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Berserk Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the High King – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Guts is a young and highly skilled mercenary living in a medieval era of the Midland monarchy. During the siege of a castle, he catches the attention of Griffith, leader of a mercenary army called Band of the Hawk. As the two meet again, Guts ends up joining the notorious group.

Based on the manga by author Kentaro Miura, Berserk Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the High King is the first film with the Berserk film series, a multitude of feature-length films attempting to adapt the entire Berserk manga series. With a 1000-year long mythological history working as the backdrop, dozens of noteworthy characters, and multiple story arcs residing within the Berserk universe, even the 1997 Berserk anime series had difficulty fleshing out its elaborate story, never fully accommodating many elements viewed in the manga series. Considering that the manga series premiered in 1990 and Miura is still releasing chapters to this day, the thought of Berserk concluded any time soon is certainly questionable. Considering this, the task of confining an incredible amount of back-story into a film series can ultimately be disastrous, utterly mediocre, or significantly improves upon the vast world of Berserk offered through its source material. But can The Egg of the High King provide an adequate opportunity for the manga series to successfully bring about its enormous universe through the medium of animation, or like the television series, finds itself once again conflicted in presenting the expansive story the source material has to offer?

Regarding the last part concerning the inadequacies expressed in the television series, one can obviously see that translating the story of Berserk into a medium such as film would prove even more challenging that simply adapting it into a television series. Let’s just say that there is a lot that had to be cut out for the sake of time here, an element of the film that may prove to be distracting for fans of the manga series. Many of the more minute, day-to-day interactions between the characters that were showcased in the television series and manga are unfortunately missing from the film, which may not be viewed as a negative to those unfamiliar with the source material, but it does cut back significantly on said viewers gaining some emotional connection to these characters. For example, wherein the manga and television series we had the chance to see a sentimental rivalry form between Griffith and Guts—as their relationship presented itself as one filled with complexity and ambiguity—The Egg of the High King focuses more so on simply the events that surround these two rather than actually having their relationship be the focal point of the film.

This of course extends to other characters as well, where we never truly see their interactions with one another extending beyond simply being in the same band of mercenaries—the distinctiveness of each character made apparent in both the manga and television series is considerably diminished here. The intriguing dynamic surrounding the relationship between Guts, Griffith, and Casca is also not nearly as discerning as previous incarnations of the series have made it out to be. This again may prove to be discouraging for those longtime fans wishing to see something new here instead of simply retreading over story elements already explored in the television series, but important themes such as ambition and leadership still find their way into the film’s narrative albeit in a more simpler fashion. But, since this film can be viewed primarily as an introduction towards the universe of Berserk, this approach may not be as damaging as it initially appears considering that there will be plenty of films down the line to elaborate on the characters friendships, jealousies, and romantic inclinations.

What the film does relatively well though is highlight significant points within the Golden Age arc with considerable importance and emotional poise. While we may not receive as much character interaction as we would like, viewers are given a more riveting, and technically superior telling of events that drastically influenced the characters within the Berserk universe. Whether this is the explosive duel that commences between Guts and Griffith, to the savagery that Guts encounter with the beastly Zodd, to the frantic and violent opening scene of Guts livelihood as a mercenary during a castle siege, The Egg of the High King does a fantastic job of creating such memorable moments despite not being completely exploratory of the actual psychological and philosophical frameworks of the characters that experience them. From the perspective of someone not familiar with Berserk, these moments within the film will provide him or her with ample opportunity to want to learn more about the expansive universe in which the film takes place, which is great considering that there is plenty of material available to do so.

Perhaps the most significant element in the film is the addition of CGI. These are primarily utilized in the various humungous battle sequences wherein hundreds of soldiers are seen on screen at once. This certainly a logical approach to take given the abundance of activity taking place on screen, but it also becomes distracting at times when it is used in scenes in which CGI isn’t really necessary. Take Guts confrontation with the monstrous Zodd for example, in which Zodd becomes completely CGI when he transforms into his minotaur form. One can easily see that traditional animation would’ve worked out completely fine during this moment and other moments like it, but the decision to implement CGI just seems awkward and rather unfitting considering the context of those scenes. While such implementation is questionable, it doesn’t lessen the quality of the overall animation in the slightest, it just simply seems out of place. In fact, considering the age of the television series, the animation by Studio 4°C improves significantly on establishing the darkly brutal world of Berserk through its intense visuals, effectively capturing the chaotic reality that Guts and company find themselves in. While one can place the television series as far superior in terms of the amount of character development it elicits, The Egg of the High King easily brings about a more visually realized world through its animation than its predecessor.

Overall, The Egg of the High King is a film that fans of the manga series or even the television series for that matter may not fully appreciate. This derives mainly from the notion that what makes Berserk such an interesting series is that it brings to life the arduous bonds that form between individuals and the drastic consequences that stem from their choices in a genuine way, whereas the film doesn’t exactly bring much of these dynamics to light. If one views the film as one designated primarily to those not accustomed to the Berserk universe though, it works as a fine introductory piece that will only be further complemented when future films within the series are released. In many ways, this essential reboot of the series is qualified simply through its use of state-of-the-art technology to better present the story of Berserk, in turn truly allowing the scope of the material to reach a more appropriate and respectable level. Similar to Evangelion 1.0: You Are [Not] Alone (2007), The Egg of the High King is just the beginning of a long journey to more fully realize the vision of what the Berserk universe has to offer, and while the task is certainly a very precarious undertaking at best, only time will tell if the film series will truly live up to the potential of its source material.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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