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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hellsing Ultimate Review

Warning: Some spoilage. Take home message: Hellsing Ultimate is definitely worth your time if you'd rather watch it instead of reading this.

Hellsing Ultimate is the second anime adaptation of the manga by Kouta Hirano. It is reportedly follows the plot of the original manga more closely, and the artistic style is supposed to be similar, with critics especially noting the heavy brushstrokes. I personally prefer the new series (currently finished up to episode 3), as there is more anime-esque humour in it, and the story is easier to follow. Be warned, however, this show is not for the weak of stomach. It's unapologetically gory and truly demonic, but there is still much to enjoy, as Hellsing is ridiculously slick and the music is excellent.

The first anime series, called simply "Hellsing", consists of 13 episodes that describe the adventures of a young British police woman, Victoria Seras, who is sent with her team to clear out a nest of ghouls and their controlling vampire. Unknown to the local police, there is no way they can win the battle, and all but Victoria are converted to ghouls. She is "saved" by the vampire hitman "Alucard" (Dracula spelled backwards), who shoots the vampire through Victoria's chest. Victoria is not finished with this world, however, and chooses to follow Alucard as a servant vampire. She doesn't realise what she's in for, and resists drinking blood and other demonic behaviours for quite some time, much to Alucard's dismay. When she does snap and give in to her demon side, she is often horrified at her new abilities and inclinations.

Alucard is "owned" by the Hellsing Organisation, and takes orders from them. How this came to be is not addressed in the original series, but in the remake, it is revealed that he was once Count Dracula, who was defeated by Abraham Van Helsing, and is now slave to the Hellsing clan. (It is speculated that the misspelling of the manga title was deliberate.) You'd think that Alucard would resent his current station, however he gets a kick out of the attitude of Integra Hellsing, his commanding officer, and he clearly enjoys his work. The artists of both anime series make no attempts to conceal or soften his demonic behaviour, even where his protégé Victoria is concerned. He is one slick, gun-toting monster, who constantly changes his hair length and eyeball size/number.

The Hellsing Organisation is an ordained group of Protestant knights who have been fighting vampires covertly for hundreds of years. The current leader is Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, who inherited her knighthood from her father at the age of 12, bypassing her uncle, who was willing to kill her for it. It was her attempted murder, and the blood from a gunshot wound, that woke Alucard in the first place, as he had been kept in the Hellsing Family's basement as a corpse since his defeat. In the first anime, Integra is consistently a woman of steel, whereas in the second, she seems inexplicably hopeful that Alucard will somehow attain compassionate inclinations towards humans, and is bewilderingly surprised when she sees what her own vampires can do. She also displays vacillating softness towards Victoria, who is in all aspects, a soldier and a pawn.

The main story arc follows the appearance of a new type of artificial vampire. These creatures are made by implanting dead humans with a special kind of microchip that records telemetry and sends it back to a home base. The ancestral home of the Hellsing Family is attacked by these, wiping out nearly the whole army, leaving only Victoria, Alucard, and Walter – the Butler and former Hellsing Trashman (now Alucard's post). Walter is still a badass himself, whose favoured weapon is a collection of microfilaments that can slice through metal. Not surprisingly, Alucard and Walter get on very well.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that the microchips are part of a project initiated by the still functional Third Reich, and it is hinted that they are interested in Alucard as a potential template for the ultimate human race. Some apparent bias seeps into the story, when a representative of the unacknowledged "Iscariot Organisation" of the Vatican (Section XIII) mentions that they have been funding the "Millennium Project." This part of the story had been greatly toned down in the original series.

So if you choose to watch it, I'd say watch Hellsing first, to get the gist of it (since otherwise you'll have to wait for the remaining episodes), and then sit back to really enjoy Hellsing Ultimate. I wouldn't watch them the other way around, since the presentation of Hellsing may prove unsatisfying.

Hellsing Ultimate gets a full 10/10 stars.

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