organisation has held back the tide of vampires, which threaten to overwhelm the British Empire. The current head of the organisation, Integra Hellsing, inherited the post from her father in tragic circumstances when her Uncle Richard tried to assassinate her, in a power struggle, for control. Her father's dying breath led Integra to the basement of their house where she accidentally awoke Alucard, a powerful vampire who used to work for the organisation, but had been deemed too dangerous during the closing years of World War II and put on ice. Ten years later and Integra is secure in her position and Alucard has once more become an active operative of Hellsing...
Hellsing Ultimate (Herushingu, 2001) is a particularly violent and bloody gothic horror thirteen-episode anime show from the Gonzo director Umanosuke Iida. The shows were based on the very popular, but slow to produce, manga by Kouta Hirano. Because of the length of time between chapters of the manga the anime show has some significant differences. Both the manga and anime have been massively popular, staying in the top ten. Ultimate represents the first four OVA’s and as such they are all around forty-five to fifty minutes long. Previously released as a DVD set, this is the first time that the show has appeared on Blu-ray.
The beginning of the story is a little confusing as you're thrust straight into Uncle Richard trying to kill a young Integra, her waking up Alucard - Dracula backwards, if you hadn’t already worked that one out - and then bang the show has moved forward ten years, with the very minor back-story having little impact on the main show.
The show has two main characters and I guess you could say that the story is as much about Seras Victoria as it is about Alucard. Alucard is old and immensely powerful, even for a vampire, when he shoots Sera, a human operative with Hellsing, through the chest to kill his adversary. With her life’s blood spilling out onto the ground the vampire gives Seras a simple choice: Die or be bitten. Having taken that fateful choice the story follows Alucard and Seras on her first mission and the moral dilemma that she faces now she has to kill to live.
Complicating this picture is another organisation, which on the surface appears to have the same goal as Hellsing, but whose methods are radically at odds with Alucard. The Iscariot Organisation, part of the Vatican, is so ideologically at odd with Hellsing that their dispute threatens to create a space where vampires can thrive and multiply.
I was pretty impressed with the DVD sets when they were first released so was interested to see if releasing them on Blu-ray was going to present significant differences. The answer is yes and no. The DVD set was pretty good as far as quality was concerned and playing them side by side, there is a significant improvement in the colour and definition. It’s an odd choice, if I had started with the Blu-ray then I wouldn’t have considered buying them on DVD, but the other way around you have to ask yourself, just what are you getting which makes buying the set twice worthwhile.
The Blu-ray has a much higher definition drawing out all the detail in the picture, the encoding is good, lacking any noise compression or artefacts. There is occasional grain, but this has been placed in the picture deliberately by the artists. The audio has been worked over too, giving you a lossless 5.1 for both the Japanese audio and the DTS-HD English dub.
Disc one hold the four OVA’s and each episode now has a commentary from the English dub crew and cast. Disc two is just extras, most of which are in standard definition. It kicks off with Interviews. The first (31 min, 47 sec), is with Taliesin Jaffe, the English voice director and Crispin Freeman (Alucard, misspelt in the menu), the second (24 min, 15 sec) is with Jaffe again, this time with Patrick Seitz (Luke Valentine) and Josh Phillips (Jan Valantine). The third interview (29 min, 53 sec) is with Jaffe again, this time he is joined by Victoria Hardwood (Integra) and JB Blanc (Maxwell). The last interview (15 min, 06 sec) has Jaffe and Ralph Lister (Walter). The interviews pretty much cover everything you would want to know about the show. Given Jaffe’s changing hair and facial hair styles these were not done at the same time.
Next up is the Anime Expo 2007 (1 min, 58 sec) & (42 min, 02 sec) which is split up between the English cast table and the Geneon Booth, featuring Hellsing mansion. The first has no vocals, just a music track as the camera whizzes around the cast meeting peeps and signing shit. The second is the English cast and crew panel from the convention.
There are seven Promotional Videos of varying lengths and four textless songs. There is the Japanese TV Commercial for each of the OVA’s and the Japanese Ending (2 min, 09 sec) for OVA 4, when it says the Japanese ending; it really means the credits in Japanese, with some very Nazi animation.
The Karaoke of Major’s Speech (6 min, 40 sec) is the speech without any vocals, you can read along with the subtitles, but let’s face it you could turn off the sound and do this with the whole show, so I’m not really sure what purpose the extra fulfils. The disc closes with over six minutes of Trailers, which are in reality a bunch of adverts for other things.
For the show itself, certainly the production values shine through. From a narrative perspective I found the character of Seras much more interesting than Alucard, after all he had been a vampire since 1400, whereas we are witness to Seras’s moral choices. Alucard appears to be amoral rather than immoral, though some of his choices, such as making sure that the undead are terminated quickly as their condition was something that was forced upon them, would point to a creature with depths, which have yet to be explored.
So, the real question is should you spend your hard earned dosh on this show? If you missed the DVD release then the answer is yes and you should certainly go for the Blu-ray version. The show is a class act and should form part of any serious anime fan's collection. However, if you have already spent out for the DVD, unless you are obsessive about higher quality, it becomes a much harder sell.