Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Feb 4th 2003
DVD 4: Eternal Damnation
Is this the end of the Hellsing organization? Integral has been duped into sending the bulk of her forces to the Tower of London, where Incognito's unstoppable F.R.E.A.K. squadron ambushes the Hellsing army and threatens to completely wipe them out. Alucard and Incognito himself duke it out in a final battle between the two most powerful undead on the planet. Ceres Victoria struggles with her humanity once again and proves to be one of Hellsing's most valuable employees. Also, the link between Alucard and Integral is explored, finally revealing Alucard's mysterious relationship to the head of the organization. The end is near, and things are looking grim.
Pioneer's biggest release of 2002 was Gonzo's high-profile anime series Hellsing, based on the comics published by Young King Ours. It saw success immediately on US shores--before Pioneer even announced the title--and the fanbase for it grew exponentially in a matter of months. This volume, titled Eternal Damnation, is the final volume in Pioneer's best selling release, and while it isn't a complete letdown as many Hellsing fans have indicated, it isn't exactly high art, either.
The first episode on the disc is without a doubt the best. Integral was left seriously injured at the conclusion of disc three, and here, she starts out in the emergency room. During her surgery, we are treated to an explanation of the mysterious relationship between Alucard and Integral, which is certainly the most interesting bit of character interaction that the series has to offer. We discover many things about Alucard's true nature and the Hellsing organization's political structure, all of which come as revelations. The episode is sort of dropped into the middle of the larger storyline, though, and as things happen around Integral's operation, we're left swallowing back story when presumably more important things are happening elsewhere.
Following that, the final three episodes round out the series and bring it ultimately to a very unsatisfying conclusion. The screenwriter cheats a little at the end; basically, we're lead to believe that Integral, who's been shown as extremely intelligent and strategic up to this point, is essentially tricked into sending the bulk of her forces straight into an ambush. Alucard consistently pesters her to become a vampire, despite the fact that he's typically very subservient to her. Suddenly, the characters' actions are inconsistent with their established personalities, and all it does is help further the plotline--which at this point is getting somewhat ridiculous. This was expected on some level, though; whenever an anime series based on a manga (in this case, a particularly short manga) runs out of the source material, they almost always resort to the “hero or organization has to fight an enemy that's way too powerful for them” storyline. The entire Hellsing organization and all of the major characters basically get whupped by Incognito (looking remarkably like a throwaway DragonBall Z villain) and his freakish hordes. Everyone is pushed to his or her absolute limits, and then, in typical anime fashion, they bounce back. It isn't that the end of Hellsing is particularly bad. It's just that the series started out with potential to be vastly more unique than this, and it's somehow depressing to see the same old storyline rehashed in a show that established itself for being fairly original.
That isn't to say this disc isn't entertaining, not by a long shot. Despite the routine proceedings, they still managed to throw in a few clever touches, and admittedly, the final two episodes did have a true air of excitement about them. A lot happens at the end that isn't explained at all unless you're somewhat familiar with the manga, which makes it a blast for hardcore Hellsing fans, but American audiences relying on the series as the sole material available for this series will be confused and disappointed. As much as I really didn't care for the Incognito character, he doesn't pull his punches and really sticks it to Alucard, Ceres, and Integral. It's refreshing to see a villain in this day and age who doesn't give a long speech before delivering the final crushing blow or have some sympathetic back story intended to make the viewer understand why he or she is trying to kill everyone. Incognito is pure, unadulterated, destructive evil, and the screenwriter did a fantastic job characterizing him that way. It's too bad his character design isn't as good. A big portion of London gets destroyed, Walter gets a chance to show off his combat skill one more time, and Ceres deals with her personal demons. Yeah, it isn't original, but it's entertaining. The four main characters in this series are so much fun to watch and root for that you probably won't notice how hackneyed the storyline has become.
For a few episodes in the middle, the animation quality in Hellsing drops to an almost insulting level. It's practically a slide show in episode ten, arguably one of the episodes that required better animation to achieve full emotional impact. The animation in this episode is pretty awful, even by anime standards. None of the characters seem to maintain model structure and the whole thing really falls apart at the end of the episode, where a few segments of footage are re-used much too soon, making the entire climactic confrontation seem silly. The final three episodes on this disc are just as well-animated as the first three, which is saying a lot, considering this is Gonzo. The animators seem to take extra care when animating Ceres Victoria and Integral, yet many of Alucard's close-ups and movement shots are sloppy and off-model. It's a shame that the series' most interesting character gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the animation budget, but at least we aren't stuck watching Ceres' bust line change in every frame, as it did for those middle episodes. Ceres' close-ups are particularly well animated, and as always, the backgrounds and musical score are above par.
This may come as a shock, but Hellsing is the first anime series I can honestly say I enjoy watching dubbed far more than subtitled. The dub for this series is excellent; the voices are spot on, and aside from some weak acting on Ceres Victoria's part, the cast is above reproach and far better than anything else I've encountered. Crispin Freeman pulls off Alucard perfectly, and Integral has exactly the right British tone. Since Hellsing takes place in London, it's somewhat strange to watch in Japanese. Everyone in the show is supposedly British, and since the English staff managed to put together a stellar British cast (aside from a few obviously faked British voices), I couldn't think of a good reason not to watch the dub. Yeah, the Japanese voices are fantastic and sound just right for the roles, but honestly, the dub is so good on this series, I suggest anyone with a penchant for hating dubs give it a shot. You won't regret it.
An unsatisfying end to a stellar anime series, Hellsing: Eternal Damnation is obviously required viewing for any fan of the series, whether you appreciate the changes made to the storyline or not. If you aren't a fan but like gothic horror or simply good writing and interesting characters, start from the first disc and work your way down.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ Entertaining end to a great series; animation is often excellent, fun characters and storyline, nearly perfect dub
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