ANIME & MANGA - Review
08:45 - 31st May 2013, by David West

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1

Kentarou Miura's blood-soaked tale of warriors, betrayal and revenge is given a new lease of life with the first of a trilogy of films directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka. Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1 - The Egg Of The King covers similar but not identical territory to the opening instalments of the first anime adaptation by Naohito Takahashi - which originally aired in Japan back in 1997 and 1998, but which infamously ended rather inconclusively with the plot left blowing in the wind.
However, Kubooka puts his own stamp on the material. Instead of opening with a brawl in a tavern, he begins his tale with a clear blue sky - the proverbial calm before the storm. Then, a flaming object disrupts the tranquillity of the sky as it sails through the field of vision. It's a burning shot from a trebuchet. An army is assaulting a castle - and The Egg Of The King hits the ground running. The attack on the fortress is superbly rendered as the attacking forces deploy battering rams, ladders, siege towers and the crushing power of the trebuchets to punch their way through the defences. In the ranks of the siege breakers is Guts, who only comes to the fore when the attackers slow to a screeching halt, faced with a huge bear of a man called Bazuso - who dares anyone to come and fight him. Guts duly obliges, and it is immediately apparent that this particular swordsman is cut from a different cloth to his comrades. His duel with Bazuso draws the attention of Griffith, the leader of the feared mercenaries known as the Band of the Hawk. Griffith decides he wants Guts to join his Band, but Guts never does what he's told without a fight.

At the centre of Berserk is the triangular relationship between the savage Guts, the effeminate but deadly Griffith, and his devoted follower Casca, the only female warrior in the Band. She immediately sees Guts as a threat to her friendship with Griffith, and not without due cause. The script plays with the suggestion of an attraction between the two swordsmen - "I want you, Guts," says Griffith when trying to convince the loner to join his Hawks, "I'm attracted to brute strength."

Jealousy is a major motivating factor in the plotting. It not only infects Casca, but causes problems for Griffith when the success of the Band of the Hawk provokes green-eyed envy amongst members of the royal court, as the King decides to make Griffith a nobleman as a reward for his services on the battlefield. It leads to plot and counterplot that centre around Griffith, as the king's vain brother, Julius, decides to eliminate this upstart.

Berserk has a well deserved reputation for violence and gore, but it has strong characters that change and develop (although not always for the best) as the story unfolds. At the start of the tale, Guts seems nothing more than a brute who thinks with his sword and tries to slaughter his way out of every situation. But as he becomes embroiled in the machinations at the royal court, he is confronted by the consequences of his slash first, ask questions later mentality. When he begins to bond with the other members of the Band of the Hawk, he becomes more engaging and likeable. Kubooka has mercifully removed Guts' unfortunate habit from the old anime show, of standing with his sword held out directly in front of his groin, which always suggested that his massive blade was an attempt to compensate for a deficiency in other areas. If anything, Kubooka's rendering of Guts is a leaner, younger version of the character. He still looks strong and athletic, but no longer muscle-bound.

Where Guts is rough and ready, Griffith looks like a spoiled, pampered young man, with his long flowing hair, girlish face and shining white armour. Yet his unthreatening, androgynous exterior conceals a swordsman of remarkable skill and a calculating mind, determined to achieve his dreams by any means necessary. He courts the King's daughter Charlotte, who is a bit of a drip, and the script leaves room for doubt as to whether Griffith cares for her, or is using her to further his ambitions. Fortunately, Casca provides a strong female character to contrast with the pampered Princess, who seems just the sort to be fond of swooning.

One of the most immediately obvious differences between this telling of Berserk and the previous version is the lack of time devoted to the supporting players in the Band of the Hawk. This is understandable in light of the transition from an episodic TV format to a film trilogy, but it does mean far less detail in the personalities of the background characters. The script for Egg Of The King hints at the suffering and tragedy in Guts' past, but it is not shown here as it was in the TV series.

The film looks spectacular, a quantum leap forwards in animation quality from the original adaptation. The level of detail in outfits and backgrounds is superb, and the interplay of light and shadow in every scene is impressive. The use of CG techniques allows for dramatic camera movements, as the viewer swoops down over charging cavalry, or into the thick of a melee. The sound design is excellent, particularly the ringing clash of blades in the fight scenes. When Casca crosses swords with Guts, you can feel the power in his blows just from the prominence of the sound effects in the mix.

The original Berserk series is a fan favourite, and the manga is still going strong at Dark Horse, but this new film does the material proud. The battles are rendered in amazing and bloody detail, the pacing is sharper than the tip of Guts' sword, and the ending is sure to leave viewers eager to see what happens next.
SCORE: 4/5
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