Hellsing: The Collection Review
2001 was a good year for Gonzo Digimation. With the rapid success of television series based upon vampires, seeping onto our screens, along with several movies - Hellsing turned out to be a well timed release. Not only was it popular in Japan but it became huge overseas and has since gained a welcome reputation for its fresh approach to the vampire mythos.
The story is based upon Kouta Hirano's manga of the same name and takes place in modern England. Sir Integra Hellsing - in actuality a young woman, runs the Hellsing Organisation, inherited after her father's passing away. Her job is to maintain low profile as her troops are sent out to dispatch vampires who threaten queen and country. Aiding her is a mysterious figure in red, known as Alucard - a vampire himself who is servant to Integra and for some unknown reason takes pride is destroying his own kind.
While out on a mission one night, a young police officer by the name of Seras Victoria witnesses the transformation of her fellow colleagues as they become ghoulish beings. She runs and seeks shelter in a church, where she is greeted by a priest. This man is in turn a vampire who threatens her very life, but before he gets the chance to sink his teeth into her tasty neck he is interrupted by Alucard. With Seras being held captive Alucard notions to her that he will need to shoot through her body in order to kill the vampire, giving her the choice to live or die. Opting to live, Alucard shoots and soon saves her, bringing her into the world of the shadows where she now serves under her master.
The events in episode one set up the show very well and over the course of the next one or two crucial episodes the series takes a look at Seras in her new surroundings as she must come to grips with being a vampire. Natural questions are asked and feelings are explored as she comes to terms with having to do all the essential things in order to survive - everything that is foreign to her she must force herself to abide and follow new rules, under the guidance of her new master. These first few episodes are handled suitably well, of course for the duration of the show we discover new things about Seras and every other character in that respect.
The biggest one of all though is the character of Alucard. We all know who he is though his real name is never once mentioned, but the series doesn't need to drop too many hints or dwell on the matter, suffice to say that by referring to him as the most notorious of all vampires is clue enough to understanding his identity. The real questions that need answering later are "why is he here and why does he help the organisation?" In due course we find out more about him and during the series' run his character is nothing short of "cool". Alucard is one of the freshest characters to ever grace an anime series. His dry wit and unashamed, egotistical boasting provides some highly entertaining moments.
Onto the structure of the story itself, Hellsing has somewhat of a divided arc, two arcs in actuality if you will. For while the basis of the story is the Hellsing Organisation battling against vampires, they also have new threats to deal with.
Firstly we have the introduction of the Vatican's organisation who is also on a mission not unlike Hellsing's, but this order is in constant bicker with their rivals because they do not approve of Sir Integra using Alucard to fight their battles. He is a breach of everything the organisation despises and as the Vatican order fight onward against vampires they send out one of their best men, Alexander to take care of Alucard, who proves to be more than a match for him.
With the introduction of an extra religious faction the series takes on several superbly written scenarios. Doubling its effectiveness is the way in which the Hellsing organisation continues to go about their mission under the blessed guidance of queen and god. Moralistically this poses conflicting arguments between both sides (Hellsing and Vatican) as the saviours of their country harbour one of the most dangerous creatures to ever be unleashed upon the world.
The other major introduction and one that is ultimately more frustrating, but no less exciting is the discovery of a chip that enables humans to become vampires with ease. For the bulk of the series Alucard and Seras find themselves hunting down these criminals who have no respect for themselves and choose to live a life of perpetual chaos. Things become interesting when later the Hellsing organisation face their toughest battle yet, up against a pair of seemingly unstoppable foes, in a superb two part storyline that will shock and excite.
My biggest gripe with this element however is that it isn't fully developed enough by the end of the series. Hellsing finishes its run and fails to explain in detail where these "Freak" chips come from. It may be interesting to note that the series does continue on in the form of its manga and I have a feeling that we were supposed to get more out of the anime series, that originally aired in the late hours in Japan and would suggest it didn't do well enough on its television run to ensure a second series.
Chiaki J. Konaka has exhibited several problems in the past with his anime scripts (Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, Serial Experiments Lain) and here he falls short of delivering a well rounded story, making it appear that he's interested in taking several avenues at the same time but not being able to make more sense out of them.
Now, here's where things get interesting because by episode seven of the anime series, director Yasunori Urata had already caught up with the events that had taken place within the original manga. The intention was there to continue the series at a later time, once the manga serial had finally ended. Being that the manga is still ongoing, writer Kouta Hirano has explained the difficulties in this happening and it would seem at present that Gonzo and Pioneer are waiting until this day, when they can finally hope to return to the series. So don't write Hellsing off just yet, fingers crossed it shall be resurrected.
One thing about the series that stands out particularly well is just how subtle the animation really is. It's huge without being huge and to make sense of that I mean to say it employs digital effects to such a skilful degree that most of the series would appear to be a very flashy piece of work, with some great effects that you'll be hard pressed to find any CGI activity. The fact is that these effects are deliberately made subtle and in no way are meant to take away from the essence of the story and predominantly hand drawn characters. For a Gonzo Digimation production this is quite an interesting turn as in the past, not to mention future shows they have shown a knack of making it a big deal, which has caused problems for them on one hand but on the other - tremendous success. So Hellsing works remarkably well this time and remains a gorgeous show throughout, with some brilliant character designs that only occasionally seem to oddly change in appearance, meaning that several of the animators seem to have done their own thing with certain character's features.
I have to say that Hellsing features one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard in an anime series. Not only is Yasushi Ishii's score compelling and original, inducing those goose bump moments during several action oriented moments but also we have some fantastic rock based themes, from the funked up blues intro of "Cool+ - The World Without Logos" by Ishii himself, to the equally fantastic closing song "Shine" by Mr. Big.
ADV present Hellsing in all its glory in this limited edition release that houses four discs containing all 13 episodes, within a thick armaray case. The presentation is rather nice and the cover can be reversed if desired.
The series is presented in its original full screen ratio and has been transferred to DVD with relative ease. Much of the series uses various lighting effects that can often be seen as distracting if it hadn't been intentional. The transfer here holds up well, at times looking a little soft and hazy but nevertheless having strong blacks and plenty of detail. The recurring problem of digital banding is made present and this proves to be a problem with certain light sources and shading but appears to be unavoidable at this stage and is something that is present on most digitally coloured shows.
We have a choice of 2.0 English or 2.0 Japanese. If you're after that extra bit of authenticity then you may like to listen to the English dub. Saying that it is quite poor in many areas and I found myself struggling to sit through it for sampling reasons. The actors, with the exception of Crispin Freeman as Alucard all put on British accents, most of which sound strange, especially Seras whose American accent tends to seep through her performance at times. I'm not sure if any of the actors here are really British or not but as a Brit myself I always find shows to be dubbed with UK accents to be a little off putting, especially considering that most voices are stereotypical and lack more variation. Some of the voices work better than others but in all honesty you should just view this in its original Japanese track, featuring highly charged performances that suit the characters perfectly.
Both tracks have a decent amount of speaker coverage. Listening to it through my surround set up there is a fair amount of decent usage made of the rear speakers. Dialogue is clear and the sound effects and music are nicely complimented in-between all the action.
Being that these four discs are identical to the individual releases we have the same amount of extras as follows:
This is a fine piece of animation and welcome to see, sans credits.
Music Video Trailer
Running for 3:45 this music video features an atmospheric collection of clips that contain minor spoilers so you may want to save this 'til later if you prefer to be surprised.
A wonderful collection of artwork, spread over 50 pages, covering characters, props and architectural design work.
This 17-minute feature offers some interesting insights into the production of the show, featuring interviews with major staff members, including the director, animators, and musicians. What troubles me is that everyone says how this is a show that will be like no other, which in many respects is true but they also promise that it will deliver a lot for the viewer. This is where I have to disagree purely because it doesn't deliver everything you want it to, making me wonder if it was indeed intended to have a longer run.
Creditless Ending (Ver. 01)
As far as I can tell the only difference here is the final part of the credits when we see a different image through Alucard's shades.
50 more pages of high quality production designs.
Japanese Cover Art
A collection of some very eye-catching images that graced the original Japanese VHS/DVD releases of the series, and some of which have been used by ADV for their releases.
Creditless Ending (Ver.02)
Same as before, the only noticeable difference is the final image.
Wow, another 50 pages. This is definitely the most comprehensive collection of images I've seen from any ADV release. Very impressive.
Magazine Ad Art
7 pages of fine artwork used to promote the series inside Japan.
Creditless Ending (Ver.03)
The last of these alternate endings. While the song is good there really isn't enough here of interest to make it a worthwhile re-visit.
Bringing the overall total to 200 pages of concept art, here we have another 50 wonderful drawings.
Weapons of Hellsing
The final addition to the collection is this less than meaty gallery of high profile weapons, used in the series. Only 5 pages here that cover Alucard hand pieces, Seras' bazooka and Alexander's swords.
Each disc also includes several trailers for other anime series, available through ADV.
Hellsing is a brilliant series that deserved to go on longer than it did. Gripping from start to finish the only consolation is that it continues on through its manga form, but with much of this yet to be translated it may be some time before us fans can read the final outcome of the series. But it shouldn't really come down to this and as it stands Hellsing ends on a disappointing note. There is plenty of excitement on offer which should ensure that any anime fan will have a good time - it is almost a perfect show and I hate to see it end like this. It was so close to being a masterpiece.