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Anime Reviews: Berserk Golden Age Arc III - Descent
With improved visuals, tighter writing, and perfect handling of the Eclipse arc, Descent is the first solid entry in the trilogy, and hopefully not the last.
Title: Berserk Golden Age Arc III - Descent a.k.a. BERSERK Ougon Jidai-hen III - Kourin
Production: Studio 4°C
Film Length: 110 minutes
Air Dates: 2/1/2013
Age Rating: 17+ (strong graphic violence, sexual content in both a normal and extremely horrifying variety)
Summary: After the events following Griffith's imprisonment, the Band of the Hawk have been hunted down and reduced to scant numbers of loyal survivors led by Caska. One night, professional assassins with a platoon of soldiers storm the Hawks' camp, enacting a massacre--that is, until a familiar face steps in and turns the tide in the Hawks' favor. After a year of soul-searching, Guts has returned to back up and fight alongside his old comrades. Not long after, the Hawks hatch a plan to break into the king's castle and rescue Griffith from his incarceration, in the hopes that their leader will lead them to great heights once again. Meanwhile, Griffith lies in his cell, driven to insanity and despair, until he sees otherworldly visions of dark beings, who tell Griffith that a great destiny still awaits him...
The Good: The 2D animation; powerful character moments; highly disturbing...just as intended!
The Bad: Side characters left in the dust; forgettable score; the 3D animation, as usual
The Ugly: For a non-pornographic series, there sure is a lot of porn...
You know what? I have hope for this movie series now. The Egg of the King was an abominable train-wreck of a film, and The Battle for Doldrey was okay, I guess, but this? Descent is not only the best film in the series, but also just a plain good film. It seems like the third time was the charm, after all. So then, let's talk about Descent, shall we?
First of all, just as mentioned in the highlights, the 2D artwork looks really good this time around, striking the right balance between modern smoothness and classic Berserk-style grittiness. The use of colors and shadow are also quite striking, setting up a dark and suffocating atmosphere, even out in an open field. To put the icing on that particular cake, there are a lot of interesting settings and backdrops in this film, and the art design makes each and every one truly unique. And of course, the animation itself is quite fluid and often pretty spectacular to behold. For the most part, this is a very good-looking film.
But the real improvement with this film lies in its developing of our main characters. For the previous two films, all the characters just seemed to exist for the sake of the machinations of the plot, but in Descent they finally begin to come into their own. They haven't yet quite perfected these characterizations, but I could finally sympathize with Guts and Caska when they find Griffith in his deteriorated state, and I could finally sympathize with Griffith's obsessive drive for greatness when it's been taken away from him--now of course, the original TV series did all of this even better right from the get-go, but we gotta take baby steps here, and any improvement is still an improvement. Luckily for us, this isn't a case of "too little, too late," as the character development couldn't have come at a better time!
Whoo-hoo! Eclipse arc time! Who's ready to have their expectations trampled into dust and watch horrible, horrible things happen for 45 minutes straight? I sure was! And now the second half of the film continues to haunt me even after separating myself from it for several weeks, embedding truly disturbing images into my brain and overwhelming me with a tremendous sense of shame and disgust. And you know what? That means the director has done his job perfectly. The fact that I felt the same sense of horror and shame that washed over me while reading the original manga, mostly with my jaw on the floor and eyes unblinking, means that Descent truly is a faithful adaptation executed with great skill. I can pretty much guarantee that this film's climax will stay with you long after it's over.
With all that said, however, Descent isn't gonna get away scot-free. Even though it's the best film in the series thus far, it still has its fair share of issues. For example, even though our main characters get some great development and ample screentime, the side characters have been all but forgotten, serving mainly as window dressing. Judeau, Corkus, Pippin, Ricket, Gaston, and even Princess Charlotte appear in what I can only describe as bit roles or cameos before the Eclipse, and considering that they are all an integral part of what made the Golden Age arc leave an impact on us fans, the writer's negligence of them in the story is disappointing.
That is pretty much the film's biggest flaw, though. Otherwise, the soundtrack is utterly forgettable, failing to make much of an impression on me at all, and that God-awful 3D animation continues to show its ugly, emotionless face, and served only to pull me right out of the film and distract me with its awfulness until the 2D animation finally came back and saved my eyes from the pain. Minor faults, to be sure, but they are faults that are difficult to ignore.
So, yeah. Descent is actually pretty good. If you can overlook its faults (as well as handle the extremely plentiful amounts of violence and nudity), then I'd recommend giving this film a look, especially if your only experience thus far with Berserk is the original TV series and you've since longed for some closure (which you actually do get here!). Overall, I'm quite excited about these films now, and I can't wait to see the next arc unfold.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10. While still nowhere close to perfect, Descent finally manages to capture the atmosphere as well as the human element long present in the Berserk manga, but painfully absent in the two previous films.