Andrew Osmond drives his enemies before him, and hears the lamentation of their women
Berserk Movie 2: Battle for Doldrey, out next week as a Blu-ray and a DVD, steps into the challenging “middle part” slot of a fantasy film trilogy, previously filled by The Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers and The Matrix Reloaded. It has points in common with all three (don’t panic, there’s no Architect speech). There are characters going through deep changes and reconfigured relationships, a la Empire; epic city sieges like Two Towers; and an absolutely massive, one-man-with-a-big-sword-pulverises-everyone fight, recalling the “Burly Brawl” in Matrix Reloaded. Only with far more smashed bodies and splatter. (And, of course, the fight in Berserk comes from the manga, which was drawn years before the Burly Brawl.)
Spoilers follow. At the end of the first film, The Egg of the King, our hero Guts overheard his beloved general, Griffith, declare, “A friend is someone who does not cling to another’s dream.” It indicated that Griffith did not count Guts and his followers as his friends – so what, then, were they? As the story opens, we appear to be back to bloody business as usual, with Guts fighting another of Griffith’s battles. But then, as often happens round this point in a trilogy, the main characters get split up. An accident separates Griffith and his woman comrade Casca from their allies, and throws them together. This doesn’t mean any awkward guy-girl dithering, thank heavens (in the first film, Casca endured a naked embrace with a feverish Guts, just on Griffith’s orders. Nonetheless, the awkward pair end up learning more about each other, and the extremes both will go to for their beliefs – cueing the massive sword barney mentioned above.
There’s plenty more fighting in the film, including a one-on-one duel set against a scintillating snowfield at the gates of dawn. Indeed, the fights feel more personal in this film. Fantasy monsters may be spectacular, but there’s nothing like a human-scaled grudge match. (It’s been argued that Casca gets a raw deal in the film, but boy, does she get a payback later.) Interestingly, though, there’s almost no magic in this episode, playing up its parallels with Game of Thrones. It’s very much a human story, going the places Tolkien never ventured, including into a lady’s bedchamber. Yes, there’s a pretty explicit (and gorgeously animated) sex scene, which includes an outrageous bit of minds’-eye intercutting. We suspect the film-makers were watching Munich, Spielberg’s contentious based-on-fact revenge drama. Then again, they may have been inspired by anime – Satoshi Kon’s slasher Perfect Blue entered similar territory.
Fans of older versions of Berserk – the manga and the previous TV serial – will be glad to see an old “friend” is back; namely, the buffoonish enemy General Adon, still boasting of his family’s centuries’ old battle techniques. (They haven’t aged well.) There’s also a tiny Tinker Bell-ish cameo from Puck, a character from a different part of the manga; it feels like a deliberate tease by the film-makers, Studio 4 Degrees C, about how much more of the story remains to be told. The third Berserk movie, subtitled Descent, opened in Japan this January. Judging from the part of the manga it covers, it should satisfy anyone wanting to see more demon monster bloodbaths. Reportedly, Descent’s content is so extreme that most Japanese cinemas showed a censored version of the film, and Scotland Loves Anime, where the first two films premiered, is reluctant to show it at all!
The big questions, though, are: does the trilogy end on a less maddening note than the drive-off-a-cliffhanger TV version? And, having done the manga’s “Golden Age” storyline, will Studio 4 Degrees C keep on trucking forward, through Berserk’s kingdom of horrors? Our fingers are crossed…
Berserk 2: The Battle for Doldrey is out soon on UK DVD and Blu-ray.