Thinking back on this series, I have discovered that my relationship with Berserk is one filled with interest, fear, and contradiction. The stigma that surrounds this dark-fantasy story is one that delights me as a “Gore Whore“, as a dear friend of mine so eloquently put it, but one that frightens me in odd but overtly real ways.
Dealing with themes of brutal death, decaying allegiances, and sexual domination, Berserk’s tale is not one for all viewers, but one that I find to be incredibly intriguing. Confusing in it’s layout, the Berserk: The Golden Age Arc Movie Collection is a compilation of three full-length feature films that details, as the title suggests, The Golden Age Arc of the series, which is the second arc of the long-running Manga but one that also serves as a prequel to the events of the most recent Anime adaptation.
I must thank Madman Entertainment for offering us the opportunity to review this movie collection; something I simply could not pass up. Studying their on-site release schedule and glancing over this particular item, I knew this was my opportunity to insert myself into the Berserk fandom, starting from the very beginning. Whilst I had heard much about what this series had to offer, nothing could have prepared me for what I had experienced with these films.
He trusts nothing but his own sword. He has no place to call home. The lone mercenary Guts travels a land ravaged by a hundred-year war. Moving from battlefield to battlefield, his skill and ferocity eventually attract the attention of Griffith, the leader of a group of mercenaries called The Band of the Hawk. Unbeknownst to Guts, this is just the beginning of a path that leads to a dark and monstrous fate. From its gripping opening, to its horrifying conclusion, this set collects all three feature length films from the Golden Age Arc together for the first time. – Madman Entertainment
The intricacies of The Golden Age Arc are not unlike ones any of us have seen in the past from similar stories. Specifically, this tale revolves around the lone wolf Guts joining a mercenary guild known as The Band Of The Hawk, developing a close relationship to it’s leader Griffith, and becoming romantically involved with one of it’s skilled fighters Casca. As the movies develop, it is revealed that Griffith is in possession of a demonic relic that will, inevitably, transform him into a God-like creature hosting enough power to eviscerate existence as we know it. This is a story that has been told countless times in the past, but to my knowledge it is not one that has ever been told this well.
The character of Guts is, at it’s essence, a simplistic one: He is the strong, silent type, who lives for battle but also has a heart of gold. The more interesting aspects of his personality lie in his dedication to Griffith whom, for the most part, he considers a friend but soon comes to realise only looks to him as a tool of great destruction. Griffith’s descent into madness is one that, interestingly, drags Guts with it, simply because the two are so intertwined. The story also follows the aforementioned Casca who, unfortunately, does not get anywhere near as much of the limelight as both Guts and Griffith yet is a pinnacle element to the flow of the story. There also exists other characters who too are not as showcased as Guts and Griffith, but still they play key roles in the story’s unravelling as the movies moves closer to the finale.
Whilst there is a gradual creep in the series’ paranormal components, the third movie takes what you know about the world of Berserk and crushes it into a fine mist. Whilst the first and second movies are, without a doubt, fantasy stories akin to that of Game Of Thrones or, arguably, The Lord Of The Rings, the third movie takes the story into a realm moreso reminiscent of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The audience is subject to the series’ entire landscape, both physically and metaphorically, mutate into this grotesque plane of existence, filled with a mass of Eldritch Abominations, turning the series from your fairly brutal dark-fantasy into an almost psychological horror. This is, once again, where the story both thrilled me and deeply troubled me.
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc Movie Collection is a series of films that plays host to an incredible amount of computer-generated animation. Whilst I don’t consider myself too big a fan of such an animation style, I can usually accept and enjoy a series or film that decides to rely on it. The unfortunate truth behind this collection of movies is that they should not have used a combination of traditional and computer-generated animation. Simple. Whilst watching the beginning of the three films, and only being shown computer-generated animation, all was well. It looked great, the characters were fluid in motion, and it did nothing to take away from the immersion. It was only when the film switched to a crisper, much more enjoyable, traditional animation style did it give me a chance to realise what I was missing out on. The movie jumps between complete use of CGI and complete use of traditional animation countless times, instead of utilising either when necessary within the same scene. Still, I was able to enjoy the movie for everything that it offered, trying my hardest not to focus on the constant shift between these two animation styles.
The world of Berserk is one that I consider to be quite beautiful. Throughout the trio of films, the audience is delightfully subjected to panning landscape shots that not only do very well to set the scene and develop a sense of location, but also highlight the visual capabilities that these films have to offer. It was wonderful baring witness to characters standing atop a cliff, looking over the vast, varying landscape of this fictitious world and feeling as though a place like this could indeed exist in our world. Environmental design is something I try my very best to focus on, and the Berserk films did not make it hard for me to appreciate wholeheartedly.
The films’ score is, more or less, exactly what you’d expect from a dark-fantasy tale such as Berserk. Populated with the sounds of a booming orchestra, The Golden Age Arc Movie Collection featured an enviable soundtrack that I wish certain other films and series’ could do as well, but I have yet to see one pull it off. If the films’ visuals alone didn’t bring to the surface certain visceral emotion within you, it’s combination with the soundtrack made it almost forceful. This, alongside the incredibly powerful performances by the English vocal cast, made the Berserk films not only visually pleasing but auditorily tantalizing.
The story of Berserk is one that is, for lack of better words, incredibly hard-hitting. At it’s dawn, the beginning of these three films lays the foundation for a fairly brutal tale of combat, war, and camaraderie, but insists on not stopping there. As the films unfold, we as the audience are subjected to certain things that simply should not be mentioned here, not only for the sake of spoilers but also for reasons created out of my own morality. Berserk features a story that will make you turn away in disgust and sadness, but one that will also compel you to continue watching, leaving with you a small slither of hope all the way up to it’s finale wherein which that hope is taken from you and shattered into pieces too small to ever rebuild. This, though negative in nature, is what I found made these Berserk movies exceptional.
This is a story that is not for everyone. I usually say something along those lines in regards to a series or movie that happens to feature a left-of-center storyline that may seem weird to some, but when referring to Berserk…I use those words on an entirely different level. Berserk has the capacity to disgust, distress, and offend audiences. It pulls no punches, and while I am somewhat attracted to that, I can see why many, many people would not. I find that these three movies are fantastic, not because of what they show but because of how it impacted me watching it. It uses horrific tactics to bring out raw emotion within it’s audience, allowing them to feel much the same pain as it’s protagonist…but all people are different, and although I found this hard-hitting experience to be ultimately enjoyable, it is understandable that most will not. Still, I will give it a score based on MY experience, and it is one that is near-perfect.
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