Berserk Ougon Jidaihen I: Haou no Tamago
OP: 「Aria」by 平沢進 (Susumu Hirasawa)
「ベルセルク 黄金時代篇Ⅰ 覇王の卵」 (Berserk Ougon Jidaihen I: Haou no Tamago)
“Berserk Golden Age Arc I: Egg of the High King”
Miura Kentarou’s dark fantasy saga about a talented swordsman and a charismatic mercenary leader makes its long awaited debut on the silver screen. Beginning with its serialization in 1990, Berserk now spans 328 chapters divided over 36 volumes and counting. It’s definitely an intimidating tome to delve into, but it’s also a highly recommended read for anyone who enjoys a great fantasy epic. However for those with less free time at their disposal, you’re in luck because the plan is for the entire manga to be animated, beginning with a trilogy of films by STUDIO4°C and directed by Kubooka Toshiyuki covering volumes 3 through 13 of the manga, the Golden Age Arc.
As a long running manga, Berserk is filled with enough characters to populate a small village, but the three most important ones are introduced in this arc: the protagonist Guts (played by newcomer Iwanaga Hiroaki), an 18 year old wandering swordsman-for-hire; the charismatic and ambitious mercenary unit leader Griffith (Sakurai Takahiro); and the woman who finds herself in between the two, Griffith’s second-in-command Casca (also voiced by a relative newcomer in Yukinari Toa). This sounds like the makings of a love triangle, and it might eventually become that way, but Berserk is by no means a simple medieval romance – not with the mysterious Crimson Behelit hanging from Griffith’s neck as a prophetic reminder of his goal to ruling his own kingdom, and not with Guts and Casca becoming caught up in their friend’s dangerous dreams and ambition. The Golden Age Arc is probably one of the most memorable stories I’ve read in manga, and one that I don’t want to spoil too much for anyone.
Much of what made the manga special were its intricately drawn brutal fight scenes with countless limbs flying around and blood spraying everywhere, so I was very relieved to find the movie had kept much of their style and carnage intact. Some people might have qualms with the heavy use of CGI, but I thought it portrayed the Berskerk’s action sequences pretty faithfully and impressively, such as Guts’ singlehandedly dismantling the entire Black Sheep Iron Spears Heavy Knights legion, and when he and Griffith became the first men to wound Nosferatu Zodd (Miyake Kenta). If you’re looking for a dose of old-fashioned medieval fighting with cutting edge anime visuals, I’d say this movie is one of your best bets.
The other aspect about the manga which made it one of my favorites is how detailed the world and its characters are. I think the movie did a decent enough job of showing Guts’ character development, even though it was nowhere as detailed as in the manga – an unfortunate consequence of compressing several volumes into what basically amounts to an action film of a little more than an hour long. Although it wasn’t really shown aside from a brief dreamlike sequence, he has been a mercenary basically since the day he was born – an unconventional upbringing which honed the impressive fighting abilities that were on display during his battle against the imposing Bazuso (Kobayashi Kendo). Guts is a man of few words as well, so it is somewhat of a challenge to portray the complexity of his character and his development with only several lines of dialogue to work from.
That said, I think the film had enough scenes and lines from the manga to convey how much Guts had changed as a person. He started off as a lonely soldier of fortune working for only food and coin, and had no aspirations in life other than to never be tied down, yet by the end of the movie Guts is no longer the same person he was before he met the Band of the Hawk. The change in his personality was a bit subtle at times, but it’s clear that he was beginning to care for the men and women who fought beside him after being scolded by Casca for his reckless charge at the Chudor forces, and even considered Griffith his friend, despite never finishing his words. Probably the most notable difference was when the shock and remorse Guts felt after what he did to Julius (Koyama Rikiya) and his son Adonis (Mizuma Maki). Given Guts’ profession, it was a surprising change of heart to see, and really served to humanize his character even further. I think what really made his change in personality stand out the most was the stark contrast between his personality and the unchanging one of the only man to ever best him, and probably the only man he considered his friend and equal: Griffith.
The Band of the Hawk leader’s personality is a far easier one to adapt, and I think the movie did a great job of beginning to flesh out his character – although it was still a bit hamstrung by the limitations of the medium. Griffith’s natural charm and charisma along with his position of leadership meant there was plenty of dialogue to use. What really stood out for me was how well the movie portrayed how two-faced he was. One moment he’s an extremely wise, ambitious, and talented mercenary leader that everyone is drawn towards like moths to a flame, and the next moment he’s almost like a young boy with his many innocent and childlike expressions. However, there were many clues that Griffith harbored a darker side, beginning with the way he tells Guts that the mercenary now belongs to him after defeating him in a duel. Casca, who appears to be in love with Griffith, misinterpreted his words, believing it to be an unusual declaration of affection to Guts. As we later found out during his moonlit speech to Princess Charlotte (Toyosaki Aki), the Band of the Hawk leader most likely only saw Guts as a tool to be used for attaining his own kingdom. We also have yet to see what role his Crimson Behelit and the ominous prophecy associated with it will play, and how it might affect his personality even more. Griffith is a very complex character whose depth has only begun to be revealed in this first movie, but thankfully there are two more for STUDIO4°C to do him justice.
With only a handful of appearances compared to the two men, Casca wasn’t as well developed, but I do like what I am seeing so far. She’s pretty much the gruff, no-nonsense swordswoman I had pictured her to be, and watching the gradual change in her demeanor towards Guts has been enjoyable as well. Can’t really ever go wrong with watching a character turn from tsun to dere – although I don’t think Casca, or any character in this arc for that matter, will ever be truly dere. After getting over her initial dislike of Guts, it appears she is beginning to warm up to him, and will serve as the only thread remaining to connect him with Griffith and the Band of the Hawk. She will play a much larger role in both men’s lives, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing it animated over the next two films.
All in all, this was a fairly strong start to the Golden Age Arc trilogy and the planned adaptation of the entire Berserk saga. I think STUDIO4°C has done a commendable job with the constraints they were given, especially in regards to the characters. Visually, even if you’re not a fan of the CGI animation, the backgrounds are simply gorgeous to behold. As for the musical score, I found it to be very appropriate for the feel of the series and the main theme/motif is beginning to burrow its way into my head. For existing fans such as myself, it was a joy to see some of my favorite characters come to life along with the action scenes that I had to piece together inside my head, and I can’t wait for the next installment even though I already know what will happen. For viewers unfamiliar with Berserk, if you’re a fan of dark medieval fantasy, you owe it to yourself to give this movie, and the manga, a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
- Full-length images: 005, 018, 035, 061, 063, 072, 104, 133, 138, 139.
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