Kazé UK / Manga Entertainment
Previously on UK Anime....”With a film like this, what you have to ask yourself is "do I want to see the next one?" The answer here is an unequivocal "yes". For all its flaws, I was engaged throughout the film and now that the set-up is done and dusted I’m really looking forward to seeing how the plot and characters develop going forward.”
Well, eight months later Kazé are finally ready to unleash the second part of this trilogy of Golden Age stories upon the UK. So then, it’s time to see whether the wait was worth it and if the promise of film one can lead to the amazing film we were hoping for.
Picking up shortly after the end of the previous film, Guts and the rest of the Band of the Hawk are still fighting under the employ of the King of Midland in his long war against the kingdom of Chuder. Despite presenting victory after victory however, the mercenaries are still looked down upon by all those at court outside the royal family, and none are pleased by the king’s favouring of them - nor indeed are they happy with Princess Charlotte’s favouring of Griffith. As the battles rage on, Griffith presents the King with an offer of victory – Griffith will lead a seemingly suicidal attack that brings the 5,000 members of the Band of the Hawk against the 30,000-strong army of Chuder, lead by their fearsome Purple Rhino Knights (anyone else having Altered Beast flashbacks?).
It’s this battle which features as the centrepiece of the film and whilst it never approaches the scale or brilliance of, say, the battle for Helms Deep, it’s definitely a great set piece for the film and the best battle the trilogy has presented us with so far. As you’d expect from the series it’s a very bloody, brutal battle with lots of over-the-top action, particularly when Guts and his colossal sword get involved in the thick of things. Just don’t think too hard about Griffith tactics or you’ll note about half a dozen better ways for them to have won with half the casualties, not to mention all the ways that Chuder could have won..... you certainly can’t fault it for not going far enough though, and the masses of troops on-screen are the main plus point for Berserk’s use of CG animation.
Elsewhere, the political intrigue side of the story feels a little rushed. Whilst it does everything it needs to do it feels like it could have done with more time to build and play out. The pivotal murder from film one isn’t mentioned at all outside the recap at the beginning of the film, and Guts’ frustrations with it all seem to just come out of nowhere. They could really have done with spending the wasted opening fifteen minutes or so of the film (which we'll talk more about in a moment) focusing on this aspect of the story instead. Obviously Berserk is never going to be a political thriller on the lines of Argo for example, but I do feel there was more that could have been done here. Then again I can’t say I didn’t enjoy watching things lead towards their somewhat inevitable conclusion, and there is at least one big left turn you won’t see coming. We do get some more (admittedly ropey) character development here but it’s very limited, with most of the cast still fairly one-note. Again, the time constraints on the film mean that there’s only so much time to be spent with the cast, but for the most part they’re effective enough - a re-watch of film one before watching this will likely do wonders in this department as most of the character stuff is in there.
Right then, let's talk about the film’s opening sequences. Frankly it’s not good and it borders on being flat out offensive. Whilst the opening battle is fine per se, it’s the sequence's treatment of Casca that’s the issue. In fact, the treatment of Casca across the whole film isn’t great but bear with me here: Casca is defeated during the opening battle of the film....because she’s on her period. If that weren’t sexist enough, she then ends up going over a cliff with Guts into a river after which its revealed that she is unconscious because she’s having a woman’s period (to quote Red Dwarf) whilst Guts is fine despite having an arrow in his...well, his guts. Guts then rips all her clothes off and sticks his hand in the blood just to make absolutely certain that everyone watching knows beyond any doubt what’s happening. Oh and then they decide to graphically show someone trying to rape her as a little girl just to twist the knife further. It feels very misogynistic; it’s demeaning to Casca’s character and the only reason it seems to have been done is so that the story can say "look at how weak women are, also look not just tits but this is a movie so we can do pubic hair too!" Even if it’s a sequence from the original manga, I cannot fathom why no-one in the production team realised why this was inappropriate (if they wanted nudity there’s a whole love scene later on not to mention an appearance by ‘little’ Griffith). It’s not even relevant to the rest of the film, in fact in contradicts it! Casca in the scene very clearly explains that she doesn’t accept or like her femininity (it makes her weak because of... reasons) but she then inexplicably spends the rest of the film playing a love-sick girl wearing the most feminine clothes she could lay her hands on. I know this has become something of a rant over what is a relatively small part of the film, but when it’s fronted by that sequence right at the beginning of the film it very much sits front and centre in your mind as you watch.
Animation-wise, things have improved a little but not by much. Things are a little smoother and the CG is integrated a little better, but by this point the staff have clearly decided that ‘good enough’ is the way to go and haven’t tried to rework things much from film one. Let’s be fair though, it is good enough at this point and it’s unfair to expect them to re-invent the wheel this late on where any major change animation-wise would be really very jarring and would likely cause more problems than it solved. The soundtrack is effective but not wonderful, though both voice casts continue to do a great job at performing their respective characters and are one of the best things about the film on a technical level.
Excluding that opening sequence, this film is pretty good and is very much on the same level as the previous instalment. In fact, if you pushed me I’d have to say I enjoyed the rest of the film – it's good fun with lots of great action set-piece moments that I can’t wait to see more of in the next film (though rumour has it that I may be re-stating parts of my Casca rant when I review that one...) and indeed any future films if the studio decides to continue the plan to animate the entire manga. However, that one aforementioned sequence does effect the film negatively and it does put everything into a certain light that the rest of the film can’t really shake, so all-in-all I’d have to say that this is an average film at best where all that’s good in the film just about managesto rise above shooting itself in the foot at the outset.