Vampires and the occult are no rare presence in the often frustrating and maddening world of Japanese anime. After a few episodes of Trinity Blood I caught on Adult Swim I was ready to slam my face against the corner of a desk just to empty my skull of the insipid and dull meandering that tried to pass for animated entertainment. Sure, I could sever an optical nerve in the process, whatever, as long as Trinity Blood exits my visual center forever.
Witch Hunter Robin was even worse. I neutered myself specifically in the case that my offspring might one day in the future produce something similar to that wretched X-Files-meets-X-Men horseswallow. The show was as cliched as they come. A secret combat unit with special powers uncovers conspiracies. Gosh, sounds kind of like Stand Alone Complex come to think of it, one of the penultimate episodes even features a similar siege on the protagonists’ headquarters, but whereas SAC treated its characters and audience with a pat and a handshake, WHR poured sugar in your gas tank and stomped on your face with the main character Robin’s trendy black boot. The whole point of the show is Robin battles witches with her unique fire powers. Later on, she’s shocked to find out she’s a witch herself.
Robin, welcome to Fucktardville.
All would be forgiven if any of these shows had any sense of aesthetic design, decent production values or if anything happened in them. Nothing happens in most anime nowadays. Speeches and bullshit replace action, most of it redundant, all of it stupid. This stuff not only ignores the golden rule of writing fiction – show, don’t tell – it outright fucking defies it with all the audacity of the thousand nations of Persia. Sometimes you’ll see a character’s “cool” attack move or something, then other characters, spectators really, endlessly tell you about it until the episode’s over and you’re left prying out your own kneecaps with a bedpost.
Then there’s the recently released, currently ongoing Ultimate Hellsing.
The original Hellsing was a a little 13-episode TV series that ended, no, stopped way too soon, due to the fact, I think, that the manga it was based on was incomplete. Why they bothered to tell a story that was never going to end in the first place is beyond me. It’s a common bullshit practice in anime. Anime based on manga like Fullmetal Alchemist and Naruto and Dragonball Z and Bleach and Akira pulled the same shit. It’s also dishonest as hell, a bait tactic, like offering a carrot to a horse only to pull it away then chop off its legs off from under it with a scythe. Perhaps, a Deathscythe. What sucks is Hellsing actually ended up to be a decent little vampire tale that got at its best right before it stopped! The only resolution viewers got was text on the screen that said something like “And so things continued to happen for some time afterwards.” What a gyp.
Hellsing, and its remake OVA (Original Video Animation), Ultimate Hellsing, tries to tell the tale of Alucard, a vampire who works in England’s Hellsing Organization quelling zombie and enemy vampire outbreaks across the countryside. It’s all very gothic and Castlevania, with crucifixes and Judeo-Christian bolus all over the place, as well as plenty of gratuitous gore and attractively designed characters showing off spectacular powers in paranormal fights. Alucard himself is capable of at least 10,000 billion different superpowers, making him far too invulnerable a character to give that big of a shit about. What the TV series did was partner him with a weak, human character, police babe Seras Victoria, thus transferring much of the focus, if not more, to her as she adapted to her new role as Alucard’s sidekick. It was very Raiden-Solid Snake.
Ultimate Hellsing has no time for that kind of play though, opting instead, with its paltry 50 minute runtime, for an obscenely speedy runthrough of the early events of the TV series. Too bad if you never saw the TV series, you are thrust immediately into the world of Hellsing without a chance to breathe. Normally a swift beginning would be great but the dialogue somehow overexplains so much yet fails to explain anything. Obscure and foreign terms and names are bandied about without any time to allow them to sink in. Everyone is overdramatic, yelling talking about “Draculinas” and “freaks.”
As a remake of the TV series Ultimate Hellsing fails. It’s a synopsis, not a distinct story and there’s no new ground to tread. The whole episode is a whirlwind of violence and chatter, it feels like a perpetual fast-forward. The first thing that rubbed me the wrong way story-wise is the first scene. It reveals something that took the original series its entire run to reveal: the main character Alucard’s origin. One fun thing about the original series was the mystery behind him, the questions he naturally arose. Why was he, an all-powerful vampire, in the employ of humans? How did he become such a whiz at what he does? What’s his relationship to Hellsing boss Integra? Well, not much of a mystery here.
Integra, the woman in charge of the Hellsing Organization seems kind of off. In the original series she’s quiet and calculating. Here, she’s yelling her head off and showing up on the battlefield way more often than someone of her limitied-to-no combat capabilities should. It doesn’t feel right. Furthermore, the impact of her first encounter with Alucard is weakened considerably by the incessant barking of her pursuing aggressor: “Fraulein! Fraulein! Fraulein!” Now imagine that in Japanese (“Furauroyne!!”) and the annoyance factor rockets to unseen heights. More on that later.
Alucard’s encounter with female cop Seras Victoria is nothing but a shadow of its former self. My favorite aspect of the original series was the idea of a regular person coming to grips with vamprism. Very Anne Rice, I know, but it was a concept that was executed fairly well in Victoria, who chooses to become a vampire under Alucard’s spell, rather than succumb to an inglorious death. The original scene was eloquently paced, offered hints of the otherwise brash Alucard’s warm nature as he telepathically linked with Victoria and asked if she would like a new life, hard as it would be. He was concerned for this lowly human’s life and offered her a chance at greatness.
In Ultimate Hellsing, Alucard is a big jerk who asks her if she’s a virgin because I guess that’s a factor in vampiric potential now. Cue typical anime female embarrassment (“Nan to iu?!”) with breast fondling and goofy caricatures. Alucard doesn’t even offer the choice of death, he just blasts her tit off with his huge gun, makes her a vampire and continues to be an asshole to her. No choice, no concern, no class, nothing. Bang, zoom, straight to the moon, which Alucard likes very much. “It’s a great night!” he keeps saying.
Victoria’s character is, as an undead priest threatens to do to her, raped. Where she was the audience surrogate in the original, drawing the viewer into the underground world of Hellsing, Victoria’s name isn’t even mentioned until the latter half of the episode, as an afterthought. She is rarely drawn as anything other than a goofy super deformed caricature in awkward bits of “comedy.” Does anyone find this shit funny? Victoria barely registers as a presence, only to show up for Alucard to yell “Shut up!” to or to hulk a big weightless sniper rifle around.
And that’s how the whole thing feels anyway. Weightless. All the characters are outlined by thick black lines, typical on a mange page but distracting as hell(sing) in an overstylized animation. Shit, this anime’s not lackin’ any style! The color pallete and overall visual tone does resemble the original show, it’s similar to the Batman animated series, with red skies and faded blues and greys. There are some fairly creative shots and angles but the animation does not reflect it’s OVA status. Sometimes the frames are jumpy, like Flash animation, and characters look way off-model waving their poorly proportioned arms around or moving aross the frame like they’re cut-outs on popsicle sticks. It’s embarassing how cheap some of it looks, particularly the blood splatters, which sometimes have a Photoshopped gradient filled-in look. It feels like lots of shortcuts were made.
The Japanese voice acting is your stock collection of actors, repeating the same terms and quotes over and over. It sounds phoned in a lot, especially the villain who shows up near the end, Father Alexander Anderson, who says a quick prayer – in broken English – every time he’s about to pull off some crazy attack.
Listen, Japan, intervention time. English is a great language, it’s got a lot of great words and some seriously exciting swear words. I know you want to use it but for the everloving FUCK, stop reciting whole passages from the Bible in it! English SPEAKERS can barely speak English, what makes you think YOU can? It’s humiliating to listen to a cartoon character with a maniacal grin (all the characters have maniacal grins) recite “Our Father” in a discombobulated Japanese accent. That’s not entertaining. That’s torture. I think the V.C. may have done this to soldiers in ‘Nam. Given the setting and subject matter hearing this in poorly acted Japanese does not fit.
And the music! My God, Springfield. The Hellsing Production Committee (anime shows have Production Committees, not studios) must not have ears if their horrendous musical choice is any proof. It sucks! The soundtrack bites! A shame, because – can you guess? – the original’s jazzy soundtrack is better! Music can seriously turn a good anime into an excellent one, but this one pulled me out of the experience. Scenes that should be badass have like, ukeleles and kazoos playing in the background. There are no discernable melodies, it’s just a cacaphony of garbage, like someone recorded their dad tripping through the garage late at night, only without the profanity. Though honestly, the sound of a whole row of paint cans sliding off a busted shelf would sound leagues better than the ball-melting “music” in Ultimate Hellsing. Some of it’s okay, when recognizable instruments like a violin or piano appears, otherwise I guess everyone can’t be Yoko Kanno.
Anime voice actor Crispin Freeman, who does Alucard’s voice in the English dub (and Togusa in Stand Alone Complex), said something in a lengthy Anime on DVD interview which is worth a listen, one, because the guy’s got a lovely voice, two, he’s got a lot of nice things to say, three, he says something I wish many more artists would announce more often:
“If there’s anything I would want of all my fans, I want them to be discerning, I want them to be able to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. I want them to support the good stuff… There’s a lot more power the fans have now than they’ve ever had before. I want them to be wise in their use of that power. I want them to be sensible and generous, in the same way that artists try to be generous with what they give because it’s a two-way street now… A lot of people complain, y’know, Hollywood films have gotten terrible. Well, people keep watching them. If you wanna stop bad Hollywood films stop going to see them and then they will stop being made! …I want more high-quality stuff and that means the audience doesn’t just go like a herd of sheep from one big marketing campaign and one big movie poster to the next, but actually says, ‘No, I know this artist, I know this story, I trust these people.’ I want a discerning and connosiuer audience. That is my agenda.”
Gosh. Sounds a lot like The Grump Factory mantra! So then Crispin must’ve noticed something was up with Ultimate Hellsing. Little about it feels refined and it isn’t generous at all considering the price for how many minutes of animation you get. For a $30 investment this is inexcusable. Anime is expensive, and mostly horrendous, which makes Crispin’s words that much more important. Taking a chance on a title is nearly impossible, and it pisses me off to no end how idiotic the market is with some studios charging $60 for two episodes. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. What’s doubly confounding is the positive reviews this is getting. “Discerning” fans like that explain why I rarely stray from the surest bets, e.g. GAINAX and Stand Alone Complex.
I thought Ultimate Hellsing would be the second chance the TV series needed to continue the narrative it established with a nice, fat budget a slick anime deserves. To be fair, it’s just the first disc in a planned series of… oh god, who knows? We’ll see how the next one fares.
If you do decide to give this a spin, for Pete’s sake, put on the English dub track, it actually manages to give the whole production a remarkable boost in quality. It’s amazing what better writing, above-average acting and British accents can do to improve an otherwise low-tier title, eh wot wot?