He trusts nothing but his own sword. He has no place to call home. The lone mercenary Guts travels a land ravaged by a hundred-year war. Moving from battlefield to battlefield, his skill and ferocity eventually attract the attention of Griffith, the leader of a group of mercenaries called The Band of the Hawk. Desiring Guts’s power to help him achieve his goals, Griffith succeeds in recruiting the distrustful Guts by challenging him to a duel and defeating him.
As the Band of the Hawk fight together and their bond as a unit grows stronger, Griffith and Guts’s bond deepens as well. With their continued success on the battlefield, Griffith achieves the first step toward his lofty goals: his band of mercenaries becomes recognized as a full-fledged army within the Midland Kingdom. Despite all their success, Guts begins to question his reasons for fighting for Griffith’s dream, which, unbeknownst to Guts, is destined to bestow a monstrous fate on them both.
Berserk: The Golden Age, Arc I–The Egg of the King was released in Japan in early 2012, at the same time as Berserk: The Golden Age, Arc II–The Battle for Doldrey, with a third film slated for early 2013. Based on a popular manga by Kentaro Miura, Berserk follows the career of Guts, a taciturn mercenary who fights with a huge, two-handed broadsword. When he’s defeated in hand-to-hand combat by the effete but deadly Griffith, Guts joins his elite mercenary corps, the Band of the Hawk. Griffith aspires to a kingdom of his own at the very least, and uses the skills of his fiercely loyal Hawks to gain status by aiding the Kingdom of Midland in its protracted war with Chuder. Part of Griffith’s power seems linked to an odd, red gem he wears around his neck: the Egg of the King. Like the broadcast series of Berserk (1997), director Toshiyuki Kubooka’s feature presents a dark, violent vision of medieval warfare that is grittier and gorier than most chivalric anime adventures. The filmmakers combine drawn and computer animation for large-scale battle scenes that borrow from the Siege of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings. But Golden Age, Arc I feels more like a succession of set pieces than a coherent narrative, beginning with Guts’ initial duel with Bazuso, an ax-wielding giant who resembles a mecha version of the Michelin Tire Man. The relatively brief (77-minute) running time doesn’t allow for much character development beyond indicating that Guts is haunted by internal and external demons. Golden Age, Arc I was clearly meant to be seen in conjunction with the second film, as the story simply stops with no real conclusion. Those caveats aside, this new version of Berserk represents the state of the art for violent, big-budget anime. (Rated M, suitable for ages 16 and older: graphic violence, violence against women, nudity, gore, grotesque imagery, alcohol use) –Charles Solomon
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