Anime Reviews: Berserk Golden Age Arc II - The Battle for Doldrey
Though more competent than its predecessor, The Battle for Doldrey still features ugly 3-D animation and leaves many crucial scenes on the cutting room floor.
Title: Berserk Golden Age Arc II - The Battle for Doldrey a.k.a. BERSERK Ougon Jidai-hen II - Doldrey Kouryaku
Production: Studio 4°C
Film Length: 92 minutes
Air Dates: 6/23/2012
Age Rating: 17+ (strong graphic violence, strong sexual content)
Summary: The Band of the Hawk, led by the seemingly invincible Griffith, has risen to great heights in the Midland army, and are now on their way to seizing victory in the One Hundred Years' War. However, during a critical battle against Chuder's Blue Whale heavy assault knights, Caska and Guts find themselves falling from a high cliff into the river below. Though they are still alive, Caska is ill and unconscious, so Guts finds shelter for them to take cover in. But now their problems are piling up exponentially: Guts and Caska need to survive and find their way back to the Hawks safely, an entire platoon of enemy soldiers is actively searching for them, and should they make it out alive, the final battle to end the great war, the besieging of Castle Doldrey, still looms over the horizon.
The Good: It's a massive improvement over the first film; some intense action sequences
The Bad: 3-D animation still feels wrong; leaves out a lot of important material
The Ugly: Trying to explain to anyone that this is a legit film and not a porno
Let me just begin by saying that The Battle for Doldrey will be a great sigh of relief for Berserk fans. Its predecessor, The Egg of the King, was a disgrace to the franchise, and I would have had good reason to avoid watching any of its sequels. Good thing my curiosity got the better of me, because now I see that it's possible for these films to work, and that gives me hope for the future. How could such a 180 be made over the course of a single movie? I really don't want to be predictable and say "let's find out" so much, but let's find out~
To put it in the broadest possible stroke, everything about The Battle for Doldrey is better than in its predecessor. The pacing is much more consistent, with a satisfying balance between big action scenes and quieter scenes. The film doesn't just feel like it's rushing past the dialogue scenes in order to get to the bloodbath, and that alone makes a huge difference. In a similar vein, the direction is similarly improved, allowing for some emotional involvement during the action and even some extremely unsettling psychological moments (you'll see it coming, if you catch my drift). The cinematography is also rock solid this time, making each scene easy to follow and much more pleasing to the eyes.
Speaking of which, the 2-D animation this time around is miles better, even to the point of being spectacular. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what was changed, considering it's still fairly bright and clean, but dirty details and rough lines have finally made their way into the Berserk movies! You'd think such minor things would change very little, but sometimes that's all it takes to set the right visual tone. Similarly, the music also took a turn for the better this time around, even though the same genius (GAINAX's Shiro Sagisu) was behind both films' soundtracks. To be honest, though, this film sounds more like Evangelion than Berserk, but in my book, sounding like Evangelion is better than sounding like absolutely nothing like in the first film.
There are also some flashes of convincing character development this time, unlike the previous film where characters only changed because the script demanded they do so. I would have normally taken this for granted, considering the source material we're dealing with, but I suppose expecting the characters to behave and grow as they should was too much for said previous film, to the point where seeing proper growth and development here was a shock to me. Who knew we had time to actually care about the characters?
Finally, we have some truly intense action sequences in this film. In The Egg of the King, there was a nifty moment here and there, but The Battle of Doldrey is full of memorable fights and some deliciously gruesome deaths. Even the large-scale army battles, which were positively boring in the previous film, are given more dramatic flair this time. The action is actually exciting all throughout! Once again, this should be something I would take for granted from anything Berserk-related, but that damn first movie screwed up so much that I must take note of it.
To put it all simply, The Battle for Doldrey just does everything better than The Egg of the King did, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's perfect.
Au contraire, there are some problems to be found here--the first and foremost being that God-awful 3-D animation constantly pulling you out of the film with its awfulness. Though they had the courtesy of at least giving the 3-D figures suitable facial expressions this time, it still looks like a low-budget early PS2 game attempting cel-shaded graphics. I'm just hoping against hope at this point that Studio 4°C will give this garbage up and do the whole thing in 2-D animation. Then at least these movies will actually look consistent, if not good.
Another big issue I have with this movie is the ridiculous number of scenes omitted. I will give the director credit for making it hard for people new to the series to notice, but since I'm not new, I kept tearing my hair out when these things went unmentioned. Where was Judeau's fairy dust pouch, which simultaneously serves to heal Guts after a major fight and sets the precedent that fairies will, indeed, be showing up in the future? Whatever happened to the attempted assassination of Griffith plotted by the Queen and Minister Foss? Where did most of Caska's backstory go? Or Guts', for that matter? Veteran fans will no doubt be driven insane by the absence of many of these key scenes. I know I was.
But hey, an improvement's an improvement. At least I can say The Battle for Doldrey was a decent film, unlike the abomination that came before it. I do have some hope that these movies are going to get better from here on out, so I would recommend that you check these out if you want a taste of Berserk before diving into the TV series or the manga. As for me, all I can do is wait for the next film to see whether or not this one was a fluke.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10. The Battle for Doldrey is altogether a much more satisfying experience than the previous film, but it still falls far short of being an adequate replacement for the 1997 TV series or the manga.