Saturday, March 18, 2006

Hellsing Happens

Last night, we finally purchased the Hellsing Ultimate OAV (Original Animation Video -- a made-for-video animated work, which the Japanese pioneered in the '80's) that Amy has been anticipating ever since it was announced last year. (It was released last month in Japan, and is due to be released this fall in America. We got an imported Region 2 copy from our favorite Japanese Bookstore, Asahiya Express.

Hellsing is an ongoing manga series (seven volumes have been collected so far in Japan, and all of them are available in America in translated editions) that was previously adapted into a 13-episode animated TV series in 2001. That series was released on DVD and shown on the Action Channel in the US. Although it was quite stylish, and garnered several fans (including us), the series suffered from two problems: First, Japanese TV, although its standards were far more permissive than American broadcast TV, did not permit the full violent vision the manga version displayed. Second, since the TV series was made while the manga story was still in its relatively early stages, the TV series' story strayed from the manga storyline, and created its own early resolution of the saga.

Now the manga story is being retold -- from the beginning -- in this OAV. That in itself is not so unusual. Just as American TV and movies will adapt a popular story several times (think of Peyton Place and MASH, books adapted into both movies and TV series), Japanese media will repeatedly adapt manga stories into both animated and live action forms. For instance, the ongoing manga series Ah! Megamisama, which has been running for about 18 years in Japan and has been adapted into English (as Oh My Goddess) in the US for about 12 years -- was adapted into an OAV series in the early '90's; a movie in the early zeros; and most recently, into a TV series which retold the manga story from the beginning.

The Hellsing OVA is slightly unusual, in that the Hellsing TV series was reportedly not as popular in Japan as it has been in the US; and it is the promise of American dollars that persuaded a different animation studio (Rondo Robe; the TV series was produced by Gonzo Studios), and a new creative staff to pour money into an incredibly faithful adaptation of the manga original.

The first volume of the OVA is 50 minutes long, and covers all of the events set forth in the first manga collection. Although it changes a scene here and there, it is still an astoundingly faithful adaptation, along the lines of the Sin City movie.

It also looks gorgeous. The look of the comics has been preserved, with far more fluid animation than the TV series. The pacing is completely different from the TV series, with less effort to set forth self-contained episodes and more to create the foundation for the rest of the story. The score is also far more lush. I suspect that when this is released in the US, it is going to cause a fan frenzy.

Because this is a faithful adaptation, it is one of the bloodier anime that I've seen. Whereas in the TV series blood would be shown as white, to make it less disturbing, here great gouts of hemoglobin fly through the air and splatter upon stone floors. I also note what might almost be described as pistol porn: Main character Arucard's long-slide Cassull is depicted in close-up, loving detail, the camera fascinated with the gun's hammer rhythmically pounding and its slide jerking back and forth, spent brass cascading, as Arucard cheerfully shoots ghouls to mincemeat. I bet that since private ownership of guns is illegal in Japan, these scenes have the allure of forbidden fruit.

The deluxe edition of the OAV includes a 12-page booklet and a bas-relief bust of Alucard. Anyone who can't wait for the American copy can order the import edition here.

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