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Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey – Review

by Esosa Osamwonyi

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The Band of the Hawk participates in the Midland war campaign. On the bloody battlefield, they conquer decisive victories that lead them to Doldrey, an old fortress that will decide the outcome of the war. Amid all this carnage, Griffith´s words still resonate in Guts´ head and make him wonder what should he do once this conflict is over. Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey is the second film contributing towards the aim to recreate Kentaro Miura’s twenty-two year old ongoing manga series.

While I really enjoyed the first film in the series, I admit I was not exactly in love with it. For one, I thought the film was too short. Clocking in at a little more than an hour, it felt more like an OVA rather than a feature-length film. This approach also meant that the precious character development seen in the manga and anime series was lost. A prime example of this would be the main character Guts, whose entire backstory prior to meeting the band of the hawks is completely shaved off and barely referenced at all. The viewers’ connection is not as strong with him as a character, with the development of various other characters not being as fleshed out as well. With various character relationships not strongly defined or established—with the exception of that of Guts and Griffith—and with the action taking a more prominent role, it felt more like a film that newcomers to the Berserk universe would not be able to get into and seemed to be more for those already familiar with the series. But nevertheless, besides some flaws and omissions it was still an enjoyable film.

Now while the first film could be considered a brief glimpse of what is to come, with the second film I feel the exceptions are larger, as usually in a trilogy after watching the second film, one develops an idea as to where the series is heading. So in many ways, this is a crucial film. And it also is longer too, clocking in at roughly an hour and a half. However, does it deliver?

Talking place shortly after the conclusion of the first film, The Battle for Doldrey starts out with a battle between The Band of the Hawk and an opposing force. The battle is interrupted when secondary commanders Guts and Casca suddenly fall off a cliff. From there it is a battle for survival as Guts and Casca fight off the enemy while hoping to reunite with their allies. Then the movie shifts focus to the main course: “The Battle for Doldrey” in which Hawks leader Griffith volunteers him and his 5,000 Band of The Hawks members in a crucial effort to take back Doldrey, an enemy fortress that houses some 200,000 troops. Reminds me of the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) in which the heroes had to defend the castle fortress from the imposing enemy forces, but in this film it is the opposite as the heroes are the ones doing the attacking here. And finally, the film concludes with a showdown between Guts and Griffith, which is something that has been building up since the very first film.

Now prior to seeing the film, my expectations were solidified that the film was going to be great. But after seeing it, I came off feeling the film is good, but it could have been much better. And to me it is more apparent now that Studio 4C is not really looking into the fan’s interest, especially when going into a project that has a huge following like Berserk. But this is not to say that The Battle for Doldrey isn’t an improvement from the first one. My primary problem with the film is the pacing. It really goes at a brisk pace and truly feels like an action movie more than anything. Yes, the Berserk universe does have its fair share of action, but that is not all what it is all about. Characterization, character relations and development play a major role. And that is what is so apparently lacking in The Battle for Doldrey, in particular the main character Guts and the changes in the film’s story are made to support that, a topic I will return to later. Now if I had never read the manga or seen the anime series and simply watched the first film and this one, I would probably be saying, “Oh, Guts is just a mercenary that is big, strong, and kills people.” You really do not know learn too much about Guts, as they really don’t touch upon who he is as a character. Maybe in the third film they will do so, but unfortunately not here.

Now the use of CGI is back, as seen in the first film, which is more abundant than ever. I felt the movie was much better when there were fewer CGI used or none at all. In fact, the best segments of the film are during the ending sequence, as those are beautifully animated in a more traditional form free of CGI. The CGI is used rather excessively in the major battles in the film though. Some of these sequences remind me of something you would see in a video game but it works better when there is high action as it is easier to mask it. But in all honestly, I simply wish there were fewer-to-no CGI used, which is probably unreasonable due to budget constraints.

Finally, let us talk about the changes. Now when a film is based off another work—in this case a manga series—changes have to be made as some things work better in the context of film as opposed to simply following its original source material. And make no mistake, significant changes are made in The Battle for Doldrey. However, a lot of changes don’t really always make sense here as there were a lot of things that didn’t really need to be changed and as a result, without spoiling anything, a lot of key scenes lose their impact. And believe me, as a fan of the manga series it can be a very frustrating experience. The character of Guts really is made indestructible here and will crush anybody with ease, with the film leaving the impression that it was just business as usual for him by the end of it all. True, there are some development seen between Guts, Casca and Griffith, with a powerful scene near the end, but yet it doesn’t feel that Guts is or was ever that close to these people and is simply there for the ride and ready to move on when he is satisfied. Also the strange absence of Zodd is heavily felt.

But overall, it is not to say I did not like the film. It moves at a very brisk pace, there is no shortage of action and honestly, it is still an enjoyable film—just one that does not live up to its potential. I do not know if this is a film that fans of the anime and manga series would be able to fully appreciate. The aspects that make Berserk such an interesting manga series are barely touched upon within the film, with elements such as the dynamics of loyalty, motives, and morals being lightly addressed. However, it serves more as an appetizer and complimentary piece to what is the main course, which is the manga series. Still, it worth a watch if you are a fan, although be prepared to be a somewhat frustrated.

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Author: Esosa Osamwonyi

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Comments

  • Ricardo

    I definitely agree with you. While watching the film many of the key parts lost their impact. I remember my excitement when in the Zodd throws his sword at Guts and he uses it to cut Boscone in half. I cannot understand why that was not added in the film. I guess I had really not realized until after all the reviews (or complaints) I had read online, that it is in fact true that many of the developments in the characters relationships were lacking. Nonetheless, it also had great scenes, like the 100-man slaughter, the battle between Griffith and Guts and even the sex scene at the end. I can specially agree with you when you say these series of films are just complementary to the Berserk universe, much like anime videogames can be. However, I believe that they are still more enjoyable than disappointing. I see the film most of all, as a tool for fans to recall what has happened thus far, rather than an introduction to the series. The manga does have its age, and last time I read it much like many have I presume, was many years ago and I have some trouble recalling key pieces since the events of the newest arc; where pretty much everything has gone upside down. After all, I would have never even expected for any studio to pick up this 22-year old manga, which seems to be struggling to release one chapter every 3 months or so. If anything, I am very grateful, for this films serves has a great promotional element that can bring Berserk back into the spotlight, hopefully in that way, becoming a support to the manga we know and love. Thank you for giving your time to this excellent review, let us all hope that the next movie is even better.

  • Edward Buchanan

    I haven’t yet read the Berserk manga (intend to soon), but I’ve enjoyed the two movies I’ve seen.

    http://www.mangauk.com/?p=berserk-2-the-battle-for-doldrey