Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi
Studio: Studio 4°C
Release date: June 23, 2012
Warning: Major spoilers for Berserk
This a movie that is overall an improvement over the first movie, which was just average overall. Here we see a greater understanding of how to make a more competent adaptation and capture the more important qualities of Berserk, which is why as an adaptation Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey manages to deeper examine the characters of the cast and ends with the beginning of their end, and it’s also just a good movie on its own.
This movie covers the events titled “Battle for Doldrey”, the siege of an impenetrable castle that Griffith and the Band of the Hawk manage to capture and end the Hundred Years War between Midland and Chuder, and Guts leaving the Band of the Hawk to pursue his own dream to become Griffith’s equal and be seen as a true friend in his eyes, thus beginning events that would lead to Griffith’s and the Hawks’ downfall.
The most important improvement The Golden Age Arc II makes is deepening the personalities of its characters. We learn about why Casca is so devoted to Griffith, and her behavior in the previous movie begins to make more sense, as she was jealous of the attention Guts was getting from Griffith. Guts himself begins to stretch his wings more, wondering why he’s fighting in his famous internal monologue where he is slaying over a hundred enemies while wondering what his own motives are to fight. Griffith gets more explanation into his motives too, where after Doldrey has been claimed, it is revealed he slept with a pedophiliac lord in order to get funds so his men would get better equipment, and says that the only way he can repay the lives his men have given is to fulfill his dream. He then kills the nobleman so that his secret won’t get out. It doesn’t always work though, due to some events being cut from the movie such as the King of Midland trying to rape his daughter. When tortured by the king after Griffith is discovered to have slept with the princess, Griffith mocks with disgust how the king lusts for his daughter, but this scene is never followed up on nor does the movie explain the king’s lust, which the original manga did by explaining that the Princess Charlotte resembles his dead first wife. The original anime actually cut the subplot out entirely, thus avoiding any awkward scene placement. One subplot completely cut out by the film left in the anime and manga was the Queen of Midland conspiring to kill Griffith, until Griffith retaliates by kidnapping the also omitted Minister Foss’s daughter and blackmailing him into compliance. This showed Griffith, despite his likability is also utterly ruthless and will go to any lengths to fulfill his ambition. It also had Griffith asking Guts if he was a bad person, with Guts reassuring Griffith that it was all okay if he got closer to his dream.
One big change character wise as an adaptation this movie makes is the introduction of characters from later down the manga’s story. Characters named Farnese, Serpico, and Puck make cameos near and at the end of the movie, and are clearly shown to be important to newcomers due to their unique designs compared to the other extras. For longtime fans this is definitely nice fanservice, but it might be distracting to others. It doesn’t last long though so it doesn’t feel shoved down your throat.
The movie also feels much more complete this time around. While there are still scenes that are reduced to showing and not telling, such as when you’re only told Griffith slept with the lord, and not shown it like in the manga and anime, and Casca’s backstory is cut down more simply to tell her story of Griffith saving her life, it comes across as much more natural. The studio even had some clever ideas as to how to get around some of the changes they had to make, like when Guts is fighting General Bascogn of the Chuder army. In the original manga and anime, Zodd threw Guts a sword from the distance, like divine intervention in Guts’ favor to win the battle. They weren’t able to animate the scene properly, so they decided to change it to Guts thinking of a new strategy on the fly. While it’s a shame that the badass Zodd didn’t make an appearance and serve as very ominous foreshadowing of the larger powers at play in the world of Berserk, their solution was pretty decent. The movie’s cuts also create another issue when months after the Hawks have reached the height of their goals, Guts leaves to find his own dream and be seen as an equal in Griffith’s eyes. Guts tells both Casca and the other major Hawk members this in the anime and manga, but here Guts is just shown implying it to Casca. It’s an admittedly minor issue compared to the first movie’s timeline related plot hole, and I was able to fill in the blanks, but I’m sure they could’ve animated a scene of Casca telling the other Hawks Guts’ intentions.
More good news is that the balance between the CGI and 2D animation is much better in this film. Bad news is that it still isn’t quite right, and the quality of the animation styles individually are still the same. The 2D backgrounds and character models are still beautiful and the CGI animation still looks choppy and bad and can take you out of the film at major moments like the Gut’s fight in the forest and the titled Battle of Doldrey itself. And that goes for the rest of the movie too. The voice acting is still great and the music is still great. All these elements really become obvious during two scenes: the ballroom scene where Griffith and Hawks are granted nobility and Guts’ duel with Griffith. In the ballroom scene, the voice actors show off excellent range, the 2D is awe inspiring and the music is beautiful, but every time the CGI shows up it takes you right out of it. Guts’ duel with Griffith is easily my favorite scene in the film. It’s all in 2D, the only sound is the wind blowing in the air kicking up the snow. The two men are silent, we see their eyes meet each other and hear Griffith thinking “Do you want to leave this badly?… No. You’re not leaving. I won’t allow it.” They swing their swords, the dust settles, and we see Guts has won this time. Words can’t do it justice how well done this scene is. It’s another solid point in the movie’s favor as an adaptation, and just a movie I general. The aftermath is just as well done in its own right, where Griffith makes the tragic mistake of sleeping with Charlotte the princess, is caught and sentenced to be tortured for the rest of his life, the Hawks are branded traitors, and Guts is shown walking off on his own journey, unaware of what has befallen his comrades. It’s a way better cliffhanger than the previous movie’s.
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II is definitely an improvement over the first film. The filmmakers clearly learned lessons from the failures of the last movie. It’s still not without its fair share of shortcomings though. The third film is where this trilogy finally got its groove on, and showed that more movies like these could’ve done the series justice.