It Came from Japan – Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I
Reviewer was provided a Blu-ray review copy by Viz Media.
Back in my earlier days, Berserk saved me from dismissing anime completely. Sure, I had the likes of Yu Yu Hakusho and Dragon Ball Z keeping me entertained for hours on end for some time, but the slow-paced “shoot projectiles at this arc’s big bad” formula started to wane on me. The original Berserk anime was unlike anything that the television networks were spoon-feeding me. It was dark. It was gory. It was some of the best animated storytelling I had ever seen.
As good as the series was, I did still have that sinking feeling that the some episodes were unnecessarily padded to make its main arc, The Golden Age, take up 24 episodes of this 25 episode series. Worst still, the series still managed to water down some of the more intense scenes, even excise completely important characters.
Studio 4°C has set to right this wrong with an ambitious project to adapt the entire manga series, which to this day is still being written despite starting back in 1990. While one might argue that starting your new adaptation with in an arc that has already been tread before, keep in mind that The Golden Age is the first arc chronologically, and serves as a better point than any to avoid any timeline spoilers that starting with the first written arc (The Black Swordsman) would bring to the table. Think of it as being actually surprised when Anakin Skywalker becomes a Sith named Darth Vader, but with a story that actually makes sense.
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I – The Egg of the King, which I will from this point foward call The Egg of the King to prevent uncomfortable hand cramping, sees a return of the original English dub actors Marc Diraison, Kevin T. Collins, and Carrie Keranen as Guts, Griffith, and Casca, respectively. Since I experienced the show in English and are a terrible judge on if foreign voice acting is terrible or not, I opted to watch this film in my native language. If you can experience this movie on a surround sound system (or with a particularly good pair of headphones), I highly suggest it, as Shirō Sagisu masterful soundtrack deserves nothing less.
The story of The Egg of the King pulls off in just under 80 minutes what took the anime 9 entire episodes, namely the events leading up to Guts’ recruitment in The Band of the Hawk to the assassination of Yurius. To the outside observer, this might seem like a breakneck speed to get this far into the story, but the film is paced incredibly well and actually follows the manga quite accurately. The most welcome change from the anime is the gore, as it remembers that there is more than just buckets of blood from deep lacerations; there is also a fair amount of internal organs spilling out.
The art style, however, I have a love/hate relationship with. The majority of the film is done using traditional animation, and looked absolutely stunning on Blu-ray. For a series with a heavy focus on brutal battles, the film is exceptionally colorful and bright. Where my issues lie is in the animation they utilized during said battles. Perhaps to save on costly animation, they opted to use CG animation for these scenes. While this technique is passable for our main characters, not much thought had seen to be put into the sword fodder baddies, whose animation could be best described as “PlayStation era cutscenes”. This cutback might not be as noticeable on the DVD release of this film, but on Blu-ray the switch from traditional animation to CG animation is often night and day in quality. This was especially the case in the first seven minutes of the movie, I had to verify the video wasn’t lagging on multiple Blu-ray players because of the unnatural feeling CG animation.
As for the retail release, let’s just say it’s a good thing the movie is so good, because there is very little to find in the way of extras on the disc. All the disc provides is an option for English or Japanese audio, subtitles, an art gallery, and a trailer for Neon Alley (a review of this service can be found here). Still, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King is a fantastic beginning to an epic story that is well worth your time and money.