Review Date: January 4, 2004
Released by: Pioneer Entertainment
Release date: 7/23/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
In the name of God, impure souls of the living dead shall be banished into eternal damnation. Amen.
In a first for HorrorDVDs.com, I would like to present not one but TWO reviews of the animated Japanese series Hellsing, released on DVD by Pioneer Entertainment. The first review will be a brief overview, for those who don't like my in-depth and over-analytical style, and the second will be my usual type of review. So here we go:
Hellsing kicks ass. Buy it. Now.
Order 01: The Undead
Like most anime series, the first episode is usually an introduction to the 2 or 3 major characters, and Hellsing is no exception. We are introduced to the Royal Order of Religious Knights, or the Hellsing Organization. Their job is the extermination of vampires that are plaguing Great Britain, and leading the anti-vampire forces is the mysterious Sir Integra Wingates Hellsing (voice of Yoshiko Sakakibara), the latest heir to the Hellsing family. Her number one weapon is Arucard (George Nakata), who is a vampire himself, yet he serves humankind. You don't need to be a genius to see that "Arucard" is Dracula spelled backwards, with the "R" replacing the "L", as that sound is non-existent in Japanese.
Their current assignment is the termination of a rogue priest who has become a vampire, and all police forces have been unable to stop him. One regiment of officers is completely decimated, leaving only their plucky "Little Kitty" Victoria Seras (Fumiko Orikasa) to fight the ever-increasing squadrons of ghouls. Arucard drops in to save the day, but killing the priest will require Victoria to make a major sacrifice.
Order 02: Club M
Victoria is now employed by the Hellsing Organization, but is having a great deal of difficulty adjusting to her new situation. On her first assignment, she freezes, and is unable to kill the targeted vampire. She'll only get one more opportunity to prove her worth, and it's with two joy-riding vampires, Leif and Jessica (Wataru Takagi, Akeno Watanabe), who are only killing for the "high". Arucard hates those who view vampirism as a new sort of drug, and eliminates one of the duo, leaving Victoria to kill the other and finally show that she belongs in the Hellsing Organization.
Order 03: Sword Dancer
Here's where it really starts to get good. The main plot of this episode is similar two the other two, with Hellsing dispatched to eradicate more vampires. This time it's a pair of lovers, Enrico and Mick, but what makes these vampires different is that they've used computer chips to join the undead. And even worse, a dispatch from the Vatican's Iscariot Organization, Alexander (Nachi Nozawa) is also intent on killing the vampires. The problem with Alexander is that he views ALL vampires as evil, even those who serve mankind. Arucard and Victoria will be facing enemies on both sides, with a finale that must be seen to be believed.
I've been touting Japanese animation on this site for quite a while, and for those who have yet to really sample the genre, this is the one series to sink one's teeth into (pun intended). Horror fans will especially enjoy Hellsing, as it's easily one of the best forays into horror I've seen in anime. The series is especially brutal and violent, and the violence is actually effective. Not only that, but the imagery is outstanding too, with foggy moors, shadowy hallways, and dungeon-like living quarters. This is even more amazing when you take a few seconds to realize that none of these locations really exist, but were created from the minds of the artists involved.
Hellsing also features a compelling storyline with multi-dimensional characters. We're not quite sure about the history of the Hellsing Organization, how Arucard came to work for them, or the relationship between him and Sir Integra. I have the feeling that more will be explained in the remaining 10 episodes. And while Victoria provides the eye-candy of the show (stockings, mini-skirt, and more than ample chest), she's also undergoing a major life transformation after episode 1. She's a bit clumsy and awkward at first, but I suspect she'll be quite hard around the edges before this series is done.
I also like the combination of self-contained stories amongst a larger narrative. These first few episodes mostly serve to get the viewer acquainted with the characters, as well as the vampire mythology we'll be seeing. And since Victoria is a newcomer (just like us), expository scenes are not as intrusive as they might seem. When vampire lore is explained to her, the real target is actually the viewer. Each of the first three episodes has a resolution, allowing us to get accustomed to the Hellsing universe, before beginning any major story arcs or introducing us to a main villain. Still, since this is a somewhat shorter series (13 episodes, compared to the typical 26 for anime), they don't have too much time to waste.
Japanese animation is certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but I really can't imagine any horror fan that would not find Hellsing to be a fun and entertaining series. While good horror anime series are still very few and far between, this is easily one of the best. The action is fast and furious, yet still easy to follow. Many newcomers to anime are turned off by the usual 15 minutes of static scenes, then a 7-minute apocalyptic battle of giant robots. You won't find anything like that in Hellsing; the animation here is much more fluid and natural. If I were to have any complaints about this show, it's that it is only a 13-episode series. I haven't watched it to the end yet, but I'm pretty sure I'll be bummed when it concludes. I certainly hope there will be more episodes, though I don't know how they wrap up the finale, so I can't even say for sure if more episodes are even possible.
Finally, a quick word about purchasing anime on DVD. For those who've never shopped for Japanese animation, it can be quite expensive. Hellsing carries a rather hefty list price of $29.95 for each of the four discs, or $120 for the entire series, which barely runs more than four hours. Cash-strapped fans may notice that it's not hard to find the entire series on bootleg discs for less than the cost of a single disc of the official release. Now, while I admit that the price of anime discs seems more than a little excessive, buying low-quality bootlegs is not the answer (I've seen some bootleg anime, and the image quality as well as the translation is a significant step down). So, how does one buy legal versions of great series like Hellsing without resorting to selling blood? First, try buying the first disc of a series as a sample. This way, you're not out as much money, especially if you don't like the series. Secondly, buying a series out-of-order may soften the blow a bit, as you can often find single copies of later discs in the series at a cheaper price if they're not part of a matched set. Finally, several online anime retailers (The Right Stuf and Planet Anime are two of my biggest suppliers) often have sales in which DVDs are available at less than $20. Perhaps prices may come down (for example, the baseball series Princess Nine by ADV carries a much more reasonable list price of $19.98 per disc) if the studios see higher sales numbers, so hopefully anime on DVD will only become more accessible in the future.
Since Hellsing was a Japanese television series, it's in the standard aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Enhancement for 16:9 televisions is not present. I'm a little confused, as one of the bonus features is shown in widescreen (more on that later), and this show would look great in a wider ratio. I'm sure that those who have 16:9 screens would definitely concur. Still, this is an outstanding transfer, yet another reason to pick the official Pioneer release over the bootlegs, where video quality typically fluctuates. The color red is very present in Hellsing (quite obvious from the screenshots), and it looks very rich and vibrant here. And the overall look is soft enough to avoid looking excessively digitized, another common problem with Japanese animation on DVD.
Unfortunately, there are very few anime series with more than two-channel audio, and Hellsing is no exception (although the recent release of the female assassin series Noir by ADV is available in 5.1 Dolby Digital, so hopefully it's a sign of things to come). Despite the simple sound mix however, Hellsing has great audio, from the jazzy opening theme to the rather questionable closing song. English and Japanese tracks are available, and both are well done with crystal-clear dialogue and sound effects. And unlike many dubs, the English track is very good; in some ways it's almost more natural. The series is supposed to take place in England, yet they speak Japanese? The actors on the English dub all have British accents, which seems much more appropriate. Still, I always prefer the language of the original writing, and thus I listen to it in Japanese. But those who don't like to read subtitles will find the English dub is nowhere near as cheesy as most.
Once again, choosing the official releases provides an advantage. While not exactly "fully loaded special editions", at least the Pioneer discs contain more than just the episodes. A version of the opening animation and music, but without the superimposed credits is here, and since I really like the theme song and opening, it's a great option to have. Next up is a "music video trailer", which consists of clips from the show along with a techno soundtrack. For some reason, this video is shown in widescreen, about 1.85:1. But probably the best bonus feature is the inclusion of conceptual art. Not just the characters (though I'd like to see some of the preliminary character sketches, not only the completed artwork seen here), but also several of the settings and backgrounds are included as well. I love these, and I wonder if they're based on actual locations or if they're strictly from the minds of the artists. Also, we have some previews of other Pioneer series and movies, like Armitage, Vandread, Gatekeepers, X, and The Soul Taker. For those of us already heavily addicted to anime, it's more money we'll be spending eventually.
Pioneer promoted the hell out of this series (no pun intended), and some of the supplemental material shows some of the promotional items available. On this disc, it's the Arucard action figure (but yes, there's a Victoria Seles figure for sale too). Actually, it's hard to keep track of all the extra Hellsing stuff for sale. You can buy the series in a complete box set, or, buy the same art box, but with only one of the four discs. Then you can fill the box with the rest of the series as you buy it. And if that wasn't enough, some of extra goodies found with individual Hellsing discs include Arucard figures, Hellsing Organization arm patches, and even a bag of blood(!). Pioneer might be milking this series a little excessively, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want all these cute little extras.
Previously, I've reviewed Perfect Blue and Pet Shop of Horrors as good introductions to anime for the horror fan. If you failed to take my advice on those titles, don't make that mistake with Hellsing. It's hard to put into words just how cool this series is, and all I can do is recommend that everyone reading this just drop what he or she is doing and buy a copy right now. It's that good. The high quality of this show, along with great DVDs by Pioneer, makes it a must-own. Like all anime DVDs, it's a bit on the expensive side, but for Hellsing, it's worth it.
Movie - A
Image Quality - A
Sound - A-
Supplements - B+
- Running Time - 1 hour 15 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- 3 Episodes, 4 Chapter Stops per Episode
- English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
- English Subtitles
- Trailer Music Video
- Creditless Opening
- Concept Art Collection
- Action Figure Info
- Pioneer Previews