Let’s be honest, by now some of you may at least have heard the name “Berserk” thrown out there in some way, shape or form, and considering the series is nearing 23 years old (15 year old in terms of anime), that’s to be expected. The main question here is: can this film be enjoyed by those both new to Berserk and those coming in from the manga and original series? The answer to this is very much – Yes.
So what is Berserk? or rather, what is the Golden Age of Berserk? The Golden Age is where it all began, the story of Guts meeting Griffith, Casca, the Band of the Hawk, and the last few years of the hundred years war between the Midland Army and the Tudor Army, covering the many battles which the Hawk are thrown into, and the struggles between as well. For those of you who are watching this film having seen the anime series previously, you won’t get much new in this film, however you will get a far more action-packed film compared to that. Not only that, but since it is a film instead, expect the gore/blood levels to be higher, so if you are a little uneasy with that, there is your warning. Don’t be thrown off purely by it being more action-orientated however; fans of character development will get a good dose too with Guts, our tragic hero of the series, Griffith, the leader of the Hawk, and Casca, Griffith’s Second-in-Command, who comes across as having a rivalry with Guts, and the bond you see start to form between the three, and the one formed with the Band of the Hawk as a whole. We get a good glimpse into Guts’ past as well, and for the most part, it’s shown as being extremely dark, and almost a struggle to survive. And this carries over to his stature and character here too, wildly swinging his sword as a mercenary in an attempt to earn a living. Griffith comes across, almost like his polar opposite to some degree, being far more refined in everything he does, and it makes for an interesting friendship/partnership between the two which is worth watching in itself. It’s a good balance, one which I think they could have used maybe to give a bit more coverage to the other characters, particularly Casca, who has a slightly smaller role here than you may have come to expect, but it’s well executed for the most part.
I was expecting to be one of those fans who enters this film going “oh but this is missing, that is missing,” being a fan of the originals, however you don’t get that at all. Studio 4C do a brilliant job in putting all the important parts of the series into the film, to the point that nothing ever feels out of place, nor too rushed either. It all works. You get this feeling that this has been made with the intent of not only attracting the fans of the original to watch, but letting all those who have never had the chance, or maybe didn’t see the appeal previously start here. The opening sequence itself kind-of helps this too, in that it is extremely foreshadowing on what’s to come, but in such a way that you don’t get spoiled. Kind of to say “watch this, then come back begging to find out what this means after.” A tease, if you will.
The animation is very much unique. When Berserk was introduced to the audience, we were told that they had taken on this “hybrid” style, as part of the film was done in CG, like bodies, horses, etc, whilst faces and limbs were traditionally animated. While this may sound fairly unappealing, it’s quite stunning to watch. There are moments where I feel it lapses a bit, taking for example a scene where Griffith walks down a hill towards Guts, you see it fully in CG, and it doesn’t look its best. However for the most part it’s well done, and the CG mostly covers the background action while the animation is used to keep focus on the main parts of each scene.
It’s hard for me not to bring up the music of this film, as it’s such a fantastic soundtrack to listen to. “Aria”, the theme song by Susumu Hirasawa helps capture the sinister feel of the series and what’s to come within the opening, whilst the rest of the soundtrack brings so much more emotion and atmosphere to the film itself. What’s more, it doesn’t take long to get thrown into the music either. As soon as the film starts, you’re hit by this epic siege of a castle, and the music captures the atmosphere for this perfectly, almost deliberately getting your adrenaline pumping for the rest of the film. That’s the kind of soundtrack I love to find in a film, one that not only helps to bring out the best in the film, but pushes you to want to see more.
Whilst perhaps this won’t bring much new to the table in terms of content, it covers the first part of the Golden Age well, never feeling rushed, and always keeping itself exciting. A film everyone can enjoy – just be prepared for a lot of blood and gore. Oh, and see if you can count the number of heads sent flying; I counted five.
Please note that this is a review for the Scotland Loves Animation showing and that the Blu-Ray/DVD of the film is out on the 24th of December.