The story surrounds the tragic and brutal life of Guts, a man whom no one can best, pushed by his past and cleaving a path through the world, cutting down even the largest and most horrific of man and beast. The story begins when Guts is set upon by the infamous “Band of the Hawk.” The Hawk was a mercenary war band known for their feats in battle, never losing a fight. Having confronted the band and dismembered a man’s arm, Guts and the horse he rode in on is quickly set upon by Casca. Casca is the lieutenant and only female member of the band. Shocked by Guts’ attacks she falters and almost loses her life, but for the intervention of Griffith. Griffith is the leader and commander of The Band of the Hawk, beloved by his men, and regarded as one of the greatest battlefield tacticians of his time.
Casca was saved by Griffith before she joined the band. He gave her the choice to stand up and defend herself by cutting down her assailant, or let him do as he will. She took the stand, and has since become one of the most successful battlefield commanders and one of the best swordsman within The Band of the Hawk.
This time Griffith didn’t intervene purely to save Casca, he saw something in Guts, a fury and conviction that he respected. Griffith swiftly disabled Guts with a quick parry and strike, then requested him to be healed.
Wanting Guts to join The Band of the Hawk despite his refusal, Griffith makes a bet that if he can beat Guts, he will own him and he must become a member of The Hawks. After a quick and personal fight, Griffith bested Guts. Casca hates the decision, and holds clear and open resentment towards Guts and the idea of him joining the band, though Guts eventually begins to care greatly for The Hawk, Casca and Griffith, and will go through hell to save them.
The story arc is spread over three movies, ‘The Egg of the King’, ‘The Battle for Doldrey’, and ‘The Advent’. There are a number of significant time jumps throughout the movies, placing focus on the major points throughout this arc of the manga and original anime. Though I have only read a small amount of the manga, and seen the original anime series a couple of times, I found that these moments are presented well and feel as though they carry weight throughout the story, without feeling as though a great deal has been lost, containing itself well throughout three feature length movies.
Some flash backs fill in character back stories or smaller parts of the story. If you’re not familiar with the original content it can be a little shallow, though does get the message across. These scenes last about a minute, and pace themselves using still or minimal frame animation. I found it a bit hard to focus on what was happening at points as there was a lot of blurry motion scenes (mostly with Guts’ scene), and felt it should have given more time to flesh it out and make it more focused.
There is no real holding back on anything in this saga; every facet of the world is brutal and unrelenting. Society is harsh, people are self-centered and cruel, and religious dogma is prolific. “The 100 Year War” has been a boon for The band of the Hawk, ensuring the action is never scarce. Between the destruction and dismemberment caused by Guts’ giant sword, and some of the incredibly overwhelming foes he faces, there’s never really a dull moment and things can go to some really dark places. Even the sex scenes feel like they got amped up a bit. The few moments with sexual content in the movies feels a little on the nose. It’s the type of stuff you wouldn’t want people walking in on midway through, because they’ll probably think you’re a pervert. So of course that means tentacles are involved somehow. I honestly don’t remember the sex scenes in the original being as forward with this kind of content; it felt a little unnecessary.
Berserk’s new trend of using heavy CGI rendered animation for large and complex scenes such as the battle sequences can be hit and miss; I found it to miss more often than not. It was odd that the movie would start so heavily with the CGI animation, then slip to more traditional methods for a majority of the screen time, which had been done nicely. Personally I am not a fan of the CGI rendered characters in what is predominantly 2D animation. I found the characters looked too stark in comparison to back drops and the transitions from CGI full scale battles to traditional 2D animation scenes were jarring. The worst was the 2D animated and CGI animated characters looking noticeably different from each other. For me a good example of CGI usage in anime is the Ghost in the Shell movies, using CGI in background assets rather than the characters in focus. To be fair they did get better at it, blending the CGI to a higher standard and only using it on things like characters armour, horses, and large scale sequences. By the end I thought it looked pretty good.
‘Berserk the Golden Age Arc Movie Collection’ is an entertaining adaption of the original anime and manga series. Die hard fans may disapprove wholeheartedly of the choice to use CGI, others will be able to look over it. Both can probably agree it was not a great idea, but it isn’t a deal breaker. They seemed to build on it better with each film, and for the majority it presented itself well.
The action is violent and always dramatic, from glorious battles on the battlefield, to the massacre and torment awaiting them as the result of their choices and actions. It’s a dark and bloody ride. For what is essentially a trimmed down version of the original anime it holds its own, and I can absolutely recommend this to those interested in checking it out.
If you’re really interested in exploring Berserk further, hold off on checking out the new series, and take a look at the original Berserk anime series, the animation isn’t as fluid but it’s still a great anime.
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc Movie Collection can be found on Blu-ray and DVD at the Madman website.