Saying there’s a lot of blood in Hellsing Ultimate is like saying there’s a lot of water in the Atlantic, or a lot of assholes in government. It’s everywhere, and you can’t escape it; splattered on walls, dripping down faces and erupting from torsos like jam filled balloons. It’s also slightly fluorescent, so battlefields become littered with possibly the most morbid Christmas decorations since Freddy Kreuger’s nativity scene. It’s like liquid tinsel.
Hellsing is the Grindhouse of anime, and something Robert Rodriguez or Eli Roth would be proud of. Ridiculously brutal fights happen seemingly just for the fun of it, there’s a bunch of random swearing and there’s even a tiny glimpse of naked boob at one point, although in the absolute worst possible context. There is a plot, and it’s not exactly in the background, but it’s not where the fun lies either. Discovering the origin of Alucard, who the villains are and what their overall plan is is much less entertaining than seeing a Scottish Wolverine ninja priest tear through a horde of zombie soldiers. The story boils down to Bram Stoker fanfic as told through the medium of anime, so there are a few inevitable plot points like a clash of immortal beings, random magic thingamajigs and the infuriating omnipresence of souls as per bloody usual, but at least it’s more interesting than most plots. This is probably because there’s always a 50% chance of someone’s arm falling off in any random conversation, which I’ve found always spices up a dinner party.
The story is set sometime around the turn of the millenium in a universe where vampires exist, and the plot of the original Dracula actually happened. The powerful vampire Alucard is indentured to the Hellsing organisation, who exist to protect Great Britain from supernatural forces, most notably vampires. This means the action takes place mostly in England, which is both refreshing and hilarious, as we don’t often get to see what other cultures think of England. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has a butler, tea isn’t mandatory and the Queen doesn’t actually run very much, if anything at all.
As Alucard is one of if not the most powerful vampire alive, you’d be hard pressed to find a villain worthy to go against him, especially when he’s clearly completely evil with no obvious personality at all. Luckily the writers decided to square him up against the Nazis, so whenever you think Alucard might be going a bit over the top they switch to a ten minute speech from the head Nazi about how he likes killing and maiming so much. They apparently didn’t think even the Nazis were evil enough, so they eventually make them vampires as well. There’s even a shot of a vampire Nazi eating a baby in front of a burning Big Ben, just to prove a point. Almost every single character could be the villain of a different anime, except for the blond Cockney girl, who’s probably more suited to being a Care Bears villain.
The plot gets more and more mental as time goes on, as is standard in this sort of thing, although what seems like the final battle actually happens with about 2 hours left on the clock, leaving a whole load of characters behind to tie up loose ends after they forgot about all the bits of plot they had on the sidelines. There are ten episodes, each about 45 or 50 minutes, but the last one comes in at a staggering 67. It’s strangely paced, is my point.
This isn’t helped by plot twists that are unexpected, but only because they’re so badly signposted. You can say that a characters reasons for changing from one side to the other are sensible and previous actions point to it, but when those previous actions are offscreen behind a wall of blood and amputations you’re not given any chance as a viewer to work it out for yourself. One twist is so retarded I just paused the video and headbutted the desk for a few minutes; it was massively impractical, it left far more questions than answers and was the writers equivalent of a Get Out Of Jail Free card. There’s also one character in particular (I’ll just say he has the ears) that never gets explained and is crucial to the plot, so you’re sort of left there confused as to what Japanese writers think actually happens in quantum physics.
All of that happens in the last two and a half episodes however, while the rest is a fairground ride of gore and badly defined vampire powers. The action is visceral and powerful, more so than usual as more often than not characters will get literally cut to pieces, redecorating the furnishings in the process. The animation was handled by three different studios, bizarrely, but doesn’t see any drastic shift in tone or quality and is always fast paced with dramatic poses and the afore mentioned blood splattered violence. The only gripe would be with some character designs, with some hair lifted from the incredibly sensible fashions of Yu-Gi-Oh and the blind chipmunks they used as stylists. Hair length tends to vary as well; maybe there’s some new hormonal drug that turns everyone’s blood bright pink and randomly retracts hair back into your skull.
I’m not going to say the English dub is bad, but it does have significant peaks and troughs. While Alucard is booming and creepy and Anderson has the smoothest Scottish voice you’ll ever hear, all the Europeans sound like rejects from ‘Allo ‘Allo, and you can only tell the female sidekick has a Cockney accent when she randomly yells ROIGHT after an order. The original Japanese doesn’t have this issue, although I really would’ve liked to hear Japanese in a French accent.
Similarly music choices are either inspired or completely wrong depending on your outlook, as a lot of the time it’s accompanied by a classical score or vocal ballad rather than the heavy metal it seems like it should have most of the time. When it’s a gory action series about vampires and Nazis you’d expect more Black Sabbath than Beethoven.
Overall Hellsing Ultimate is an interesting one to recommend. It’s absolutely brilliant for the most part, but the enormous exposition dump of contrived technicalities and made up half-twists at the end slows the tempo to a standstill and leaves you with an unfortunate bad taste in your mouth. At time of writing the English dub isn’t fully released, with episodes 9 and 10 coming out sometime in late October, so as it is you should watch it all in Japanese or wait a month and see it in English for the hilarious accents. If you go away at the end slightly disappointed I wouldn’t blame you, but that’s only because the first 7 or so episodes genuinely are that good. It doesn’t so much run out of steam as it does blow the engine up out of sheer excitement, desperately try to find the manual in the rubble before it fobs off home for a pie and a kip.