Review: Hellsing Ultimate Parts 5-8 / Cert: 18 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Victoria Harwood, K.T. Gray, Crispin Freeman / Release Date: May 20th
Bit confusing this, but bear with us. Originally starting life as a long-running manga, Hellsing was loosely adapted into a Japanese anime series in 2001. Hellsing Ultimate is a second, more faithful OVA adaptation running to ten fifty-minute instalments, of which this box set gathers together episodes 5-8. And no, it has nothing to do with that shoddy Stephen Sommers movie starring Hugh Jackman in a big hat.
The story concerns the Hellsing organization, a group dedicated to protecting Britain from supernatural threats. A bit like a cross between The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and UNIT, it is led by the cheroot-smoking Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, female descendant of Abraham Van Helsing. Their primary foe is Millennium, a collection of Nazi vampires, but they also have to keep a wary eye on Iscariot, a bunch of deadly Vatican-sponsored zealots.
The early episodes suffer from some crudity of characterisation, and their take on the Catholic church can seem rather puerile, but Parts 5-8 deliver a humongous payoff. Millennium launches a devastating airship attack on London, which results in the streets running with blood and thronging with undead ghouls. Hellsing’s stately home HQ finds itself under siege and Integra’s forces are decimated, but thankfully vampire-turned-good Alucard, he of the claret cape coat, is there to help, as is his protégé, newbie bloodsucker Seras Victoria, who straps a massive anti-aircraft gun to her back in order to single-handedly take on the armada of Zeppelins.
By the way, OVA stands for “original video animation”, a direct-to-DVD format which allows for greater sex and violence than is permitted on Japanese TV networks. And boy, the makers of Hellsing Ultimate take full advantage of this latitude. Parts 5-8 are a brash, barbaric frenzy of grue that leaves you rubbing your eyes in disbelief. The sacking of London is gobsmackingly savage, culminating in a did-they-really-go-there? shot of a vampire stormtrooper with a dead baby clamped in its jaws, against a backdrop of Big Ben in flames. And it’s all depicted in a nightmarish visual style which looks like it has splurged from the spray can of a talented but demented graffiti artist.
But somehow it doesn’t feel gratuitous or meaningless, because each gout of blood comes with a gut-wrenching emotional impact. The dramatic highlight is the siege of Hellsing HQ, a brutal and harrowing sequence – witness the moment where a blinded Seras Victoria crawls desperately towards the man who has just saved her life at the cost of his own, able to hear, but not see, him taking his last breaths. Playing out at a level of white-hot intensity, Hellsing Ultimate is insane, ferocious, excessive and utterly unmissable.
Extras: Audio commentaries / Round table discussions / Q&A / Featurette/ Clean versions of end credits / Additional OVA short