Hellsing Ultimate Volume 04 Review
War has been declared between Hellsing and Millennium, and with it the fate of Britannia hangs in the balance. A round table meeting is called by Her Majesty Queen of England between the Royal Protestant Knights, her top governmental brass, and the Vatican’s Iscariot Division, so they can share all information – past and present - on the nefarious Millennium group and their birth amidst the chaos of World War II. However, it is Millennium who ends up leading the meeting when Warrant Officer Schrödinger gatecrashes the party with a maniacal message from The Major, who seeks to gloat over his plans to reap mass destruction across the land.
I love this volume of Hellsing. This is the Millennium episode, where we go beyond sneak glimpses behind the organisation to spend real time with The Major and The Doctor, and their band of merry (undead) men who are threatening to burn England to dust. I use the term merry men not just as a very poor pun, but also because it perfectly encapsulates the group as an antagonistic presence in Hellsing. Their motives are simple: Let loose the dogs of war, and have a damn good time while doing it! There’s no emo-tastic story of revenge behind the organisation, no rhetoric about trouncing a corrupt empire, not even a story of holy duty to the command of the Third Reich. Nope, their motives are purely hedonistic – to revel in chaos – and in revealing Millennium’s motives, Hirano Kouta does a little revelry of his own, in violence and humour; purely because he knows it’s a formula to make this universe so very, very cool!
So when you have a scene like the round table discussion, which could easily have been very stuffy and foreboding, Kouta instead throws in a load of facetious touches; like the long line of English officials on the one side of the table, sitting across from Enrico Maxwell, or on his lonesome on the Vatican side. Like Alucard’s immense pleasure at The Major’s goading about impending carnage, and most of all in the introduction of Warrant Officer Schrödinger, a wonderfully affable “villain”, who can stare down an immensely powerful vampire count and a maniacal Major of vampire troops with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye without the slightest hint of fear (and there’s a reason for this that we’ll find out later). There’s a great moment when he meets Seras for the first time that never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Schrödinger’s entrance is the first step in introducing Millenium, not as a stereotypically evil and intense organisation, but as a group of happy comrades, delighting in every action they take – all in the most benignly malevolent and vicious way! Tomokazu Tokoro picks up enthusiastically on this hedonistic tone and attacks this episode with the same glee as is present in Kouta’s writing, embracing the musical interludes to deliver some great action montages. He’s helped a little by the abilities of this volume’s primary vampire antagonist: Rip Van Winkle, who uses a magical musket that can fire a single bullet which pierces every enemy ahead of it, which is tailor-made for the animated medium. It certainly gives Tokoro free reign to direct some extremely dynamic action scenes.
It’s not all action and hi-jinks, there’s also quite a lot of exposition and foreshadowing thrown in for good measure. We learn more about Alucard and Walter’s battles with Millenium back in WWII, we also get Alucard’s take on why he turned Seras and what it was about her that led to this act, which foreshadows Seras’ potential as a powerful ally of Hellsing. We also learn more about Iscariot’s true motives, and the preparations they are currently making for the upcoming fight.
This volume is also a little more erotically charged than we’ve seen previously. There have always been sexual undertones to the series, but considering the vampiric themes and Kouta’s own history in erotic manga (from which many of Hellsing’s characters actually originate), it’s surprising that Hellsing isn’t more sexed up beyond leering over Seras’ ample proportions. Ironically the TV series, which had to conform to the strict codes of Japanese television, actually added more sexual content than was present in the volumes of the manga it adapted. But in Volume 04 we see Kouta playing more overtly with the psycho-sexual themes that have accompanied many a vampire tale. The confrontation between Alucard and Rip Van Winkle is particularly charged with sexual aggression and submission, so much that I almost expected the BBFC to have a problem with it. Luckily it has passed unscathed.
Eroticism aside, the battle between Alucard and Rip Van Winkle is filled with fantastic imagery, and proves a fitting swansong for Tomokazu Tokoro as series director, as from the next volume a new director: Hiroyuki Tanaka, will be taking over. At least Tokoro is bowing out on top form!
PresentationHellsing: Ultimate Volume 04 is presented to the same standard as the first volume, so I will repeat my comments on the audio and transfer of that volume here:
Hellsing: Ultimate is presented Anamorphically at 1.79:1 and has been given an attractive transfer that is bogged down a little by the usual NTSC>PAL foibles (ie: poorly compressed interlaced frames). Those foibles aside for a moment though, I have to say the contrast and brightness levels are excellent, the image is bright without blooming and the blacks of deep without affecting shadow detail. The colour scheme is similarly very strong, with bright attractive colours that do not bleed. There is some chroma noise in the image, as well as low-level noise, which is probably down to the OVA’s earthy colour tone, and there’s also some minute mosquito noise that probably won’t be spotted unless you do a frame-by-frame analysis. Nevertheless for a 52minute episode you’d think there’d be pretty much no compression issues at all.
Image detail is strong thanks to the thick lines and high production values, and the print is in excellent condition, with only one or two nicks or scratches here and there. There’s a fine layer of grain present, which is rendered well enough, and there’s also some very slight Edge Enhancements. The only real problem I had with this transfer beyond the automatic standard conversion woes is that there’s quite a bit of digital banding throughout the OVA. It’s a very nice transfer – certainly better than pretty much any TV show. It’s just not a fantastic one, and I kind of expected something closer to fantastic given this series was produced for DVD.
In the audio section we have a choice of two soundtracks: Japanese DD5.1 and English DD5.1. Both tracks are excellent, the Japanese DD5.1 has deep, resounding, and tight bass, augmented by a clear, vibrant soundstage across both front and rear channels. The audio dynamics are excellent, breathing life into the brand new score and bringing clarity and punch to the action sequences. The dialogue is also crisp and clear throughout. The English DD5.1 track is pretty much an exact match for the Japanese DD5.1. The Hellsing: Ultimate English dub is handled by the people who did the dub for the original TV series. They did a good job then and do a good job now. Most of the actors suit their roles well and the idea of watching Hellsing with a proper English context is not an unattractive one.
Optional English subtitles are included, with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.
ExtrasThere’s a small but worthwhile selection of extras here, I’ll just give you a brief rundown:
Commentary with Taliesin Jaffe (English Voice Director), Kari Wahlgren (Rip Van Winkle), and Ralph Lister (Walter): These Hellsing commentaries are always far better than your usual English dub crew affairs. Mostly because of the presence of Taliesin Jaffe, who imparts a lot of technical information on the English adaption and recording process and even some insight into the Japanese manga, but also because the Hellsing crew seem pretty close-knit and certainly enjoy each other’s company. This is yet another jovial and informative chat between Jaffe and his cast and it was particularly satisfying to hear the dub-director discuss themes from the episode that grabbed me and interpreted them exactly how I had as well (which I often find from his commentaries).
Interview with Taliesin Ralph Lister: This pretty much covers the bases: Lister’s acting background, his interpretation of Walter, and what he thinks of the Hellsing fanbase. Lister describes himself as “a regular ass” so this is not the most serious of interviews, with Lister proving to be an engaging interviewee.
Interview with Kari Wahlgren: Rip Van Winkle is a challenging role to pull off, so I was very interested to hear Kari talk about the challenges of the musical interludes and of course that heavily sexualised and prolonged confrontation with Alucard. Unfortunately she doesn’t mention the sexual aspects of the latter, but does cover pretty much every other aspect of the role.
Non Credit Ending IV: This is a really fun credit sequence which captures the feel of the comedy sketches Kouta throws in at the end of the tankoubon releases of Hellsing. Well worth checking out.
Production Videos: This is actually a montage of promo videos for this episode of Hellsing: Ultimate. In previous volumes the corresponding promo trailers were always selectable independently, but not here.