Berserk is a manga epic that's been 20 years in the making and is still going strong. What started as a low-fantasy tale of a band of medieval mercenaries and their leader who dreamed of becoming king has long since become something far darker and more twisted. Back in 1997, Berserk's first story arc was adapted into a 25-episode anime. Since then other parts of the epic have been adapted into video games. The majority of the story, however, remains only in its original manga form.
But last year Newtype magazine broke the story that plans were in the works to adapt the entire Berserk story into anime. The first step in this plan is a trilogy of movies -- all to be released in 2012 -- that cover the first story arc once again. With the second film, Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey, hitting theatres this weekend in Japan, now seemed like the perfect time to cover the first movie, Berserk Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King, which came out back in February. But does the first film in the trilogy set a standard of quality worthy of the source material, or is this one of those times that it would have been better off leaving well enough alone?
Good -- It's Berserk
There were a lot of changes for this Berserk project: most notably a new animation style and new voice actors. Yet these changes do nothing to alter the fact that this is, in all the ways that matter, the story of Berserk in all its gruesome glory. The plot is completely unchanged (more on that later) and the voice talents all perfectly suit their roles. Even Susumu Hirasawa, who provided music for past Berserk anime and games, returns to give this movie a theme song in the same medieval rock style.
Mixed -- It's Nothing You Haven't Seen Before
This movie suffers from the same problem as Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone: Much of the time, it is frame-for-frame, line-for-line, identical to the TV series. There is not a single deviation from the story as presented in the manga or anime series other than it being more abridged. So while this means that The Egg of The King is a very true adaptation of the source material, I couldn't help but wonder why I wasn't just watching the TV series or reading the manga. After all, the movie is giving me less of the story and all I am getting in return is a letter box format.
Bad -- A Jarring Mix Of 2D And 3D Animation
The most obvious problem with The Egg of The King is the awkward attempt at mixing 2D and 3D animation. While most dialogue scenes are done in beautiful 2D animation, the majority of the movie's action scenes are done by putting 2D textures on 3D models. This 3D animation looks both cheap and horrible -- and feels more akin to a budget Wii game than a major motion picture.
Of course, what's even worse than flip-flopping styles are the scenes that have both 2D and 3D animations combined in the same frame. It's so jarring and ugly that it drags you out of the film constantly -- making it hard to stay invested in the story. Perhaps even the horrible 3D animation might have been forgivable if it was the only animation style used throughout the film. But as released, it makes you feel like you're constantly switching between two different movies of massively different quality.
Bad -- Pacing Problems
The problem with adapting any series into a movie -- or even a trilogy of movies -- is the inherent pacing problem. While manga and anime come with many small climaxes to keep the story engaging, they happen at uneven intervals as the story allows. A trilogy of movies, on the other hand, demands at least one major action climax near the end of each film. Take a look at the original Star Wars trilogy and its climaxes for example: a deathstar run, a duel vs Vader, and a deathstar run plus a duel vs Vader, respectively.
The Egg of The King's action climax, however, comes and goes a good 30 minutes before the end of the film. The result is that the film just putters out. Oh it attempts to end on an emotional cliffhanger of sorts, but when the screen faded to black and the credits began to roll, I was more surprised at the movie's abrupt end rather than at any kind of emotional revelation. Frankly, this movie doesn't have an ending. It just kind of stops.
Berserk: The Egg of The King is a movie loaded with problems. As an adaptation of the Berserk story, it succeeds well enough; but as a piece of film making, it just fails. It is an ugly, poorly-paced wreck of cinematography. At this point, I feel there is no reason for anyone to watch this movie -- no point for the movie even existing, really. Everything in it has already been told better in the 1997 anime series. So please, do yourself a favour and watch that instead.
Berserk Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King was released in Japanese theatres on February 4, 2012. A Western release is planned for sometime this fall. Stay tuned to Kotaku for the review of the second film in the series, Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey, late next week.