Fans of horror anime will have at least heard of Hellsing, especially if they're fans of Team Four Star on YouTube. The series has received not one but two anime adaptations, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. But which of the two is the better adaptation? Some fans say the original Hellsing, citing better pacing. Others argue that Hellsing Ultimate is superior thanks to its updated animation and following the original plot of the manga more closely.
The first anime adaptation, also referred to as Hellsing: Impure Souls, ran for 13 episodes and was released between October 2001 and January 2002 by Gonzo. While the series features the same characters and environment that the manga focuses on, the story is interwoven with several anime-only subplots. The biggest deviations begin around Episode 8, as the manga had yet to be completed at this time. The story starts focusing on a vampire named Incognito, who is from "the dark continent" -- possibly Africa -- and uses magic to try and achieve his goal of summoning a demon called Sett. The anime is highly praised for its music, which is very jazz-inspired. For the English dub, Crispin Freeman provides the voice of Alucard, and it's very clear that he enjoys the role.
One of the biggest weaknesses cited by fans is its animation. It takes a very dark tone with its style, and while the animation isn't the worst ever put to TV, it's not the greatest either. The backgrounds don't really stand out and the characters are sometimes drawn inconsistently. The colors can also be very dull and washed out at times. Moreover, the plot isn't the strongest; it tries to set up a grand conspiracy by the members of the Round Table who work alongside the Hellsing Organization. However, since the producers had nothing to go on after Chapter 12 of the manga, their attempt at ending the series cohesively should be commended. As of this writing, the series sits at a 7.5/10 on MyAnimeList.
Hellsing Ultimate is the complete opposite in terms of animation quality, with brighter colors and more consistent color palettes. With 10 episodes spanning between roughly 40 to 60 minutes, it's faster-paced than its counterpart, with each episode roughly corresponding to each volume of the manga. Because of this, the pacing is deemed to be too rushed by fans and critics. The series was released as an OVA from 2006 to 2012. It was produced by Geneon, and three animation studios contributed to the series: Satelight for Episodes 1-4, Madhouse for Episodes 5-7 and Graphinica for Episodes 8-10. Crispin Freeman reprises his role as Alucard, as do many of the original voice actors for both the English and Japanese dubs, adding a sense of nostalgia for fans of the 2001 anime.
Unfortunately, two of the biggest weaknesses of the OVA are how it handles its filler content and how overpowered Alucard is. While the character writing is great, many say the fights between Alucard and his opponents happen fairly quickly and stagnantly. Another cited drawback is the plot involving a certain group of German soldiers and how they plan to attack London using an army of vampires, werewolves and Schrodinger's cat. While this adaptation does take direct influence from the manga, these complaints are fair in their own right. This adaptation currently has an 8.3/10 on MyAnimeList.
So, which is the better adaptation? It depends on what you're looking for. The 2001 series is great for when you're aiming to spice up your Halloween party and just want something in the background. It has a great soundtrack and the voice acting is better than most anime from the time. On the other hand, if you prefer something more akin to the manga, you'll want to watch the OVA. Both are entertaining in their own ways as long you don't take them too seriously. It's a show about a vampire causing death and mayhem and laughing maniacally about it, after all.