Berserk Golden Age Arc 3: DescentReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/05/13 00:56:17
SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The "Berserk" franchise takes a heck of a turn right here, and it's hard to judge the movie as a result. If Lucent and Studio 4°C make more movies - the manga series stands at 37 volumes and counting, so there's material - this is a turning point given the epic treatment it deserves. If not, it's a radical departure from what came before which ends the previously harsh series on a note that's just ugly.It's been a year since Guts (voice of Hiroaki Iwanaga) left the Band of the Hawk, which was soon after betrayed by the King of the Midlands. Now led by Casca (voice of Toa Yukinari), they have been trying to rescue their founder Griffith and may just have had two breaks: Their scout Rickert (voice of Minako Kotobuki) has discovered where Griffith is being held, and they have once again crossed paths with Guts, who would certainly be a boon to any rescue mission. A dark vision of the Skull King, however, portends that this reunion could end very badly indeed.
Though supernatural elements had been present in the previous two Berserk movies, they've mostly been in the background, but they take center stage here, and it's quite the change-up in every way: Not only is magic not something that Guts & Casca are not used to dealing with, but the visual style of the movie suddenly becomes very different as the characters are pulled into environments have the look of obvious CGI rendering to them, but the creatures they encounter there are out-of-scale large and often have a simplified or monstrous style that clashes with the look of the familiar characters. In some ways, that's right and proper - this should feel like the protagonists are suddenly in a very different movie - but it's undeniably jarring.
The trouble is, in some ways, that the plotting of it is a mess. The Crimson Belehit, unceremoniously disposed of at the end of the last movie, suddenly reappears without explanation just when it is needed to kick things off. The legend of the Skull King pops up in dialog at a similarly convenient time. The end is less resolution than the establishment of a new status quo. Director Toshiyuki Kubooka and screenwriter Ichiro Ohkochi put Guts in a series of horrific encounters (likely taken straight from Kentaro Miura's original manga), but the getting out of them is seldom satisfying. And then there's the matter of the film's climax (spoilers in the next paragraph):
I'm not sure that there's really an uglier way to end this movie than by having Casca raped in front of Guts so that he's finally angered enough to take action, leaving her a traumatized mess. Sure, this isn't something out of the blue - the threat of sexual assault was a major factor in The Battle for Dondrey, and it's something that is realistically a major part of this sort of medieval milieu - but it's lazy storytelling as motivation and a vile thing to structure the series around. Even if more sequels are in the pipeline, this trilogy built to this event, and who finds that to be an entertaining or satisfying culmination of this story?
Putting the ending aside, the second half of the movie comes off as a rather dull brute-force attack, a shame since the first half actually did some impressive work with Guts, Griffith, and Casca as characters. There are moments of dark humor and quietly observed emotion among people who are not, by nature, quiet. It's quite impressive how Kubooka and the animators get a lot of expression and emotion out of a character who is not only silent, but whose face is obscured much of the time. It's great animation beyond mere technical achievements (which are still top-notch).Indeed, a lot of the material that made the "Berserk Golden Age Arc" trilogy impressive is still there and just as good, and one can argue that the finale I hated was not meant to be such in the original serialized form of the story. But in the context of this movie, it is, and it led to me leaving "Advent" (what it's called on-screen, even if the advertising says "Descent") not entertained, not impressed, but disgusted, and that's too big a black mark for this movie to recover from.
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