Berserk is ongoing manga series that has run since 1990. The story appears to be set in an alternate world going through its dark age. Kingdoms are warring for land using knights, giant armies, and hired mercenaries. The series feels comparable to Game of Thrones as far as tone and violence.
The first story arc, Black Swordsman, sets you in a world of fantasy with demons, and monsters. Back in 1997 they created an amazing 25 episode anime series based on the second arc of the manga called Golden Age Arc. The Golden Age Arc is a long flashback to what caused the world to become so dark. It feels much more grounded in what could have been our past. The Golden Age Arc focused on the early years of three major characters, Guts, Griffith, and Casca while they lead the mercenary group, The Band of Hawks. While we would have called this period the dark ages, The Golden Age Arc basically refers to the good old days before magic and monsters ruled the land. What happens at the end of the golden age is nothing short of horrific.
The basic story of Berserk starts off following Guts, who seems to be a loner, that seems to think only of survival and swinging his giant sword. In his travels he gains notoriety, and the attention of the Band of Hawks lead by Griffith who decides to recruit him. Through their adventures together in the Band of Hawks, Guts learns to stop being a loner, and craves the companionship of Griffith as his friend. Meanwhile Griffith is leading his mercenary army towards his dreams of having his own country.
Fans have waited for a followup series for years to continue the other arcs. It seemed it would never happen. Finally, for the 20th anniversary of the manga, a new trilogy of movies was announced covering the Golden Age Arc. If this trilogy does well STUDIO4°C will give the rest of the series the same treatment.
As you can see in the above trailer the new movie is gorgeous. I’ve discussed this movie with several friends over the last few days and every single time I do, I have to get into how fluid the animation is. The original berserk anime was gory, but this movie felt much more so due to the quality of the animation. Every sword swing looked elegant and real. In the original anime Guts cuts through body parts very quickly. You would get a sense of where he hit them (the torso, an arm, or a leg), but generally without a lot of detail. Later in the new movie there is a scene where Guts is fighting his way out of a castle. As he’s doing so you can see exactly where he cuts into his opponents. Everything just feels more real.
Because of this feeling of “reality”, some scenes have more gravity then the original anime did. There is a scene where Guts kills someone he didn’t mean to. Watching him deal with it had a lot more impact then it had previously in the anime.
The new movie totals in at 77 minutes, which is its biggest downfall. It encompasses the first 10 episodes of anime which would be around 220 minutes. In order to squeeze that much in, they had to remove and condense a few plot points. Some of the plot points were minor and easy to miss. Unfortunately, they chose to condense Guts’ younger years into a 30 second fever dream. This movie would have done itself a favor to have been at least 100 minutes long and take a bit more time fleshing out characters.
Having read the source material (and watched the original anime), I’m well versed in the story, but I’m not sure how someone new to the story would feel because of how much it gets rushed and pushed together.
This film covers Guts first meeting with The Band of Hawks and his realization that he isn’t really friends with Griffith. Unfortunately I don’t think this movie goes far enough to show why Guts would have ever thought he and Griffith were friends to begin with. There are also a cast of side characters in The Band of Hawks that haven’t had a chance to get fleshed out yet. Hopefully in the second movie they’ll get more screen time.
Thankfully the second movie Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey has a runtime of 100 minutes. Hopefully it won’t suffer the same issues as the first film. That being said the first film is still a great watch for anyone that enjoyed the original anime or manga. Even if you haven’t seen the original series, and you love action, check this out. Hopefully the it won’t turn you off from what is a great series with a great story.
Viz is releasing the first film in America on Blu-ray and DVD on November 27, 2012, and the rest will follow over time, but there isn’t a current release date. Viz also plans on streaming the film through their new service called Neon Alley, on the Playstation 3.
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