DVD £19.99; Blu-Ray £24.99
A year on from the release of Battle for Doldrey, it's time for Berserk's Golden Age trilogy to wrap things up with part three – The Advent (also called Descent for the Japanese release). Last time out, some plot pacing troubles and glaring issues with the treatment of a female character proved to be too much to ignore, so with the grand finale in sight it’s time to see if Guts can cleave his way to an ending that will make us forgive everything.
A year on from the events of film two, the Band of the Hawk are still together but exist only as the broken remnants of the heroes they once were. With Guts gone and Griffiths imprisoned, Casca has taken the reigns to keep the men together and survive a near constant stream of attacks from the royal army. As a surprise night-time raid looks set to prove to serve as the group's end, Guts makes his bloody return to his former comrades-in-arms by fighting off some deadly ninja-types long enough to allow Casca to regroup the others. With Guts now back, Casca confirms that the band will now go on the offensive to rescue their beloved leader from his imprisonment. Meanwhile Griffiths and Guts both have issues of their own, as Griffiths has visions of demons in his cell coming with promises of power and Guts is visited by an armoured knight who may be the ghost of a legendary king slain hundreds of years in the past. With this, things are on course for a new wave of darkness to cover the land, and the ragtag remains of the Band of the Hawk may yet prove to be the deciding factor.
To begin with, I don’t think there’s anything we can do at this point other than address the elephant in the room. It’s rather a big one you see, and it is frankly impossible to discuss the Berserk series at this point without having a lengthy discussion about Casca. Last time there were issues. I won’t repeat them here you can just check out our review of film two for that. Not to beat around the bush, but I didn’t think it would be possible for them to manage to handle this character any worse than they did in that film.
Boy was I wrong. From beginning to end Casca is effectively a walking, talking sex doll with occasionally working tear ducts. Whilst she does swing her sword on occasion she rarely has much impact on proceedings, and in battle sequences is generally reliant on one or other of the film's male characters to come to her rescue. At the start of the film it’s made clear that for the last year she’s been the commander of the group and its clearly said that she’s been very good at her job. but as all of this occurs in the gap between the films we never see this - instead we meet her again just in time for Guts to show up and save her, following which she has a half-hearted dual with him, tries to kill herself and then sleeps with him. Yes they had been ham-fistedly trying to set up a romance during the last film but the execution of it is frankly dumb (not to mention the nature of the sequence itself – the characters are fully armoured so it would have taken them about 40 minutes at least to strip down for the act, by which time one suspects passions would have cooled somewhat...). We then get to see Casca assaulted by the desiccated remains of Griffiths with a cutaway that leaves it entirely open as to whether she actually allowed matters to continue or not, before she’s then raped later in the film. Just to point out here that in terms of narrative I think it’s an entirely reasonable thing for a female character captured by bad guys to be sexually assaulted - whether we like it or not it’s realistic and it can and sadly frequently does happen in the real world. What I don’t like and find frankly disgusting is that Casca is clearly and graphically seen to be enjoying the act. This is beyond offensive and is misogyny of the worst possible extreme. It is utterly inexcusable. The only thing you can say about it is that now all of a sudden the events of film two suddenly don’t look so bad anymore.
Moving away from this major sticking point, there are (believe it or not) some good things about the film. Whilst the opening half hour or so feels a little episodic and doesn’t quite fit together properly, the last hour of the film is extremely well-paced and takes the characters to some very dark places. There are no huge battles here but to replace them are a number of very nasty and inventive gore-soaked encounters. A set of four new characters revealed in the latter half of the film are very fun and disturbing and it would have been great to have seen more of them. The environment designs are really incredible as well here, showing off some inventive concepts including one very Giger-esque landscape which is a true set piece.
Elsewhere both dubs continue on in the same fashion as the previous films, so if you had a preference for either that’s not likely to change now. The music is also very good when you actually take notice of it(it tends to fade into the background somewhat). Intriguingly, one of the discs many, many extras shows that some of the music is performed on a Theremin, which is always cool to see! As for the animation itself; well, it’s still a bit hit-and-miss in many spots but overall it’s as good is it’s ever been throughout the trilogy and it certainly never drops below average.
The disc itself does have a pretty annoying issue as it’s yet another anime Blu-ray with a huge delay time between pushing a button on your remote and the discs menus bothering to respond on the player we were using. The disc does however contain a huge store of special features. Whilst there’s a very disappointing lack of a commentary track you do get loads of interviews, production art and almost an hour of (universally unfunny) outtakes for the US dub of all three films.
So, with that it looks like our adventures with Guts and company have come to an end. Whilst the film does end with a clear lead-in to what the film makers hoped would be new films of the next arc there’s no sign that any future films are in development at present. Whilst this movie has ramped up the stakes in the story and does succeed in pulling off a huge climax for the Golden Age arc, as with the second film it cannot escape its unforgivable depiction of Casca. If you enjoyed the previous films then you’ll likely pick this up no matter what we say, but honestly it’s not a movie that's easy to recommend.