Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1 – The Egg Of The King (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 72 minutes approx.
Many anime fans will have fond memories of the 1997 adaptation of Kentaro Miura’s ultra violent fantasy manga Berserk. It told an impressive story concerning the life and times of the muscle bound swordsman Guts who roamed in a medieval setting, but even for the late 90’s its production values were lacking, heavily reliant on static images and crudely drawn artwork. With the manga still in production (as it still is to day) the producers were forced to create their own ending which left many fans under whelmed and disappointed.
So it was that the prevailing question of “What if…?” always hung in the air around Berserk, with fans openly ponderingthe notion of a better produced and more cogent adaptation ever likely to see the light of day. It seems director Toshiyuki Kubooka and animation group Studio 4°C were thinking the same thing – which brings us to this film trilogy re-imagining of the Golden Age Arc (the second arc of the manga series), the focus of the TV version.
While the content of this film will be an essentially rushed retread for long term fans, the 21st century make over makes it as much a fresh experience as it would be for newcomers. The film starts with Guts, the fearless killing machine who wanders the land with no direction in life. After slaying a seemingly invincible giant named Bazuso, Guts is recruited by Griffith, the charismatic androgynous leader of the Band Of Hawk, a notorious group of mercenaries for hire. Initially Guts is reluctant, seeing nothing in it for him, but after losing a fight to Griffith, he is duty bound to join, much to the chagrin of lone female warrior Casca, who not only doesn’t trust Guts but clearly has the hots for Griffith.
The story then jumps forward three years and Guts has not only proved himself to Griffith and the rest of the Band of Hawk, but has risen through the ranks to captain – but still not Casca. Behind his effeminate looks, Griffith is a man with a lofty ambition to obtain as much power as possible, and he begins his campaign by ingratiating himself with the Royal family, or more precisely the spoiled and extremely chaste Princess Charlotte. However the King’s cousin Yurius is onto Griffith and make an attempt on his life which Griffith won’t let go unpunished.
Readers of the manga and fans of the anime will have noticed that a fair chunk of the story has been contracted for the sake of this film. At just under seventy minutes (excluding credits and previews) there is little time for character development and exposition and it shows with the breakneck pace the story moves at. In fact, this film alone covers the same ground as the first ten episodes of the TV series.
While the key scenes are left in – including the battle with the demon Zodd who warns our heroes that the talisman Griffith wears, the Behelit (the eponymous Egg of the King), will see them all doomed – it is the little stuff, such as introducing the members of the band of Hawk or exploring the political machinations of the land which are absent, taking away some of the real meat of the story.
What we are left with is ostensibly Guts and co. moving from one battle to the next; but this is where the film excels. The improved animation and presumably bigger budget has not gone to waste and this is truly one gorgeous looking film. The artwork and backgrounds are sumptuous and carefully rendered, with vibrant colours and meticulous attention to detail.
The character designs are arguably the most “westernised” seen in anime, at times leaving the viewer thinking they could be watching a Disney cartoon. Guts is less bulky and superhuman here while Griffith is more effete then in his previous incarnation. The one major change is with Casca whose skin is less dark then her TV predecessor but her character is still tough as nails.
Then we have the animation and to be frank, it’s a mixed bag. While its visual splendour is undeniable, the application of CGI against the 2D animation presents with a jarring clash of styles. To add an extra dimension to the viewers experience, the perspective changes to that of Guts or whomever is the focus of the scene. As these shots have been rendered by CGI they come across more like a scene from a computer game and the movements of the characters are somewhat jaunty and robotic rather than the naturalness of the 2D animation.
Occasionally the CGI provides some beautiful scenery – the water in the stream is a prime example – or some neat touches – such as the blood splattering onto the camera lens – but there are too frequent noticeable flaws compared to 2D. This isn’t detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the film but, in all honesty, the 2D is so spectacular and far smoother it is a wonder why they bothered with the CGI at all.
The story may have been abridged to fit into the meagre running time but one thing The Egg Of The King does not scrimp on is the action and the unbridled levels of claret soaked violence that Berserk was unashamedly infamous for. If anything the gore factor has been upped a few notches and does so in a chillingly convincing and unfettered manner.
Despite the cavils with the story pacing and the animation, this is a pure adrenaline rush of a film that finally does the visual end of the franchise justice. It’s a positive start to the trilogy and one that will almost assuredly rekindle the love affair for established fans of Berserk as it will win over new fans. In conclusion – bloody great fun!
Collector’s Edition only – 32 page booklet and hardcover packaging
Ratings – ****
Man In Black