The Berserk manga is horrifying. It’s a dark, twisted tale that would send many a man running in fear. It lives only to cast darkness and suffering to all those who read by sending chills down their spines. The recent films on the other hand are a decent attempt to capture this dread, but somehow miss out on being as breath taking as the manga.
Attempting to tell the story of Berserk is no easy task. The long running manga series has seen its fair share of adaptations, but none have yet to do the series the justice it deserves. The most recent of these adaptations is the movie trilogy by Studio 4C that tells the story of the Golden Age Arc. Now all films are out, how do they fair at capturing the magic of the beloved series?
Berserk is a story of biblical proportions. Set in a medieval fantasy land of no name, Berserk tells the tale of Gutts, a young swordsman of great skill who wanders the land looking only for a reason to live. During his travels he is ambushed by a group of mercenaries known as The Band of the Hawk, and it is here where he meets a man named Griffith, and where his life would change forever.
Saying any more about Berserk’s brilliantly told story would only spoil the fun. So much of the joy found in Berserk comes from not having a clue what’s going to happen next, and fearing that things could go horribly wrong, as they tend to do.
If you’re a fan of stories set in a fantasy world that involve lies, deceit, betrayal, violence, and bromance, then you’ll find yourself at home with the Berserk films. However you may not understand everything that’s going on due to one serious flaw with the films, a lack of information.
The biggest warning sign for these films is that they leave out a lot of the original material. The first film starts ten chapters into the manga series, and skips a large amount of Gutts’ childhood. From there you are slowly fed pieces of information whenever the films find it convenient, but often out of order and out of context, causing it to be incredibly confusing.
What’s more confusing is the absence of entire scenes and the removal of important characters. Characters that aren’t completely removed have mostly been reduced to only have one small scene each. Key players such as Zodd and The Skull Knight have only a few scenes each, and massively important scenes involving the two have been rewritten or outright removed.
This removal of characters and pivotal plot points (such as a certain assassination attempt) cause the films to not only feel lacking in substance, but also disjointed, as if the films are a montage of Gutts’ greatest moments and nothing more.
Some have said that the films are that of implication. That many of the events not seen are implied to have taken place. It is implied that Gutts’ went away to train with Godo, and it’s implied that Griffith has done dark deeds in his past to achieve his goals.
To some extent I agree with this view, but also think that this implication is only found by those who have read the source material. Many who watch these films will have no clue what Berserk is, nor the connotations that are involved with subtle nods to events only found in the manga.
It’s always good to have prior knowledge to a series before watching an adaptation, but never should it be a requirement.
The film art style is also something of a conflicting matter. When the films use traditional animation they look gorgeous. Characters shine with such detail and splendour, and the world they inhabit breaths with the air that blows around the characters hair. It is truly some of the best animation put to screen. But then suddenly there’s CGI and everything goes tits up.
The CGI isn’t horrible. It’s pretty bad and sticks out like a sore thumb, but it’s not horrible. Characters all look and act like early Playstation 2 models with small movements being unnatural and clunky. Horses glide along the ground out of sync with their galloping, and background swordsman flail their weapons about like they were wet sausages. It can be laughable to watch sometimes, especially when contrasted by the beautifully drawn backdrops.
Luckily the CGI redeems itself a little by making the fights fast paced and action packed. The animation always seems to kick up a notch whenever Gutts’ battles against one of his many foes. Movements are smoother and subtleties such as blade dodges are not only wonderfully done, but use effects such as wind being sliced to add another layer of impact to make the fights even more adrenaline pumping.
Surprisingly the dub for the films is far better than the sub. The reason being is that Funimation did their best to bring back the original cast from the anime series, series with a dub so good that it’s held as one of the best dubs of all time. All the main voice actors return, with only a few acceptations to side characters, and all of them bring along the same powerful impact they had from the anime series.
The DVDs / Blu-Rays allow the viewer to change between Japanese and English on the fly, so if you get tired of listening to one you can always switch to the other. However the English is so good that you would be missing out if you chose to watch it any other way.
The Berserk Golden Age Arc films are hit and miss. They are enjoyable retellings of the fantastic manga series, but leave out a lot of what made the manga phenomenal. If you’re a fan of the series then you’ll enjoy reliving your favourite moments with the gang, and will feel the same pain you felt when things reached their climax. But to those who have never heard of Berserk, these films are still very entertaining, but be aware that you’re not getting the whole story by watching these films alone.
Should you watch The Berserk Golden Age Arc films?
But only if you read the manga alongside it to get the full picture
Thanks to Manga UK for supplying a review copy