Berserk Golden Age Arc 2: The Battle for Doldrey

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/04/13 08:54:12

"The middle film gets just crazy enough."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The first of Toshiyuki Kubooka's three "Berserk" movies did not quite end just as things were getting good, but it was quite obviously just the opening act of a trilogy set to climax in part III ("Advent"). This second part, "The Battle for Doldrey", more or less uses that event to build a bridge from start to finish, but does so well enough to not just feel like killing time.

In the last movie, ferociously strong mercenary Guts (voice of Hiroaki Iwanaga) joined the Band of the Hawk, led by General Griffith (voice of Takahiro Sakurai), who hired them on with the Kingdom of the Midlands, engaged in a 100-year war with Chuder. As this one begins, the two sides are pitched in battle, with Chuder's Lord Adon (voice of Rikiya Koyama) paying particular attention to the Hawks' second-in-command Casca (voice of Toa Yukinari). Not at her best that day, she and Guts get separated from the group, but return in time to be healed and ready to fight when Griffith pledges to take Castle Doldrey, a nigh-impregnable fortress with 30,000 men defending it compared to the Hawks' 5,000.

The titular battle takes up the middle third of the movie, and what goes on around it can perhaps be described as Guts's and Casca's love story. These two are not particularly romantic types, so don't expect pretty words, lingering glances, or heartfelt pleading not to leave - it occasionally plays out in fairly crude fashion - but it's a chance to consider them as human beings who do something other than fighting, relating as men and women as well as warriors.

There is fighting, of course, and plenty of it. The filmmakers go for big, over-the-top material while still staying grounded - well, in that there's very little overt supernatural material in this chapter. Guts is still going to cut down dozens of soldiers in a single battle using a gigantic weapon while taking no permanent damage from the various sharp objects that pierce him. Still, it's pretty terrific action, choreographed and motion-captured with live actors but rendered on-screen in traditional cel-animated style. It's large-scale action that makes the film come alive.

It comes alive in other ways as well - Shiro Sagisu's music, for instance, is just as heightened and bombastic as the combat. The film does have some issues when it tries to downshift; a dancing sequence, for example, is beautifully conceived and painstakingly animated (Studio 4C does great work throughout), but is too obvious an attempt at downtime after the big battle. The main battles also take up so much of the movie that there is simply not time to give everything else the characters do room to breathe, and it's easy to lose track of Griffith's ambition and whatever character element is motivating Guts toward the end.

"The Battle for Dondrey" certainly delivers what it promises on the box, and it's hard to fault it for that. And maybe that's better than being bogged down in middle-film maneuvering, which probably wouldn't have done much to help a rather different (and in my case, disappointing) Part III anyway.

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