ベルセルク 黄金時代篇 II ドルドレイ攻略 「Beruseruku Ogon Jidai-Hen II: Doldrey Koryaku」
Release Date: June 23rd, 2012
Running Time: 93 mins.
Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi (script), Kentaro Miura (original manga)
Starring: Hiroaki Iwanaga (Guts), Takahiro Sakurai (Griffith), Toa Yukinaru (Casca), Aki Toyosaki (Charlotte), Kenta Miyake (Nosferatu Zodd), Takahiro Fujiwara (Pippin)
Studio: Studio 4°C
There are three entries in the Berserk Golden Age Arc and this review follows on from one I wrote in 2012 after watching Berserk: Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King at a cinema.
This trilogy of films adapts Kentaro Miura’s on-going manga which has reached 38 volumes at the time of this review. It has already been adapted into a twenty-five episode TV anime in 1997/98 and a new series is going to air in the summer. The three films adapt around twelve volumes of the manga and cover the same ground as the TV anime. A quick flashback at the beginning of the second film sets the scene but it’s best to watch the opener so you can figure out what is going on and who each character is. Essentially…
The saga follows Guts a strong mercenary with a huge sword and little direction in life other than survival. As he travels he fights and as he fights he tries to find meaning in every battle. All of that changes after he meets Griffith, leader of a group of mercenaries named Band of the Hawk who are working for the Kingdom of Midland in their war against the Chuder empire. Griffith is charismatic, highly intelligent, physically beautiful and skilled and he is possessed by the belief that he will rule everything. Guts is swayed by Griffith and throws his lot in with the mercenaries and finds himself becoming the right hand man of Griffith making the other commanders in Band of the Hawk jealous. This trust that Griffith places in Guts results in him being asked to assassinate a rival general who has tried to kill Griffith.
With the general dead, the second film focusses on a pivotal point in the war between Midland and Chuder as the Band of the Hawk rises in importance for the Kingdom of Midland which is fighting a series of battles to push Chuder forces back to their stronghold of Doldrey Castle. During one of these battles Guts and Casca are separated from their comrades and forced to fight overwhelming odds together, a challenge that gets the two to learn more about each other and come to an understanding. After the two survive that experience they are thrust into an epic battle to seize Doldrey Castle, a place thought impregnable and home to an elite band of troops known as the Holy Purple Rhino Knights. The Band of the Hawk, with 5000 horsemen, faces off against 30,000 troops under the leadership of the physically terrifying General Boscogn. As Griffith martials his forces to further his ambitions for power, Guts finds himself contemplating his place in the world, still thinking of Griffith’s speech about a person living for their dreams. A rupture in their friendship appears…
The second film continues to tell the epic story of the Golden Age arc at its break-neck pace as it races towards conclusion of the trilogy but problems emerge in the writing.
I remember giving the first film high marks, praising Ichiro Okouchi’s script for being able to pack in so much into the movie’s short run time but such praise was misplaced because upon viewing the second film there is a lack of emotional weight behind the characters which was present in the original manga and the TV anime.
Much of what makes Berserk great is the depiction of people pursuing or fighting destiny. This is shown by the different characters drawn together by the thread and needle of fate which weaves a bloody tapestry binding Guts, Griffith, Casca and the Band of the Hawk together in what increasingly becomes a titanic clash of egos and swords on the battlefield. The relationships all centred on the charismatic presence of Griffith, a military and political genius and beautiful person who is able to draw people to him and free them from their traumatic memories. These memories provided backstories told in haunting flashbacks that added so much flavour and world-building to the present-tense narrative which is overflowing with huge battles and court intrigue. As we saw the players gravitate around Griffith we understood the power he holds over others, particularly Casca and Guts who effectively fought with each other, eager to prove themselves to their leader the extent of their loyalty and love. Through their internecine rivalry and through facing the threats from outside their group together the characters changed unconsciously and subtly losing their dependence on Griffith and maturing into stronger people with their own ambitions and ideas. Just as importantly, we cared about what was going on in battle and in politics because of these changes. When it comes to the movie, this doesn’t happen and it all rests on the script.
Okouchi’s decision to excise subplots, remove characters, and simplify the dialogue results in all of the compelling parts such as the supernatural elements, importance of class and politics in Midland, and the complex and richly detailed relationships are jettisoned. This means that what should be a compelling character study is shorn of all the profound emotional connections that holds an audience through the story. There is a lack of emotional depth, the story loses a lot of dramatic meaning and so events feel plot driven and that plot is boring. It seems like a perfunctory trip through stereotypical medieval action scenes. We should have reason to care that Guts and Casca grow closer whilst becoming independent of Griffith but it doesn’t quite come off and it is hard to tell this is happening from the limited time given to their development. The story relies on the audience inferring situations and developments with very little to go on in the first place thanks to hollowed out storytelling. The famous cave scene where Guts nurses Casca back to full health from her fever is limp rather than sensual. Despite their nakedness both physical and emotional there is a lack of erotic and psychological tension between the characters. Griffith’s near-suicidal battle tactics at Doldrey come off as foolhardy rather than well thought out. His tactics were originally based on an understanding of the psychology of the enemy governor as revealed in flashbacks to Griffith’s past encounters with the depraved old man but those were cut. Forget about character development for the rest of the Band of the Hawk beyond a few quips on the battlefield. Without the emotional beats of pre and post battle banter, confessions and arguments on balconies and just giving time for members of the Band of the Hawk to talk and act, the film loses a lot of emotional freight. What remains is a fearsome battle anime and as an action title it does a good job.
Each slice of combat is blood-thirsty, sweat-stained and expertly framed. Sieges feature lumbering towers and ladders heading towards castle walls carrying soldiers who are toppling through the air as withering enemy fire punches holes in them. The sweeping cavalry battles are a real highlight with wide and low angle shots of framing Chuder’s heavy cavalry racing towards the heroes. The camera weaves in and out of these thunderous cavalry charges and races alongside arrows zooming through the air. Armies wheel across meadows, cavalry with their lances lowered and flags snapping in the wind, the thunderous sound of hooves and the equally thunderous sound of armoured knights hitting the dirt once they clash. Swords rending steel, blood curdling cries can be heard. Sword fights are breath-taking, especially Casca going one on one with an enemy general, dancing along Doldrey’s battlements! Blood spatters the camera, bodies are trodden under hooves, and the characters look magisterial as the sun glints off armour. The direction from Kubooka is fierce and fun, he knows how to show a battle and you never lose track of what is going on thanks to that skill. There is also the awesome scene where Guts fights against a hundred men where he dashes and slices his way through knots of crossbowmen and knights, taking out his foes like a berserker their bodies crumpling under his sword.
The actual animation itself still looks good although there will always be detractors who don’t like the CG. The character designs in close-up are well detailed and the landscapes they move through are beautiful at times. Not as beautiful as the first film but still enjoyable to looks at.
If this were about the fights and looks alone then this film would be impressive but it lacks in the story department. Perhaps a casual fan might enjoy this as an action romp but franchise fans will be disappointed because the emotional content is almost absent. That negativity doesn’t completely sink the film but the lack of investment in the drama is felt in the action.