Just one day after sitting down to watch the first Berserk movie as part of Edinburgh's Scotland Loves Anime weekend, we returned for the European premiere of the second instalment of this movie trilogy, The Battle for Doldrey.
Despite things having gone a little awry towards the end of the first film, we return to the fray to find that things are still on the up and up for Griffith and his Band of the Hawks as they prove themselves to be ever more invaluable to Midland and their quest to regain land and power. In the midst of this however, this second movie shifts away from Griffith to spend some time focusing upon female soldier Casca and the unique problems that she faces on the battlefield as a woman, complete with a little delving into her back story and her first meeting with Griffith. Truth be told, this part of film actually strips away far too much of Casca's strong-willed character thanks to its constant portrayal of her here as a suffering woman in a man's world where almost everybody sees her as either weak or a plaything outside of those immediately surrounding her - a suggestion that would undoubtedly be true giving Berserk's scenario, but one which is still leveraged in all the wrongs ways to leave Casca playing directly into that "weak female" stereotype.
Of course, bringing Casca closer to the forefront of proceedings also allows for some examination of the relationships between herself, Griffith and Guts, although when push comes to shove it's really the dynamic between Guts and Griffith that drives the film. As Griffith moves substantially closer to achieving his dreams, so Guts finds himself questioning his own motivations, drive and ambitions - a line of internal questioning that sets the final segment of the film upon a fractious part that threatens to see everything come crashing down in a blaze of self-inflicted damage.
In the midst of all this of course we have some epic battles to take in, with the film's titular battle for the supposedly nigh-on impenetrable fortress of Doldrey the main action set-piece of the movie as the Band of the Hawks take on their most dangerous and challenging mission yet. This brings us undoubtedly the most ambitious action scenes of the two films thus far, and with some tighter and less problematic CG for the most part this entire battle certainly succeeds in looking suitably epic, in turn ticking one of the major boxes required of this adaptation.
All of this occurs in the midst of a film that arguably feels tighter and better laid-out than the first movie, yet proves itself to be deficient in other ways. Most importantly, we never really get any kind of true feel for either Guts or Griffith's thought process, so it's hard to comprehend either of their decisions towards the end of the film - in the case of Griffith in particular, his actions seem so out of character for such a calm and calculating man that without any more solid justification for his actions it's hard to really feel for his plight. This is, most likely, more of an issue with the original source material than this adaptation, but it's still a niggling flaw that perhaps isn't helped by one of the film's most pivotal scenes turning from dramatic and striking into unintentionally amusing via an ill thought-out juxtaposition of certain shots.
That said, if you're willing to simply accept the bonds between Guts and Griffith and similarly accept what happens on-screen without question, then this is certainly a strong movie - well produced, less problematic in terms of its "hybrid" model of CG and traditional animation (although at times it's still very jarring) and well-paced throughout. If you enjoy the first film in this trilogy, or you're an existing fan of the Berserk manga or TV anime series, then despite some flaws The Battle for Doldrey will certainly serve you well.
Berserk - The Golden Age Arc - Film 2: Battle for Doldrey was screened at the Edinburgh weekend of Scotland Loves Anime 2012