Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Having effectively trapped Alucard on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic, the Major and his Nazi vampire brigade launch a full-on invasion of Britain. Zeppelins drop a legion of SS bloodsuckers into the heart of London, unleashing unthinkable carnage. As the capitol wallows in blood and fire, across the Channel Maxwell gathers a hooded army for one last Crusade. They chopper to the island nation, killing all as they go. Caught away, Integra battles through the escalating madness, trying to return to Hellsing headquarters where Bernadotte, his mercenaries, and fledgling monster Seras are locked in a death match with Nazi lieutenant Zorin Blitz and a division of gut-munching stormtroopers. In the meantime Alucard floats his dead ship ever closer, drawn on by the irresistible scent of incipient apocalypse.
Holy crap. Every time you think Hellsing has reached the apotheosis of gut-splattering spectacle, it turns out to be mere prelude to the feats of action preposterousness to come. Again and again the series pushes itself from one peak of eye-popping excess to the next. If the end of volume one had us screaming as we plunged over the edge of Kouta Hirano's rollercoaster of mayhem, this volume finds us riding the downhill slope only to discover that instead of pulling up at the end it just keeps on going, steeper and faster, accelerating all the way, apparently into the depths of hell.
Oh what a ride it is. This volume begins with a zeppelin assault—a zeppelin assault!—and only spirals further out of control as it goes. You can hear the series' crazed giggle as it launches vampire paratroopers into London—using Gundam-styled footclamp catapults no less—and burns the venerable city, the fires converging to form a giant swastika of flame. You can see it rubbing its hands in childish glee as its Nazi monsters bring to life anti-Nazi propaganda posters: butchering innocents and, yes, eating babies. You can taste the relish with which it mashes up manly sentiment, dark laughs, and bloody tragedy when London's inept defense commander shoos Integra off before bravely meeting his doom. Walter slaughters, the populace dies, and Integra races through a city turned to hell, on a collision course with Anderson and his Iscariot psychopaths…and the show is just getting started.
The final episode piles a crusade on top of the burning and exploding and feasting upon civilians, who look on in horrified awe as Vatican planes sprout fiery angel's wings and choppers rain death upon all and sundry. The crusade marches down the wrecked streets of London, ghostly ranks of Klan-hooded killers shooting and spearing everything that moves. Vampire Nazis versus goose-stepping Catholic missionaries of death… Oh man oh man. And then Alucard leaps into the fray. Literally. From the bow of his ghost-carrier, right into a melee of Nazi's and crusaders. Whereupon the series goes stark raving mad.
What follows, as Alucard unleashes the blood-soaked hell imprisoned inside him, defies description. You can only watch, eyes protruding, jaw agape, a holy-sh** grin plastered from ear to ear, as the series takes death-dealing, city-destroying, bad-guy-impaling spectacle to unimaginable heights.
Ironically, though, it is between the Nazi invasion and Alucard's rampage, when it slows a little for the two-episode siege of Hell>sing headquarters, that the series is at its most accomplished. Essentially a feature-length action set-piece, the siege features some of the series' most outrageous conceits—Seras turning herself into a living antiaircraft emplacement to take on a war-blimp, say—and also its most unpleasant villain: the insufferably nasty Zorin Blitz, who uses the passages tattooed on her body to delve into her victims' psyches and show them the cruelest visions she can devise. But the siege's true value is its heroes.
It's no coincidence that the series' best episodes star its most human players. Over the course of the siege Bernadotte emerges as a truly great guy—funny, resourceful, secretly sentimental—and Seras as a lethal force to be reckoned with. The easy bond between seasoned human mercenary and budding monstrosity is the beating heart of the fight; the source of its nigh-unbearable tension, and of the deep yet sad satisfaction of its bloodcurdling finale. Alucard's fights may be the most awe-inspiring, but theirs is the richest—the most uncertain, the most complex, the most gratifying.
Ultimate's intent is to be the ultimate adaptation of Hirano's manga; the be-all, end-all of Hellsing adaptations. It is the most faithful of adaptations, treating Hirano's mad epic with a Biblical respect that is, in retrospect, kind of ironic. Hirano himself has no respect for anything, which in a backwards kind of way would mean that Gonzo's original, flagrantly divergent adaptation is more faithful to the spirit of his manga. But I digress. Such fidelity means that the main variable in the current adaptation is not its story, but its execution. Which is why the switch from Satelight to Mad House and from Tomokazu Tokoro to Hiroyuki Tanaka at the beginning of this volume is of keen interest.
Tokoro's slice of the series was a chronicle of a talented director adapting himself to unfamiliar territory. Tanaka's slice is that of a competent director doing his competent best. Which is more than sufficient so long as animation duties are being handled by Mad House, with all the dark energy, gory atmosphere, and deranged enthusiasm they can bring to bear. From a technical standpoint, their episodes together are gorgeous: lovingly detailed, fanatically devoted to Hirano's wild-eyed punk aesthetic, and vigorously animated. When the duties switch again in episode eight—to studio Graphinica—that starts to break down. The new studio's skills are far more variable, and whenever Hirano's imagination rampages out of control, the new production tends to fall back on bad 3D effects, leading to things like a hideously cheesy 3D horde of zombified historical figures (don't ask).
Even so, neither Tanaka nor his various collaborators ever detract from the impact of Hirano's wacko masterpiece—especially not its emotional impact, which he proves quite adept at. But neither do they add anything. Tanaka's action sequences rely almost wholly on sheer outrageousness, narrative punch, and the angular lines, stylishly skewed perspectives, and megaton-coolness of Hirano's art for their power. Where Tokoro homed in on the blood and thunder in Hayato Matsuo's orchestral themes, pushing the series' gothic undertones forward, Tanaka deploys the blood and thunder indiscriminately with Matsuo's shoddy pseudo-rock—along with ham-handed insert songs—such that the score is a wash: background noise for Hirano's all-important art.
After watching Tokoro get his bearings and make the series his own, it's rather a shame to see it pass to a director who can do nothing but translate the original intact. Luckily, intact is all the series needs. This is Hirano at his boundary-pushing, mad genius best, and by delivering it all intact, Tanaka also delivers the best of Hellsing Ultimate. It's hard not to think how it'd have been even better had Tokoro stayed on, but it's spilt milk now. Time to look forward. Episodes nine and ten should be doozies, especially if Graphinica can paper over its weaknesses.
If, for the record, you're a dub person, Taliesin Jaffe and his merry band are still churning out one of the best dubs around. A somewhat strained performance by Norio Wakamoto means that it performs even better vis-à-vis the original than before. Extras also favor the dub fan, with six hours of commentaries, round table discussions, convention panels and Q&As. Also included is a ten-minute extra episode detailing Alucard and the Major's joint history and clean versions of the endings, some of which have their own tales to tell.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : C
+ The Bernadotte/Seras sequences; the death of Zorin Blitz; a spectacle of pure, maniacal excess unmatched anywhere in the anime world.
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