Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi
Studio: Studio 4°C
Release date: February 1, 2013
Warning: major spoilers for Berserk and discussion of graphic material
Now this is how you end a trilogy. It’s very rare that the third movie in a trilogy manages to be the best one, but what do you know, they managed to pull it off. After a disappointing start and an improved but still flawed second movie, they managed to end on a high note, albeit still with some flaws. Whatever you may say of the previous movies, you’d be hard press to call this final installment bad either as a movie or adaptation. Honestly I would argue this movie is worth watching the other two movies for, just so you aren’t lost and can have more emotional investment in the story and characters. This is what the previous films have been building up to. Griffith’s destiny is finally realized, the Hawks are permanently lost, and Guts swears revenge on Griffith for his abominable betrayal.
This is the movie the other ones have been building up to. Longtime fans were dreading it from the beginning, and new fans likely had no idea what was coming. Here is the plot and major, major spoilers. You ready?
Guts and the Band of the Hawk reunite after a year, and he and Casca end up fully expressing the growing feelings that had been building between them since the last movie. After making love, Guts is warned by an undead rider known as Skull Knight of a coming disaster that he will not be able to escape, but Guts is unable to understand what he means. Afterword, the Hawks go on a rescue operation to save Griffith from imprisonment, but arrive far too late. Griffith is broken in mind and body. His tendons are severed, his tongue has been cut out, and his face has been horrifically disfigured. He will never become the kind he has dreamed of being since he was a child. Once they escape, and the gravity of the situation becomes acknowledged by everyone, Casca says she’ll stay behind with Griffith while Guts leaves to become Griffith’s equal. Unknown to them, Griffith hears all of this, and distraught that the man he cares so much for is leaving him again, he breaks completely. He takes a carriage and runs away, but doesn’t get far before being thrown off and crippled further. He tries to commit suicide, but can’t even do that. Griffith completely sinks into despair, but as if destined by fate, finds his Behelit. When the Behelit comes into contact with his blood, it turns into a crying face, and he, Guts, Casca, and the other Hawks are teleported to a hellish dimension. Here, four demonic entities known as the Godhand reveal that this is an event called “The Eclipse” and this is Griffith’s true destiny, that he is destined to sacrifice his friend and comrades and be reborn as their fifth member. Griffith, rationalizing that he has come too far to give up, and if he doesn’t he will become the very sort of desperate survivor that he despises. After mulling it over for a brief period, he looks at Guts, admits to himself that he really did see him as more than just a soldier, and sacrifices them. The Hawks, save for Guts and Casca die and are devoured by demons in a horrific bloodbath. When only Guts and Casca remain, Griffith emerges from his cocoon as the new member of the Godhand named Femto. Femto descends to Guts’ level, orders some demons to bring Casca to him, and rapes her while forcing his best friend to watch. Guts tries to save her, costing him his left arm and right eye, but he fails. Just when all seems lost, Skull Knight arrives and saves them. Four days later, Guts awakens from being passed out from exhaustion and trauma, only to find the events of The Eclipse have driven Casca insane. Guts vows war upon demonkind to avenge his friends and Casca. The movie ends with Guts donning his iconic Black Swordsman getup, and going off to slay monsters.
Compared to the other movies, and especially The Battle for Doldrey, The Advent is much more subdued and less large in scope. The majority of the movie is spent with just the characters interacting with each other, as they come to grips with their horrible situation, and old bonds are both reforged and broken. This is easily the most emotional of the movies, and captures the human and tragic spirit of Berserk more than any other. Big thanks should go to the voice cast, who put in their best work yet. Everyone shows off impressive range, from anger, sadness, despair, happiness, the whole emotional spectrum. Jon Avner as Void, one of the members of the Godhand, is only in the film for a short while, but his appearance will leave an unforgettable impression. This is also has the best usage of music in the trilogy. Shiro Sagisu and Susumu Hirasawa once again deliver and then some, providing what I feel are some of the best musical tracks in any Berserk adaptation. The music ranges from epic, dark and grandiose for epic scenes like the horror of The Eclipse, to calm and understated during the film’s quiet moments. A perfect example is the love scene between Guts and Casca, with just a flute playing in the background.
It really is The Advent’s quiet scenes that where it truly shines for me. It’s these scenes that are the best done adaptation wise between it and the 90s anime. Casca lashing out at Guts for leaving the Hawks, thus inadvertently causing Griffith to act recklessly and cause the Hawks downfall, and Casca explaining to the Hawks that Griffith is crippled beyond repair and it will never get better for them, happens with absolutely no music playing at all. Now it’s not perfect, with some poorly handled CGI, but the voice acting, 2D, and sheer atmosphere of scenes like these that make them work so well.
Of course, how The Eclipse is handled needs to be touched on as well. It’s the most important event in the movie and in Berserk in general. It’s one of the most gory, tragic, bloody, nightmarish events I’ve ever seen in an anime or manga, and The Advent’s version of it is faithful in all ways imaginable. It is the bloodiest thing you will ever see. If you can’t handle intense gore and violence, then you shouldn’t even bother with this movie or series. One scene that is completely unique to the movie, and proves without a doubt proves the naysayers of the movies wrong in that these are bad adaptations, is Griffith’s metamorphosis into Femto. The animation style changes completely from the traditional into a painterly like style, meant to represent that Griffith is moving beyond the human plain and is becoming another being completely divorced from our senses. It’s surreal and genuinely creepy. Between this and the 1997 anime’s representation of The Eclipse, while the 97 anime follows events more closely to the events as they were drawn from the manga, The Advent better captures the violent and tragic nature of The Eclipse, and makes some new events that better serve its medium.
So what does The Advent do wrong? Well aside from the CGI still looking misplaced (though it is much better now and the focus is brought back to 2D animation), the romance between Guts and Casca doesn’t feel as strong as it did in the manga and 90s anime, due to the cuts made for time on scenes between the characters throughout the trilogy. One character moment between Guts and Casca that was left out that is especially disappointing. In the manga, after making love, Guts breaks down over being molested as a child, until Casca hugs him and says he can open his heart to her without shame. It’s one of the most emotional moments in the entire series, and this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that in the first movie a flashback is shown of Guts being raped as a child. It’s a genuinely wasted opportunity on the part of the creative team. It also ends on yet another cliffhanger. Now it’s an ending with much more resolution than the original anime’s was, but like the original anime, we’ll never see the rest since due to diminishing financial returns, the other planned movies were cancelled.
The Advent is easily the best film in the entire trilogy and any fan of Berserk should watch it. So as a whole, how does this trilogy fare? Well it was definitely flawed, with its cutting of completely perfect plot threads and overuse of CGI, especially in the first movie. Adapting such a monumental manga like Berserk was always going to be a challenge, and adapting it to movie theaters even more so due to the time constraints they were under. And yet, there is still more good than bad here. By the third film they clearly has gotten a hang of adapting the source material, and even in the first film you can see the spirit of Berserk in it. There was clearly a lot of love and heart put into these films, and it’s a genuine tragedy that we won’t get to see more of them, especially in light of the 2016 and 2017 Berserk anime adaptations. I haven’t watched them in full but I’ve seen an episode and… well let’s just say you’re better off first watching the movies and then reading the manga, and if you want another adaptation, watch the 1997 anime. Warts and all, these movies deserved better than just getting unceremoniously cancelled.
Well this retrospective was a lot of fun. It was really interesting to look at these movies both on their own terms, and as adaptations of Berserk. I hope that anyone reading enjoyed and that I managed to at least convince one person to both check out Berserk in general and the trilogy.