BERSERK: THE GOLDEN AGE ARC 2 - BATTLE FOR DOLDREY (15)2 Discs (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 93 minutes approx.
Little time is wasted in getting back into the violent throes of things in this glossy three part film series reboot of the popular franchise created by Kentaro Miura, and if you've not seen the first film The Egg Of The King, you should do so before moving onto this follow up.
We kick things off in typically bloody Berserk fashion as the Band Of Hawk, led by the enigmatic and androgynous Griffith, have their hands full with the army from Chuder and equally typical is the way that tacit man mountain Guts is slicing and dicing the opposition up with relative ease, thanks to his impressive fighting skills and ridiculously huge sword. This battle is a minor victory for the Hawk with a rematch for Doldrey, a reportedly impenetrable fortress under Chuder control, talking place not long after, delivering more blood splattered, limb severing action that sees the Hawk score another victory with brains and brawn - although mostly brawn, thanks to Guts.
In between the violence and mayhem - the first fifty minutes or so is practically wall to wall battles with only a few moments respite - there are continuing waves of personal drama to be addressed. Griffith is bestowed a high military honour by the king of the Midlands as a reward for liberating Doldrey but this fails to raise a smile when he learns that Guts wants to part company and go his own way. At the end of the first film, Guts overheard Griffith effectively talking down to his group as worthless, which gave our muscle bound hero some cause for concern. He remains loyal to the cause and gladly swings his mighty blade in the name of victory but Griffith's words still ring uncomfortably through Guts's mind like having a Justin Bieber song stuck in your head. Having not mentioned this to anyone and with the seeds of a blossoming romance between he and Hawk's lone female warrior Casca freshly planted, Guts tries to distance himself from the group, in order to find his true path in life.
As with the first film The Egg Of The King, a fair amount of material from the original manga, and subsequent TV series, is crammed into a relatively short space. While this film is some twenty minute longer than its predecessor, these reductions still apply. The most notable victim is the relationship between Casca and Guts, which was an exponential growth before the big pay off in the other adaptations, but here it is dealt with inside ten minutes. Thankfully the handling isn't clumsy just expedited, which for those viewers watching purely for the action, this will be a small price to pay.
While the main focus is keenly on Guts and Griffith, Casca gets her fifteen minutes in the limelight in this outing, although it may not meet the approval of some viewers, suffering as she does from some slightly misogynistic writing. During her clash with the Chuder general, Casca doubles over in pain, making her easy prey for her opponent. The cause of Casca's pain? It was her time of the month! Well, I suppose it had to be addressed at some time but one would hope a bit more sensitivity would have been employed rather than suggesting that the battle field isn't the right place for a woman. I imagine Boadicea would have something to say about that.
This is but a sample of the adult material present in this film and it has to be said, how this wasn't given an 18 certificate by the BBFC is a miracle. Aside from the violence, include a hideous torture scene, gallons of blood shed and the severed body parts - including heads - all displayed in their most graphic form, there is a high amount of sexual content, from Casca's full frontal nudity to a harrowing rape scene from her past ending with a sex scene between Griffith and the chaste Princess Charlotte that must rate as the most explicit seen outside of a Hentai film, such are the nuances of the body movements at the level of intimacy which the couple enjoys. It's a brief scene but graphic enough to raise an eyebrow - or possibly something else for that matter.
Much like the first film, Studio 4 C have delivered what is overall a good looking product that looks stunning on Blu-ray with some flaws once again due to the significant telltale signs of CG clashing with 2D animation. While there are no complaints about the artwork, backgrounds or the animation in general which denotes meticulous attention to detail in subtle areas like body movements, the frosty breaths of the cold air and such the battle scenes, which are brutal but spectacular affairs, the CG is badly exposed looking more like animation for a PC game than for a film. Since the TV version was subject to very cheap and antiquated animation it is understandable that Studio 4 C have gone all out here to wash away those memories of static screens and patchy artwork, it's just a shame that the blending of the two techniques couldn't have been a bit smoother.
In comparison to the first film Battle For Doldrey is the superior title, benefiting from more time and better pacing overall, although the abrupt ending (which leads immediately into a preview for the next film) feels slightly anti-climactic when the first two acts are action packed affairs. Character development is sacrificed in favour of story development, a setback of the time constraints, but ultimately we have an edifying enough second instalment of the Berserk Golden Age saga to satiate the fans while making the wait for the final chapter just that bit more unbearable.
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