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Released back in November 1990, and still going strong to this day, Berserk is one of the best selling manga comic books of all time. I find it incredible how over twenty years since the first volume was published that the ongoing series remains popular. There aren't many examples in the entertainment world that stand the test of time so resolutely. I suppose The Simpsons can also claim to possess endless staying power, although if you ask me that particular show has overstayed its welcome and I no longer have any interest in it. That's my opinion and if you disagree with my views go away and eat my shorts!
Like many popular mangas, Berserk has previously been adapted to an anime series. The nineties saw the release of an excellent twenty five episode cartoon that would rank as one of my favorite animes, had it not been marred by a terrible ending. The way the series concludes abandons the heroes; viewers had been rooting for, in a terrible place. Fans were left wanting for a season two that would continue the saga, but alas no further episodes were produced. Although the chances of the series getting resurrected are pretty much nil animated Berserk fans will be pleased to know that the franchise is returning to our screens as a number of movies commencing with "The Egg of the King."
This first part of a planned trilogy covers the "Golden Age Arc" of the comics that encompass volumes four to thirteen. Set in the war ravaged medieval world of Midland, the movie kicks off with a violent castle siege. Guts, a mercenary taking part in the assault, is introduced to us as a no nonsense badass who fears no one. Brandishing an oversized bastard sword, that he learned to use when forced to wield an adult sword back when he was little, Guts takes out the other side's mightiest warrior in one of the goriest ways imaginable. Trust me you don't want to be eating dinner when the final blow strikes.
Guts' prowess in battle catches the attention of Griffith, leader of the famous mercenary group known as The Band of Hawks. Griffith wants to recruit the capable fighter to his cause, but Guts is not interested. Guts has previously spurned similar offers, in order to maintain a free solitary existence. He eventually is forced to join up with the Hawks though after failing to beat the charismatic Griffith in a duel. From that point on the story advances three years were we see that The Band of Hawks have been elevated from a lowly mercenary group to part of the king's royal guard. The group owes its success in no small part to Guts' might on the battlefield and Griffith's tactical expertise.
For his service to the crown Griffith is promoted to the status of a count, which displeases the kingdom's nobility who do not approve of the plaudits the king is bestowing on a lowly commoner. The nobles arrange an assassination attempt on Griffith's life, which ultimately fails. This results in repercussions when Griffith discovers the identity of the plot's instigator and orders Guts to take him out. Thus this opening chapter of the Berserk movie trilogy ends. After watching this installment chronicling the rise of The Band of Hawk I was left eagerly awaiting the next part, which will inevitably deal with their fall from grace.
When watching the movie it's impossible not to compare the film to the nineties cartoon, especially given that both takes on the Berserk epic are covering the same story arc. The most notable difference between the two would have to be the visuals. As is to be expected, from a movie benefitting from modern animation techniques and a bigger budget, Egg of the King trumps its predecessor in terms of artwork. In spite of that I would have to say that the grimier look of the original anime is not without merit and works well during the visceral combat sequences.
One area were I feel Egg of the King dropped the ball would have to be the Studio's use of computer generated effects. During battles the animation switches from traditional hand drawn art to fully blown computer generated scenes. The battles are akin to the Appleseed CGI movies or a cell shaded video game that have 3D models whilst still managing to retain a cartoon look to them. I don't mind computer effects in anime, when used sparingly on background items or to draw inanimate objects like vehicles, but switching from hand drawn versions of the characters to computer modeled incarnations was a little jarring. I wish the studio would have opted to do the whole movie either in the hand drawn style or all with computers because the amalgam of the two doesn't quite mesh. For what it's worth my vote goes to the hand drawn version as it gives us more detail and movements are more fluid than their jerky CGI brethren.
My final rating for Berserk Film 1 would have to be four stars out of five. I'm not sure if in the long run it will surpass the original anime series, but it's a solid adaptation in its own right. As you would expect the movie focuses more on the story as it doesn't have the running time needed to go into depth with respect to exploring the friendship that forms between Guts and Griffith. Disappointingly a lot of supporting characters get their roles reduced to nothing more than cameos in the movie, with only Casca (the Hawk's sole female member) getting any meaningful screen time.
Making a longer movie would have helped to alleviate those complaints, especially when you note that the feature only lasts for around seventy minutes. It's a complaint I always have with shorter animated flicks, although I am starting to come to terms with it. When catering to a niche audience you have to keep costs down to turn a profit - that's why the direct to video DC comic movies have similar running times.
Manga and their partners Kaze Entertainment are promoting this movie as Game of Thrones meets anime, which is fairly apt. It's got political backstabbing with Griffith manipulating events in the pursuit of his dream to rule his own kingdom, exciting medieval action and some dark fantasy themes such as a hulking monster that the Hawks encounter in a castle dungeon. Keep well away if you are squeamish though because the action pulls no punches. I was surprised to see the movie get a fifteen rating when you have clips of Guts splitting a skull in twain with such force that the opponent's eyeball pops out. See, I told you that watching this whilst having dinner wasn't a great idea.