Berserk is one of those long running manga series that just has such a rich, fascinating world and history. When I first heard they would be adapting the Golden Age arc into a series of three theatrical films, I was more than just a little bit excited. There was a ton of crazy cool material in those volumes of the manga, and if studio 4°C played their cards right they could have some amazing movies on their hands.
The first film, Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King, was a solid effort not without its problems. Being such a short film (somewhere around 80 minutes), The Egg of the King made some pretty big cuts to the story, resulting in pacing that could be quite awkward at times. When you try to adapt multiple volumes of a manga within such a short runtime, you're bound to run into these issues though. The CG used for the big battles seemed to be pretty hit or miss, but in general I thought it was a beautiful looking film.
I tempered my expectations for the next film, The Battle of Doldrey, in the hopes that they would take their time to tell the story rather than plow through material.
It's not perfect, but The Battle of Doldrey does a lot to try to fix the issues that the first film suffered from, making it an engaging romp through the Berserk universe.
Follow me after the break as I swing my giant sword around like an idiot.
Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey (Theatrical release)
As implied by the film's title, Golden Arge Arc II primarily covers the the conquest of Doldrey castle by the Band of the Hawk. I won't spoil any of the film's major beats in case some of you happen to be newcomers to the Berserk world. Unlike the first film, Golden Age Arc II runs nearly two hours which allows it to explore the characters a bit more, easing its audience into each of the secondary characters much better. By the end, you feel like you know the Band of the Hawk and the major figures a lot more intimately. Casca in particular gets the lion's share of the development, fleshing out her motivations and her relationship with Griffith and Guts. The first film hints at her personality, but Golden Age Arc II really dives right into it.
The 110 minute runtime also gives the film room to take its time, resulting in a much better paced film. You still have long stretches of crazy battles, but I've always felt like Berserk did a good job developing its cast even within the combat sequences. If anything, I'd argue that Griffith gets the short end of the stick in this film, with very few standout moments save for the final fifteen minutes. The ending is also a bit abrupt, though that's to be expected given that this was planned as a series of three films. On the whole though this is a better flowing movie, even if studio 4°C had to make lots of cuts here and there. If you're a fan of the Berserk manga, just realize that not everything made it in.
That being said, Golden Age Arc II is not very accessible if you haven't seen the first film. There's a brief recap at the beginning of the movie and some smaller flashbacks here and there, but on the whole Studio 4°C assumes you already have a general idea of what's going on. There's not a lot of time wasted on reintroducing characters and their relationships; the film starts with a huge battle sequence. Far from a negative, this actually allows Golden Age Arc II to hit the ground running, which in turn helps keep the pace from slowing to a crawl.
Golden Age Arc I drew some ire for its intensive use of CG animation. I personally didn't mind it so much, but I can understand how it was distracting for some viewers. Golden Age Arc II also contains significant amounts of CG animation, but I think it's handled a little bit better. At this point CG is used mostly for sequences of combat, with 2D animation taking over during the down time. Assuming you've seen the first film, I imagine it wouldn't be quite as distracting here if only because you're expecting it. The choice to forgo the standard 16:9 aspect ratio in favor of 2:35:1 was an unexpected but genius decision in my opinion. Large battles benefit from the wider screen, lending them a sense of scale that few animated productions are able to manage effectively.
Distracting or not however, it's undeniable that the action sequences are gloriously violent and intense. Body parts fly through the air as Guts and the Band of the Hawk smash their way through enemy soldiers. There were points in which I was visibly cringing in the theater, though nothing is quite as bad as when Guts accidentally impales a child in Golden Age Arc I. None the less, lots of people get killed in terrible ways and the CG animation does a good job of making it really look painful.
Composers Shiro Sagisu and Susumu Hirasawa continue to pump out the dramatic orchestral pieces, though none of the compositions in particular stuck with me after the film. The score certainly wasn't distracting however, and lent Golden Age Arc II the necessary gravitas you would expect from high fantasy. The voice acting is great across the board, though that shouldn't be surprising as the casting for the first film was excellent.
Walking out of the theater, my general opinion was that Berserk Golden Age Arc II managed to fix nearly all the issues the first film found itself stumbling into. In retrospect, I still hold that to be the case. Studio 4°C clearly have a lot of respect for this property and as far as I'm concerned are doing it great justice, even if cuts have to be made. There's a remarkable amount of artistry that has gone into this film, from simple details in a single shot, to the massive scope of the battles. If you're a fan of fantasy, a fan of Berserk or just a fan of quality animation, I implore you to check out Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey. Unless you're squeamish, in which case you should stay as far away as humanly possible.
Bring on part III!
8.5 – Great. Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey is filled with action, drama and a hint of romance. An overall improved experience over its precursor.
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