Berserk: The Golden Age Arc – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Berserk: Ougon Jidai Hen

 

Related: Berserk (original version)

Similar: Gungrave

Claymore

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Dark Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 3 movies

 

Positives:

  • More Berserk, finally.
  • Disturbing horror.
  • Grand scale.

Negatives:

  • Poor sound mixing.
  • Distracting CG during action sequences.
  • Art is too bright for the dark tone.
  • Lacks the small character moments.

In my Berserk review, I said no incomplete series deserved a conclusion more than Berserk did, for it ended on a cliffhanger amid a great story in a rarely explored genre for anime. And at last, fourteen (!) years after the series, they release Berserk: The Golden Age Arc, a remake of the series. However, starting anew had me disappointed; with only three films, they couldn’t get further than the original twenty-six episodes, which meant another wait for a conclusion. But of course, that is selfish of me (“Get to the part I want or you suck!”), and I understand Berserk looks aged these days and it would be better to have a unified style. So, we go back to the beginning. How is it? Not all great, I’m afraid.

The visuals struck me as odd from the outset. The Golden Age is so shiny, so colourful – if I didn’t know better, I would take The Golden Age for a shounen anime, until Guts cleaves a knight in two. Then there was the CG during action scenes. It had the hallmarks of anime game cutscenes; that floaty movement of the arms, the fish-mouth lip-sync, the lack of impact down the body. Certainly, it is great to see battles on a grand scale, but I cannot unsee the CG. It’s made stranger when non-action scenes use 2D art. Not a great start.

Next, the rushed pacing. Movie one covers ten episodes, movie two the next ten, and movie three the final six plus new events. Reading my opening paragraph, one would think I’d advocate for the rush; however, above all else, I consider quality the most important goal. If you can’t do a story justice, adapt something else – the last thing I want is Game of Thrones crammed into a single Hollywood cash-in. Of course, The Golden Age isn’t that poor and twenty-six episodes adapted to three movies is feasible. No, the issue stems from what they axed – the character development.

Every main event is present: Guts recruited into Griffith’s mercenaries, The Band of the Hawk, the rise to notoriety, Griffith’s ambition, the wars, and the tests of loyalty – a single Game of Thrones plot thread, in short. It’s the ‘in-between’ that’s gone. We no longer get to know the mercenaries. Griffith and Casca have one scene each to establish backstory. The downtime between wars doesn’t build the relationships among mercenaries, most importantly, Griffith and Guts. Speaking of the two leads, this reduction in small moments flattens their personalities. In Berserk, I praised Guts for being more than the typical meathead with a sword, but here, while not down to meathead levels, he is rather average until the third movie (more on that later). The same applies to Griffith. He was a leader everyone followed for his charisma, intellect, and skill. Now, we see just his skill. I no longer buy into his band’s unshakable loyalty.

But then, the third film began, and hope was restored (ironic, considering how everything goes to hell in the narrative). I got the impression the team wanted to rush to new parts as much as the fans, hence the lower plot compression for movie three. When all goes dark and brutal, and man, do things get brutal – makes the original adaptation look tame – The Golden Age feels back on form. The visuals lose the shine, the sound mixing shows effort, the development has its space, and best of all, the new scenes (~2 episodes’ worth) are excellent. Movie three saves this production.

Movie three is on form enough to make earlier faults worth sitting through – remember, at its worst, The Golden Age is never awful. The unadulterated brutalities, the effect of war and death on the mind are as engaging as they are unsettling. Dark high fantasy is an under-represented genre in anime, which makes it even more pleasing to have Berserk back to carry the torch. I hope future films improve on the quality set by movie three.

Art – Medium

The Golden Age is a reverse of Berserk in the art department. Instead of gritty fantasy art, The Golden Age uses shiny, colourful visuals suited to a Ghibli production. Instead of action lines and blurs, The Golden Age can afford full animation for large battles; however, this extensive animation is all CG during action, looking like in-engine cutscenes from an anime game. Does get better with each film.

Sound – Medium

The acting is much improved from the original with a new Japanese cast and returning English actors – Griffith isn’t so weak anymore. The music was a problem the first time around, and isn’t much better now. Where the original had little music, for some reason, The Golden Age plays tracks without thought to timing or tempo – music doesn’t enhance most scenes. And the volume is too low; it sounds like Guts is carrying a phone in his pocket to play the music on speakers. The script is average until movie three.

Story – High

A dark fantasy of loyalty and ambition. Despite rushed movies one and two, the third film is worthy of the Berserk name – brutal and twisted.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for fans of dark fantasy that doesn’t shy away from the realities of battle and horror. Though more troublesome, I would watch the series until episode twenty, then start movie three. The story is worth suffering the art and sound flaws. Absolutely not for children.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Holy S***Riveting Action

Negative: None

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