Last weekend Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey was released in theatres across Japan. It is the second film in a trilogy planned to adapt the first story arc of popular Japanese manga Berserk.
I previously reviewed the first film in the series Berserk Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King. Simply put, it wasn't very good. However, that does make it the perfect comparison piece for this film because for every problem present in The Egg of the King, The Battle for Doldrey shows at least some improvement.
Good -- It's Still Berserk
As with The Egg of the King this film is a faithful adaptation of the Berserk manga. Unlike in the previous film, however, the abridgment helps the story instead of hindering it. Everything is just more focused and the characters, especially Casca, get a lot of much needed development. The supporting members of the Band of the Hawk manage to break free of being little more than named extras and have much more of an impact on the story as well.
Good -- Something New
One of the biggest complaints I had with the first Berserk film was its lack of anything new. I wondered what reason there was for watching it instead of the 1997 anime -- especially as the series told the story in far more depth. The Battle for Doldrey, on the other hand, embraced the lack of network censors in the theatrical environment and is built around one connecting -- not to mention unsettling -- theme: Rape. We have rape for lust, statutory rape, homosexual rape, sexual domination and more than one attempted sexual assult; the theme of rape is explored more than anyone ever wanted. It is actually the thread that binds several of the characters -- both heroes and villains -- together. The fact that the film makers chose to focus on this theme from the manga is suprising to say the least -- especially given it's taboo nature.
The theatre environment also allowed for the final portion of the movie, namely Griffith's breakdown, to be shown in a far more disturbing way than either the manga or anime. Also the fact that we, the audience, know so little about the inner workings of Griffith in the movie makes this scene so much more unsettling. Also, somewhat surprisingly it involves sex that is, while hate-filled, not quite rape. Still, by the end of the film, it's enough to make you wonder if sex is ever a consensual, pleasurable experience in the world of Berserk.
Good -- A Competently Built Movie
Unlike the last film, Battle for Doldrey embraces atypical three-act structure -- making it a far better piece of cinema than The Egg of the King. In fact, the three acts are so distinct, they could almost be broken into episodes at each thirty-minute mark. The general pacing is much better as well, and everything is very tightly written for maximum effect. The only issue I really have with how the movie is built is the ending. While it doesn't end suddenly like the last film, it does drag on a bit, passing the obvious cliffhanger and several other logical conclusion points until finally choosing one. But this is an admittedly minor gripe when set next to the marked improvement of the rest of the film.
Good -- Cameos And Backwards Nostalgia
As a fan of the manga, I was pleased at the cameos strung throughout the movie. Of course, these are all cameos of people that Guts has not met yet, reminding savvy audience members of what the future has in store for our hero. Yet while in most series, this would be a wink to the audience saying "the best is yet to come," in Berserk we're pretty much at the highpoint of Guts' life; it's all downhill from here. It's a kind of twisted nostalgia to remember just how bad it's going to get and how much better these people's lives were before meeting Guts.
Mixed -- The 3D Models Still Look Terrible, But Are Far Better Utilised
Let me stress this right away: the 3D models used intermittently throughout the movie still look terrible. However, I finally figured out just what exactly makes the 3D models so atrocious: the faces. They barely emote and lips and wrinkles are just the stretching and pinching of the overlaying texture. It seems that the creators understand this weakness in the animation as well and took active steps to combat it.
In this second film, 3D models are used almost exclusively on people whose faces are covered -- or when the action is at such a high speed, no one would notice anyway. And when 3D models are necessary for an action scene where a main character is helmet-less, the face is usually done in 2D animation that has been placed over the 3D animation. Moreover, the motion capture for the 3D animation has been greatly improved as well, making most of it watchable -- if not enjoyable.
But most importantly, the scene in which Guts went berserk for the first time proved the necessity for the 3D animation. I honestly don't see how such a scene could have been animated without the 3D models or a far bigger budget. So while it still pulled me out of the movie whenever the 3D models appeared, compared to how they were used in the last movie, this was a staggering improvement.
Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey was a great improvement over The Egg of the King in every conceivable way. And while I hesitate to call it a good movie, I certainly don't feel like I wasted time or money in seeing it. It still covers identical territory to the 1997 anime, but the way the last third of the movie is done is far more graphic, disturbing, and downright powerful. So now with my hopes mostly restored, I can honestly say I'm looking forward to the third movie, Berserk Golden Age Arc III: Decent, which is scheduled to come to theatres this spring.
Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey was released in Japanese theatres on June 23, 2012. There is currently no word on an international release (though the first movie has been licensed for an international release later this year).