One year has passed since Guts left the Band of the Hawk and Griffith was imprisoned by the Kingdom of Midland for treason.
In the dead of night, at a camping site where they hide, the Band of the Hawk is attacked by Bakiraka assassins led by Silat. When all seems lost, Guts returns from his journey. "You destroyed everything." Crying that Griffith is nothing without Guts, Casca and Guts are joined together body and soul. Griffith is imprisoned in the oldest building in Wyndham Catle, the Tower of Rebirth. They discover that Griffith has been tortured, with the tendons of his legs and arms severed and his tongue removed. Seeing Guts and Casca pitying him, Griffith drags his body along the ground. At that moment, the Egg of the King Behelit that he had thought lost returns to his hand. The Behelit resonated with Griffith's despair and screams, causing a shockwave that creates a twisted dimension. The God Hand descends. A nightmare of magnificent violence erupts as a horde of apostles devour the Band of the Hawk. This is the birth of the fifth guardian and the beginning of an age where darkness overcomes all light.
Continuing from where the last movie leaves off, Guts leaves the Band of the Hawk and Griffith is captured. It is now a year later and Guts has returned to save Griffith who is now only beyond a mere shell of his former glory self. Anyway, I say this has been the best movie of the trilogy so far. In context to story, the beginning is very rushed and some scenes are taken out from the original manga and some are properly rearranged. But it doesn't really hurt the flow for the story in relation to the movie. It works in its own way, but
I will admit as a manga purist, idealistically, I wish it followed the manga 100% to a t, but that's just me. This movie is now 2 hours so it allows more content, though I wish all the movies were 2 hours.
The controversial CG in my humble opinion, has improved but still has its problems. I say the frame rate is more even and the frame size in proportion to the characters and foreground appropriately accommodates it. It still comes across as "gamey," but it is an improvement, but by no means perfect. The action is very violent and lives up to its bad ass title. There will be plenty of blood and gore. Even though Guts is the main character and a bad ass, I will admit when this guy fights, he scares me and this movie does a good job of making me scared of the main character. There's nothing to fear, but fear itself, but fear fears Guts. On a list of top anime bad asses, Guts has to be on that list no doubt.
I say what defines the art and animation is how it sets the atmosphere and brings you into the emotions. You feel Griffith's fragility. Even though you don't see him unmasked, the detail to the art on whatever you see of his face is enough to give you an idea of what he would look like if unmasked. You see the hesitation of Guts on whether or not he should leave the Hawks again. You feel Casca's frustrations. I feel that the raw emotions bring a sense of substance in conjunction to its R-15+ (the equivalent to an NC-17 in America) rating.
The voice acting, as I have admitted in previous reviews, has been an issue for me. I will admit that Guts' new actor has shown improvement and shown instances that he can capture the character. But I will openly admit as a purist and fanboy that Nobutoshi Canna is still Guts to me while Michael Bell will always be his English voice to me. The guy who plays Jedau does an ok imitation of the character's original voice actor, Ishida Akira. Maybe for people not familiar with the previous anime series and the games will not find this to be an issue and may like the voice actors.
Like the second movie, the soundtrack is more acoustics and orchestrated. My thoughts on that carry onto this movie as well. It suits the time period very well and knows how to suit the atmosphere. The orchestra in the ending credits was very impressive. Susumu Hirakawa still does the opening theme and is my favorite part of the soundtrack. Still, like the newer voice cast, fans new to Berserk who had not seen the previous anime series or played the games will probably not think of this as an issue.
The closest thing to a spoiler I can give is that after the ending credits, there is a post credits scene which isn't much for some people, but after that is over, there is a message in clear English that says "This is only the beginning" meaning we will get new Berserk movies. I say its only natural with the easter eggs in previous movies, this series deserves its shot where it really shines. For those not familiar with the Berserk manga, this new trilogy is a mere fraction of what Berserk has to offer. So I hope we hear more news soon if a new Berserk movie will come out this year or not.
After that, we get a bonus music video!!! So fans will most likely enjoy this.
NOTE: This review encompasses the entirety of the Golden Age Arc trilogy of films.
Often hailed as one of, if not THE best mangas of all time, Berserk has earned itself a spot on many an avid manga reader's "must read" lists and for good reason as it's the quintessential dark fantasy manga and the ultimate story of friendship, tragedy, and the pursuit of self-destructive vengeance. This may very well be true in the manga, but Berserk's animated history isn't much to speak of. The TV series produced by Oriental Light & Magic in 1997 is hailed as a classic by many but its piss-poor animation
along with its mortifying cliffhanger of an ending left a sour taste in the mouths of a lot of people (myself included). Unfortunately, this was the *only* adaptation of Berserk that ever existed... that is until Studio 4C announced that it would be releasing a series of films to adapt the Golden Age Arc of the Berserk manga. Are these movies any good? Personally, I say that they're great but I'm pretty sure that statement of mine just evoked the wrath of thousands of Berserk fans. Allow me to explain myself:
As fans of a manga, it's completely understandable that we'd want our adaptations to copy the source material verbatim, but the sad fact of the matter is that it's just not possible whatsoever. Despite the fact that mangas are basically pre-drawn storyboards for anime studios to work with, anime and manga are two completely different mediums with different demands and nuances to work with. Changes *must* be made for the sake of things like time, narrative consistency, budget, and all that other stuff. If you're going to get up in arms about how the adaptation lacks every single irrelevant detail from the source material that you adored the shit out of, do yourself a favour and stick with the manga because no matter which way you look at it, the adaptation will *always* be inferior to the source material so there's no use in complaining about it.
On another note, censorship is generally not an issue when it comes to manga because S&P boards aren't even a thing when it comes down to print media (well, I think they aren't anyway). Anime broadcast on television however need to abide by certain standards and given the content that Berserk has, there's no way it can last as a TV series without either suffering from extensive censorship OR butchering it to the point where it's a completely different show than what it was intended to be. Cinema on the other hand, doesn't have to put up with censorship (unless you're in a country with a turbulent civil rights history like Saudi Arabia, China, or Iran) and it's more readily accessible to a greater audience than it would've been otherwise had it been a TV series. Sure, Studio 4C could've easily made an OVA series like Space Battleship Yamato 2199 but ultra-violent GAR OVAs died in the late 80s and early 90s along with parachute pants, grunge music, and The Fat Boys. Also, I don't think a lot of people would be too eager to buy a full season's worth of one show on DVD/Blu-ray so there's that to factor in as well.
Now with all of that stuff out of the way, let's talk about the movies and how they actually are from a quality standpoint. Well I won't mince words here: each film in the trilogy is better than the one that preceded it with "Eclipse" being the best and "The Egg of the King" being the worst (by default). Now, that's not to say that the first movie in the trilogy was terrible because in all honesty, it really wasn't. It was a fair enough introduction to Berserk, the storytelling was fair enough (albeit rather clunky) and hey! We finally got a chance to see a battle animated properly (and in 1080p) instead of seeing blown-up watercolour stills so that's also quite lovely. The problem lies in the way the film itself was actually animated. It's strange to say, but that's the most succinct way to explain the problem.
Studio 4C is an awesome studio and they've got some great stuff on their resume like the short film "Magnetic Rose" from the Memories trilogy by Katsuhiro Otomo, Steamboy, The Animatrix, and Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (if you wanna include their collaborative projects with Warner Bros). Yeah, these guys aren't slouches when it comes down to the audiovisual department. The problem is that the Golden Age Arc of Berserk contains no shortage of large-scale battles that are incredibly difficult to animate in two dimensions. To mitigate this issue, Studio 4C opted to integrate varying degrees of CG animation into the mix in order to actually animate all those large-scale battles and it works absolutely beautifully in those situations.
Unfortunately, they decided to maintain the CG even when there weren't any battles to actually animate in the first movie and it just looks so ridiculously clunky to the point where there's something eerie about it. That clunky CG animation is basically what caused so many people to not even bother giving these movies a chance despite the fact that it actually does get better as time went on. I'm not going to lie, the CG is an eyesore but there's no denying that the animation across all three movies is a million leagues better than the barely-animated rubbish the TV series had to offer (do keep in mind I'm talking about the animation of the TV series, the story and characters are quite lovely). Hell, the third movie actually got the CG right and used it to great effect during the Eclipse (which I'll talk about later).
In regard to the story and characters, I must say that Studio 4C did a pretty good job (especially given that they were trying to cover 11 volumes' worth of content within the span of 3 films). The Golden Age Arc of Berserk is the ultimate story of hardship and sacrifice fuelled by the pursuit of one man's dream. We start our journey in the middle of a century-long war between two kingdoms. Midland, our country of origin was forced to enlist the help of countless mercenaries just to supplement their waning military forces. In the process, they enlisted two people: our aimless protagonist with no goals in life, Guts and the charismatic and ambitious Griffith and the rest of his team known as the "Band of the Hawk." Through circumstance, Guts ends up joining Griffith and his band of mercenaries and I'll just leave the rest for you to experience.
Yeah, there are a lot of things missing from these movies that the TV series had but Studio 4C managed to retain the "spirit" of Berserk throughout the course of the trilogy. Sure, some events are either implied or omitted entirely but most (if not all) of the important stuff from the Golden Age Arc remain intact and dare I say that these movies managed to portray these events much better than the TV series and even the manga ever could. I'm not even being hyperbolic or anything of the sort. A lot of the highlights of the Golden Age Arc just "take" to being animated and I can safely say that Studio 4C did virtually everything they could to make those highlights from the manga stand out and work much better than they ever could've if they were just black-and-white panels upon pages with no sound whatsoever.
On that note, let's talk about the Eclipse. If you've EVER spent any time around the Berserk fandom, chances are that you've heard of this event and have a vague idea of what it is. But for those of you who aren't well-versed in the ways of Berserk, I'll explain what it is. The Golden Age arc of the manga is first and foremost, a protracted flashback that lasted from Volume 3 of the manga to Volume 14. Berserk initially starts off with Guts in the present time in pursuit of Griffith for reasons that were never revealed until the climax of the GAA. The Eclipse is nothing short of a cataclysmic nightmare that seamlessly merged ghastly and surreal horror with heart-wrenching tragedy. A recurring theme throughout the course of the Golden Age arc is causality and the existence of free will. Throughout the manga and the films, these theme was always working its magic in the background and gave us hints and foreshadowing of the ghastly nightmare that we would later experience.
Unfortunately, the TV series lacked this sort of foreshadowing almost entirely. By the time the Eclipse actually happened, it just came out of nowhere. The impact of the Eclipse was lost completely because the themes of causality and the supernatural were downplayed heavily in lieu of putting more emphasis on camaraderie and friendship. Hypothetically, this could've led to a more impactful tragedy but the problem is that there was no foreshadowing whatsoever. Instead of making us crap our pants in pure, unadulterated terror whilst also making us cry like little bitches because of the fact that all of this horrible shit is happening to characters we've grown to know and love, it made us scratch our heads in confusion... oh, and that's not even getting into the appalling animation making the entire ordeal difficult to take seriously and how all of this actually ended in the TV series.
Thankfully, none of that was the case when it came down to the third Berserk movie and its portrayal of the Eclipse. In fact, it managed to perfectly capture the sheer intensity of the Eclipse as a cataclysmic tragedy in ways that both the TV series AND the manga failed to do. A lot of this can be chalked up to the fact that Studio 4C did an outstanding job with the animation. Did I forget to mention that the Eclipse is one of the bloodiest and most gruesome parts of Berserk to ever exist (because that's kinda important...)? The way Studio 4C went about portraying the Eclipse was so graphic to the point where people who actually saw this movie in theatres ended up having to leave because it was just too much for some people to actually sit through. This is the way that the Eclipse was meant to be portrayed from the very beginning. The third movie succeeded where the source material and its previous adaptation failed. I'd love to keep going, but I think that'll reach into some seriously spoiler-heavy territory and I think I spoiled more than enough at this point.
On that note, let's talk about how it ends. The TV series ended on what is undoubtedly the single most depressing point of the entire story, but the actual resolution of the Golden Age arc in the manga wasn't like that at all. Though the TV series left the overall story of the GAA is left largely intact, many alterations had to be made so that the entire story could fit within the span of 25 episodes. Because of this, the guys at OLM decided that it would be an absolutely fantastic idea to just omit the ACTUAL resolution of the Golden Age arc and just ended it on such a mortifying cliffhanger to the point where anyone who wasn't familiar with the source material would be shouting at the screen going "What the actual fuck?!" The movies completely and totally avoided this and I'm SO thankful that Studio 4C managed to get it right. All you manga purist Berserk fans can talk shit about the films all you want, but there's no denying that the way the third movie got right what the TV series got wrong.
Now, you may be wondering whether or not the movies do a good enough job of making us care about the characters. Personally, I think that the movie managed to do a great job but others may beg to differ because of the fact that the Golden Age Arc movies cut out a lot of stuff. While I can't really say much about the secondary/tertiary characters, I can safely say that the movies hit the nail on the head when it came down to our dynamic duo of Guts and Griffith which is what ultimately matters in the end. It's the dynamic between these two and the rest of the cast that made this arc of the manga so captivating to read in the first place.
Guts started out as a wandering mercenary with a brutal past, no friends, and nothing to aspire toward. His encounter with Griffith and the Band of the Hawk led to him finally knowing what it was like to have friends. What's more is that it was revealed that despite all of the horrible things that Guts went through in the past, he's got such a capacity for things like love, trust, friendship, and all that other stuff. At the same time, the GAA by and large is a tragedy and we all know that shit will end horribly for Guts and that he'll take up his sword in pursuit of vengeance no matter what the cost. I don't think it's any stretch to say that he is without a doubt, one of Berserk's greatest assets. The movies retain the very essence of this tragic character and makes it so that we'll always have a reason to root for him in the end.
That's not to invalidate Griffith, because he's just as great a character as Guts is. Griffith has evoked the ire of countless Berserk fans for his actions in the manga that I'm not at liberty to discuss, but don't let that make you think he's not a great character in the slightest. I viscerally despise everything there is about Griffith, and yet I can still find myself finding some modicum of sympathy for him (Kentaro Miura might be fapping away to Idolmaster these days, but there's no denying that he's more than capable of writing amazing characters). Many of us have larger-than-life ambitions, but Griffith is one of the few who actually makes the effort to chase after those foolhardy childhood dreams that we end up letting go of as we get older. Throughout the course of the Golden Age arc, Griffith is depicted as a sort of demigod and it isn't until he encounters Guts when his cool shell starts to crack as he and Guts end up becoming like brothers. It's this very bond between these two that provides the catalyst for almost all of Berserk's highlights and tragedies. If you want to know more, then you know what you need to do: watch the bloody movies and then read the bloody manga for context!
Before I wrap this review up, I want to take the time to talk about one last thing: the audio. The Golden Age Arc trilogy's OST and dubbing is absolutely spectacular. Say what you will about the animation, but there's no denying that everyone in the sound department deserves a gold medal for their work. On the OST side of things, every single track is absolutely spectacular and fits the mood perfectly... except one track during the climax of the third movie which makes me wonder if Griffith was wearing a top hat, a monocle, and had a thin moustache he was twirling around in one finger whilst waiting for an oncoming train to run over Casca (but let's not get into that). Of all the tracks that were played across all three movies, I'd have to say that "Blood and Guts" (the ending theme of the first and third movies) would have to be my favourite because it perfectly captures the tragic nature of Guts as a character (that, and it also sounds REALLY fucking awesome).
As for the dubbing, I really have to give props to Viz because they not only hired the bulk of the original cast of the TV series' dub, but they gave them better voice direction and also managed to sync up the mouth movements properly! Marc Diraison did a wonderful job in the TV series, but he really gets a chance to shine under Viz's direction. As for Kevin T. Collins, well his work as Griffith is absolutely spot-on and almost everything I've said about Marc Diraison can be applied to him as well. My only complaint however is the fact that there are no outtake reels on the DVD/Blu-ray release of any of the movies (at least from what I can gather). Come on, guys... if the guys at Media Blasters have the dignity to show their bloopers, you guys can do it too.
So, what else is there to say about these movies? Hm... well, I don't think it's a stretch to say that these movies are definitely worth watching. As an introduction to Berserk, these movies do an excellent job with acquainting any potential newcomers with everything whilst giving long-time fans of the series a properly animated adaptation that while condensed and short, manages to perfectly encapsulate virtually everything there is to love about this series. At present, there is no sequel to this film trilogy, so if you're new to Berserk and you just finished the third movie, you'll have to do one of two things:
a) Read the manga from the very beginning so that you can see what you missed out on whilst also learning what became of Guts et al post-Eclipse.
b) Wait for Studio 4C to release the next instalment of their Berserk adaptation. They have stated previously that they have plans to adapt the rest of the manga, but they've yet to release anything.
Personally, I'd recommend the first option, but waiting ain't half bad if you don't wanna buy volumes or put up with shitty scanlations. Anyway, that's all for now. Feedback's always welcome and with that, I'm out. Peace :)
I will be evaluating all the movies as a whole. So this review will look at all three movies in the Golden age arc.
It all starts with a dream. Ambition, lust, greed, jealousy, hatred, and a huge ass sword. All critical components in the creation of Guts character. Forged on the battle field and bathed in blood, Guts is an ever evolving individual.
(Story and Character)
It is nearly impossible to separate both story and character. Both get a 10 from me, so i will combine both of them in the same discussion. The story is absolutely brilliant in bringing its
world to life. It incorporates so many different elements that slowly weave themselves into the narrative. The story is founded on the dreams of a man named Griffith. An individual who will stop at nothing in order to gain absolute control of the world and become king. Him and his band of mercenaries meet a man named Guts on the way who at first is a very young and reckless person.
!!!!!!!!!!!(Semi-Spoiler, I don't go into anything specific in the story, but I do describe Guts evolution as a character)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Guts soon grows and becomes stronger and wiser with every action he makes. He soon realizes that the only way he can achieve a purpose is to fight for himself and strive for his own ambitions. He is tired of trying to fulfill Griffith's dream and decides its time to move on. I will stop here as to not spoil anything huge, but this causes a rift between Guts and Griffiths characters as it marks the beginning of the end.
Watching every character grow makes you feel emotionally attached to them. You feel their sorrows, their struggles, their hopes, and their dreams. Most of the characters are fleshed out and I felt like I was there, riding along on their journey. I felt that I was there trying to achieve the dream beside Griffith and Guts. It's a nonstop epic story that takes you on an unforgettable journey and ends in the most grotesque and twisted way I've ever seen. I felt absolute catharsis after the last movie was over. Unlike the original anime, this one at least leaves you with a sliver of hope, but at the same time fleshes out more despair when it comes to Caska.
The art is a mixed bag. In my opinion the art was better in the movies than the original anime. Although the CG looked odd and clunky at times when it came to fighting and tearing sh*t apart (which is the important stuff) it looked incredible. Especially the Battle for Doldrey. The epic music hit fitting in perfectly, and then I absolutely flipped at the scenes near the end where multiple fights were going on at the same time, Caska and blonde mohawk guy, Guts and the enemy general, and everyone fighting in the army. The chaos was absolutely beautiful.
When the general yells, "Undisciplined FOOLS!!" and proceeds to rip everyone a new one around him in a mist of blood I dropped my jaw, but I wasn't ready for what would come next. Guts uses a flag as a distraction and proceeds to slam his sword down towards the ground chopping off not only the generals head, but the head of the horse.
This battle was the definition of epic. In terms of absolute epic-ness and the scene i described in the spoiler gets a 69696969669/10.
There were absolutely stunning scenes like this, but then when the dust settled the cg did look clunky and unappealing at times and i preferred the 2D normal anime look that it threw around here and there. The last movie did look the best and corrected some of the issues, but it still suffered at times.
The sound was great. I really don't have any complaints other than some of the voice acting. As far as the background music and the new epic score, it is leagues ahead of the anime. The original anime suffered in the music and sound department, but this movie easily corrects that and gives every scene a more emotional depth with its score. Now for the voice acting, the dub is stellar. I watched the first two movies dubbed, and the final movie subbed since the dub still has not been released. Very few anime can claim a better dub than its sub, but Guts voice is absolutely perfect, it matches his character 100%. The other characters are also well done and it sounds perfect as if it were made for English. On the other hand the voice of Guts in Japanese just didn't have the same ooomph that the English one did. It didn't sound as grisly or hardened as it should have. So the English dub was my favorite because it captured the grisliness, manliness, and ruggedness of Guts character.
I basically spelled it out this entire review. This is a nonstop action packed emotionally fueled epic. I felt the movies solved some of the issues of slower pacing that I found in the original anime. Maybe I had a short attention span, but i felt bored at times with the original anime, but in the movie I was absolutely stunned the whole way through. The change in scenery and pace made it a blast to watch. The story jumps from talk of politics and nobility, to romance, to the battlefield, and you even get to see Guts in a ballroom (A very important scene by the way). It then ends on a supernatural element that defines the story near the end.
Although I can't show it, in the end this series gets a whopping 9.4 in my book. My favorite of the movies is the second as it represented the integral shift between the main characters and was the most jam packed with epic. It may have a few flaws, but the series is an absolute marvel. The movies are fast paced, have absolutely beautiful fight scenes filled with pools of blood, the characters grow tremendously, the English voices fit perfectly. It's ending is so twisted and dark that there is no way to ever see it coming. Trust me, there's no way you could ever predict what happened. The ending left me emotionally exhausted. It made me question whether Guts could ever overcome his past. It made me question whether he would ever be able to go back to who he was before the ending. I wonder what type of man he will become. I guess it's time to read the Manga.
After how much I bashed the first 2 Berserk films, you might be surprised to learn that I actually really liked the 3rd one! I try not to be petty and hold grudges, where I will automatically attack every work in a certain franchise or by a certain author, simply because I didn't like previous entries. In the 3rd film covering the Eclipse portion of the Berserk storyline, they FINALLY get it right.
The first vast improvement is the pacing. The 3rd film covers an appropriate number of episodes, so the much beloved story and characters of Berserk don't need to be massively watered down
in order to fit a 2 hour run time. In fact, the 3rd film is able to give us background about the Berserk world that the original anime wasn't able to fit in. We also get to actually see the full conclusion of the Eclipse instead of a random fade to black. We know from the first episode of the original Berserk anime that Guts survived the Eclipse, but the first anime doesn't even hint as to how he could have survived it. The 3rd movie is able to fit in the Skull Knight in all his Deus ex Machina glory! Given the movie did unfortunately cut out the Skull Knight's fight with Zodd the Immortal, but just showing the escape made it a massive improvement on the original ending. I also appreciated that the movie captured the full brutality and horror of the Eclipse even better than the first anime. There were parts of the original anime that I liked better including Judeau's final confession of love for Caska. However, Berserk 3 still does a very solid job adapting this portion of the manga...unlike those first 2 movies.
On a technical level, the CGI is vastly improved and actually doesn't look like complete shit for once. The music was also pretty solid throughout, although the extremely melodramatic piano piece when Griffith rapes Caska was a tad out of place. I wasn't sure if he was going to rape her or tie her to a railroad track while evilly twisting his handlebar mustache.
Bonus Section: Trivia
The "Eclipse" happens every 216 years because 6 x 6 x 6 = 216.
The Godhand members are all named after obscure books by great fantasy/scifi writers that Miura likes. Each Godhand member is partially inspired by one of these titans of fantasy.
Void = Frank Herbert Conrad = Roger Zalazny Ubik = Philip K Dick Slan = AE van Vogt
Berserk is one of VERY few non-hentai titles to show pubic hair. Although there is no longer a censorship law against this in 2015, most anime don't do this out of convention to keep the border between hentai and non-hentai echii clear.
Guts was named after the real life historical figure Gottfried "Götz" von Berlichingen, a badass medieval mercenary who fought with a prosthetic iron hand just like Guts.