Friday, July 19, 2013

Berserk Golden Age Arc 1: The Egg of the King

Berserk started out as an action, fantasy manga that dates all the way back to 1990. Amazingly, it's still going strong to this day. While I may not be deeply familiar with all of Berserk's history and lore, I do have my own history with the franchise. My experience with Berserk began with Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage, a Dreamcast video game released in the year 2000. At the time, I had no idea that this simple action game was based on a complex manga. The game turned out to be quite fun, though, so when I heard there was an anime as well, I just had to check it out.

The 1997 original anime series Berserk is one of the most well-known, lauded, and yet tragic anime series to ever exist. The anime was closely tied to the manga, right to a fault. Berserk's creator, Kentaro Miura, is notorious for releasing new volumes at a snail's pace, and the anime eventually caught up the manga and was left with no where to go. This left Berserk, the anime, with perhaps the worst ending in the history of fiction: a scene involving rape, mutilation, doom and despair, and with no finality and no heroic triumph.

Flash forward to 2012 when Studio 4 C attempts to correct things by releasing three separate but canonically continual films that detail the second major arc in Berserk's lore. It's as good a place to start as any, because while the Golden Age is Berserk's second arc canonically, it's actually a flashback of events that take place before the first arc ever began. Similarly, the original anime series choose to start here as well. It's also here that Guts, the main lead of Berserk, becomes the Black Swordsman we know him as today.

Guts in all his badassery, before becoming the Black Swordsman.

Watching the film, I couldn't help but be reminded of the original anime series at every turn, only things moved a lot faster. As far as I can recollect, The Egg of the King is a faithful adaptation of the original series, and thus, the same can be said for its ties to the manga. The Golden Age arc contains a wonderfully told story (when it's done in completion) that sets the precedent for Guts to become a true badass in the future. And surprisingly, while the Egg of the King is not as thorough as the original series, the quicker pacing may just make this series of films the best anime incarnation of the arc yet.

The Golden Age arc of Berserk depicts the story of Guts, a mercenary swordsman of uncanny strength and ability, who winds up owing his life to a man named Griffith and his Band of Hawks. Griffith's dream is to own his own country and become the King, and he leases his mercenary army to those who are willing to pay a high price for their impeccable services. The Egg of the King specifically focuses on Guts becoming the commander of the Band of the Hawk and the peculiar bond that Guts and Griffith form over the course of three years times.

The effeminate Griffith and his cursed necklace, Crimson Behelit (aka the Egg of the King).

Guts is surprisingly deeper than his name might detail. Over the course of his tenure with the Band of the Hawk, Guts grows from an emotionless swordsman for hire to a man with actual feelings and concern for his fellow comrades. Guts' relationship with his superior, Griffith, creates a foundation that the story essentially hinges off of. In between Guts and Griffith is the tomboyish Casca, an capable swordsman on her own, who becomes jealous of Griffith's affection for Guts. These three characters thusly become the main focus of the movie and carry it quite well on their own.

These three characters and their relationships really drive the story.

To no surprise, the original anime's voice cast has been completely recast for this trilogy of films. Hiroaki Iwanaga is perfectly cast as Guts, replacing the original series actor, Nobutoshi Canna. Takahiro Sakurai replaces Griffith's former actor, and equally does a splendid job with his role. But in particular, I enjoyed Tao Yukinari's performance as Casca. Egg of the King does contain a few other characters worth mention, such as Zodd the Immortal, Charlotte (the King's daughter), and the King himself, but their roles are mainly used to further the story and their voice casting was solid yet unremarkable.

Thankfully, the intriguing drama is coupled with splendid visuals. I've heard many say that they hold fault with the inclusion of CGI imagery within the movie, but I, for one, never once found fault with its inclusion. In fact, the mixture of highly detailed art and seamlessly integrated CGI effects give the Egg of the King an appealing look that helps it to stand out from other anime. This blending of technology does present one issue, though: the frame rate of animation tends to stutter during bigger battles causing things to look blurry or dizzying. But the realism of the characters, their body movements as they breathe, and the sheer quality of the environments more than makes up for the sacrifice in frames.

Detailed, gorey, and dark visuals punctuate the narrative.

Accompanying the visuals and story is a fitting soundtrack that sets perfectly into each moment. It's a subtle soundtrack, but certainly noticeable. The creepy song accompanying the intro to the film accurately set the mood, but I was thankful that it only ran about a minute long. The song during the ending credits, combined with the actual ending of the film's story, left me with a desire to jump right into the sequel.

While watching Egg of the King, I was completely captivated. I had long forgotten just how awesome Berserk can be. Surely, deep followers of the manga will find some fault with this adaption of their beloved franchise (don't they always?!), but for a casual fan like myself or any newcomer, Egg of the King is great entry into the franchise and perhaps the quickest way to get caught up on Berserk's wealth of lore.

If you're looking for an anime movie that delivers in badass sword fights, lots of guts and gore, some interesting visuals, and sets up a deep and complex plot, then look no further than Egg of the King. I just pray by the third film's conclusion, the Golden Age arc will finally be completed in anime form. Perhaps we'll even get new trilogies depicting the other manga arcs, as well, afterwards. I'd be all over that. Just like you should be all over this exciting movie adaptation of a legendary manga.

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