The tale of Berserk is a complex dark twisted fantasy conceived by it’s masterful creator Kentaro Miura. The Manga was first published in 1990 in a bi-weekly Japanese Magazine called ‘Young Animal’ which then got adapted into a 25 episode anime in 1997 of which was my entry viewing into the wide world of anime – it holds a special place in my heart. I was always longing for a new anime series or OVA and the dream finally became true in 2010 when Studio 4°C took upon themselves to create ‘The Golden Age Arc’ a three film epic of how it all began. Through this review I’ll give you a quick run down of the three movies but be warned there may be a few spoilers – but I’ll try my best to keep them at a minimum.
GOLDEN AGE ARC I: THE EGG OF THE KING
The first film is the shortest of the three and gives you a great introduction to the characters, insight into the direction of the story and a hell of a lot of violence for good measure.
The Egg of the King starts on the battleground where the main player of Berserk ‘Guts’ is introduced – A 15 years old brute mercenary with an over sized sword who strives for fighting and dismembering people as that’s all he knows and enjoys and has serious lack of compassion for others. You see Guts enter a fight with Bazuso, the Grey Knight – a arrogant powerful adversary who is feared throughout the kingdom. Guts – the sword for hire commits that he will kill him for a lousy seven pieces of silver. In this scene you get to see Guts display his in-human strength and pans to ‘The Band of the Hawk’ members viewing the fight to see if Guts will be a good fit for them.
After Guts is on his merry way with his seven pieces of silver he gets ambushed by a number of soldiers which he defeats with ease and then a woman jumps on a horse to engage him. Her name is Casca from The Band of the Hawk, she quickly gets defeated, but before Guts gets a chance to finish her off he gets stopped – which cues in The Band of the Hawk’s famous leader Griffith. He acknowledges Guts’ skill and offers recruitment into The Band of the Hawk, but arrogant Guts doesn’t have a piece of it, so Griffith decides to do it by force with a duel. Within one foul blow Guts falls. He wakes next to Casca trying to care for him and stubbornly tries to leave The Band of the Hawk Camp. You then enter the next one on one duel with Griffith – who bests Guts one more time and Guts finally gives in and consents to joining. You see in this scene that Griffith has an obsession with Guts and perceives that he will be the key to succeed in his great ambitions to have his own kingdom.
The story then fast tracks 3 years – Guts has now ranked commander and this is where the story starts to take shape. It revolves around The Band of the Hawk fighting on behalf of the King of Midland against the Chuder army which you will see is all apart of Griffiths plans to step up the socialite ladder and gain nobility. The first film then concludes with Griffith explaining his dreams with the Princess of Midland ‘Charlotte’ stating that he doesn’t consider his fellow members of The Band of the Hawk friends. He states “a friend is a person who doesn’t cling to anothers dream. He decides his own and he will stand against anyone who dares tramples of it with his body and soul. A friend is an equal”. Guts and Casca overhear this conversation and get a reality check of the roles they are playing in Griffith’s game of chess.
GOLDEN AGE ARC II: THE BATTLE FOR DOLDREY
The second movie in the trilogy starts off with a nice recap from the first. You are landed in a battle where Casca fights sexist opponent called Adon (of the Blue Whale Ultra Heavy Armored Fierced Assault Annihilation Knight Corps) who is belittling Casca because she’s a woman. After some action scenes Casca becomes exhausted and falls from the edge of a cliff and Guts tries to save her but they end up both falling. You then see Guts tending to Casca’s wounds and see the lighter side of him – you start to relate to Guts rather than thinking of him as a mad dog. Flash backs of Casca’s childhood start and it reveals how she came into The Band of Hawk and why she cherishes Griffith so much. When Casca finally awakens you get to see a friendship start to form between the two. Tracking back to The Band of the Hawks – they get ambushed by Adon and his army and enters an epic fight scene where you get to see Guts go into berserker mode.
The last portion of the film then focuses on Battle of Doldery. Doldery is Chuder’s last foot hold – which will be the final battle for Midland to gain victory. The Band of the Hawks take on this battle with crazy odds – 5,000 men vs 30,000 and this is when you get to see Griffith’s battle strategies shine. After a huge epic battle of bloodshed, strategy and a more humane side to some key characters, The Band of the Hawks stand victorious.
The Band of the Hawks return to Midland in a victory parade with some nice light hearted scenes and then at night the Midland ball begins. The King of Midland announces that the Hawks & Griffith have now gained nobility and The Hawks get appointed the name ‘The White Phoenix Knights’. After a few nice scenes you see Guts announce that he will be leaving The Band of the Hawks and there is a confronting scene between Guts and Griffith. As you know they best talk with swords – so they have another stand off in order to see if Guts can go in his own direction and this time Guts stands victorious. Griffith is left in shambles – like his dream has been ripped from his hands.
The movie ends with Princess Charlotte and a broken Griffith tending to each others needs. The movie then throws a 360 spin at you with a darker tone where the next morning Griffith gets charged with high treason of the Royale House and the Hawks get branded as traitors. It then enters a scene with Griffith getting tortured and that he loosing his Behelit. (The red face device that hangs around his neck).
GOLDEN AGE ARC III: THE ADVENT
The third and final film is, lets face it – it’s dark, twisted, emotional and has you yelling at your television screen “what the f@&%, why?”. The world that you know and love literally goes straight to hell.
Early in the piece you are shown a year later, the torture that Griffith has under gone and that The Band of the Hawks is in shambles without their leader – with Casca taking the helm and hardly hanging by a thread. The Hawks finally get some good news of the location of Griffith, but before setting out to find him get raided and almost abolished, but thankfully Guts returns to save the day. You then have a nice scene where you see Guts & Casca’s relationship blossom and then Guts agrees to stay on with the Hawks until they rescue Griffith. They enter the catacombs of Midland in order to find Griffith in an horrifying state which leads to Guts having a blood-bath of revenge in berserker mode. After the Hawks successfully escape it becomes bittersweet. They thought that once they rescued Griffith everything would go back to normal – it’d be the saving grace for the Hawks, however their leader can barely even move – let alone hold a sword. You then enter a depressive state with the movie – going through their lives with the constant struggle just to hold on.
Just as you think things are on the improve – you have Griffith take off in a horse and carriage – in a dazed state – thinking he’s reaching his goal of a kingdom. The carriage then crashes – he realises what he’s become and that he’s never going to meet his dream, so for him the only thing to do is end his life. But suddenly the Behelit (The red face device that hangs around his neck) that he lost in the torture chamber is found in the water next to him – triggering a dark abyss. Now begins the Age of Darkness – the next scenes for me made my stomach turn, you have death, genocide, rape, bodies falling apart – it’s very confronting – it makes you feel powerless watching it.. I won’t delve further into what happens next – I’ll let you watch for yourselves – but this is certainly the most defining moment I’ve ever viewed in any anime series to date.
Berserk as much as I was excited about it being re-hashed – I was also worried about them doing a bad rendition. I personally think Studio 4°C did a fantastic job re-telling the story, and it made me re-live my entry into anime bringing back some fond and terrifying moments. If I had a gripe – and it’s probably a big one – is the use of CG throughout the movie – in some moments it felt like I was watching a CG intro to a video game rather than watching beautiful fluent animation – with character models looking quite clunky and unrealistic – the use of CG however did get better use in arc 2 and 3 as I think that Studio 4°C found their feet a little better. I would of loved to see what this would of looked like animated by hand – as to me that’s what Berserk is all about – gritty and hard edged – not clinical and mechanical. I also wish that the 1997 opening anime theme song ‘Tell my why’ by the Penpals was used – I mean come on – how awesome is it? Too much to ask?
While the films aren’t perfect the awesomeness definitely out-weighs any bad and on blu-ray is looks absolutely stunning. Look out for some awesome extras on the third disc such as some hilarious outtakes, production gallery, highlight reel, interview with Eiko Tanaka, interview with Aki Toyosaki and Minako Kotobuki.
I would recommend the trilogy to anyone who likes dark style anime, don’t take it with a pinch of salt – as there are very dark natured themes to this series.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.