It was much too long to be called an OVA…¬† but it was far too short to be called a film.

Well, if you guys didn’t know for some reason I’m a gigantic fan of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk manga series. Everything about the cruel Black Swordsman Guts’s journey has touched and moved me in ways few other manga could ever dream of doing. It’s a pretty big influence on my webcomic And Once Again if I’m being truthful, Guts being one of the primary sources of inspiration for Gekido. I never watched the old anime adaptation and I’m not really interested in doing so since it’s older and it cut out a lot of stuff, and for the most part I was going to avoid these three anime films as well. But I was bored and I like to show my girlfriend stuff that she isn’t into yet since I absorb so much fucking media. I felt the films would be a decent enough introduction to the story of Guts and Griffith since she doesn’t usually just start a manga if I tell her to, plus she’s not big on gore which is preeetty abundant in Berserk. But lo and behold, she was able to really enjoy this first movie with me a few hours ago. We were both aware of some pretty blatant problems with it though…

Well for starters, holy Behelit this movie condensed a ton of shit. The pacing was abysmal, I couldn’t believe how fast it was going. I already knew a whole bunch was going to get cut in order to make the movie barely reach the 70 minute mark but… I was a little in shock of just how damn much got cut. Granted my memory of the earlier parts of the Golden Age might be somewhat hazy, but I know there was plenty more than what happened in this. Sure, plenty of it was fluff that got cut but what matters is that cutting so many scenes left and right ended up turning the whole first half of the movie into a bizarre montage of scenes that fly by in the dark and would be sure to leave newcomers baffled to anything going on. Characters bruhsed by exposition really fast and the entirety of Guts’s childhood was summed up in a trippy fever dream where the audio was distorted and hard to make out what the hell is actually happening. I mean geez, this movie was only like 65 minutes long. Would it have killed them for an extra 15 minutes to show Guts’s childhood properly? I don’t mind if they only imply the rape, but it’s all pretty fundamental to his character development and someone just going into this won’t even be able to tell it’s supposed to be a flashback and they’ll have no understanding of why Guts is the way he is by the time he meets Griffith. However, I digress…. Fortunately, the heart of the manga is still in the film. My girlfriend was able to get invested just due to the charm of Guts and Griffith’s humorous banter and developing tragic bromance, thankfully without much context.

I do think that the second half of the movie got its shit together quite a lot better and it slowed down considerably. Although when it happened I was a little stunned over how they went straight into the Nosferatu Zodd fight. It just didn’t have very much punch to it in the movie… Zodd was supposed to be this huge, twisted experience for Guts as he and Griffith have their first taste in fighting the demonic and learn how little they truly understand about this world. But in the movie since we’ve only had about 1-2 scenes of them fighting human wars together under the Band of the Hawk it’s like ‘oh hey suddenly there’s demons how interesting, huh Guts?’ instead of the huge emotional struggle that the Zodd fight was supposed to be.

While we’re on the topic of Zodd, let’s address the elephant in this movie. A huge amount of the animation is CGI, most noticeably the characters in practically every fight scene. I actually didn’t mind that much for the most part, the character models were very accurate to Miura’s drawings compared to… Berserk 2016… *sigh*. Ahem, yeah so the character models all looked pretty damn good. Especially Guts and Griffith, but Zodd was a bigger problem. He was too stiff in my opinion and he wasn’t as threatening as he was in the manga. The CGI animation made him look more like a video game boss rather than a major plot revelation. The mob characters during the war scenes also looked pretty bad at times, it was like if you aren’t an important character than you get to stand around like an NPC, and some of the armor was much too colorful and distracting for the world of Berserk. Or at the very least the armor was not helped by the movie’s cellshading. In terms of actual animation I was surprised on how smooth and pretty looking the movement of the characters during fights really is. I was on my toes so to speak during the fights because of the great weight attributed to Guts’s claymore. The fights were choreographed in such a way where you can’t help but cringe as soon as he swings his sword just because it feels like their’s so much force behind each of Guts’ swings. I really wish these guys were the ones who made Berserk 2016, as I would kill to see how exactly they’d make the Dragonslayer sword look and sound in motion. It’d be hard¬† to be worse than the sound it makes in Berserk 2016… his sword sounds like a baseball bat hitting a trashcan instead of ‘a slab of iron the cuts through the air itself’.

The 3D animation was a bit distracting in the slower scenes of the latter half of the movie. I found myself noticing that none of these background character models were even breathing, they were just standing there like statues. A tad distracting… The 2D animation was very well done too even if most of the 2D stuff was characters just talking. Can we talk about how beautiful and ethereal Griffith’s hair is in this movie though? That was some extremely pretty animation, translating the absolutely otherwordly character of Griffith into animation is a very tricky thing to do but this anime studio more than pulled it off. The way his silver curls flickered in the breeze gave him a serene beauty that was truly comparable to the manga. I find that pretty astonishing as Griffith is an extremely difficult character to render because if you mess it up he comes off as either too girly or too masculine. The perfectly rendered Griffith is a absolutely beautiful combination of both. While I’m on the subject of beauty I’d like to take a moment to go over how incredibly stunning the backgrounds in this movie are. The color choices are just phenomenal in every scene and invoke the prettiest of classical landscape painters and they help Midland to look like a believable fantasy setting only slightly different than our own medieval England.

I felt the movie was a lot stronger in its second half since it slowed the hell down and actually tried to tell more of a story, when it focuses on the assassination Griffith orders Guts to undertake. They captured this scene pretty beautifully on par with the manga, especially the scene where Guts accidentally murders his targets young son, Adonis. I can’t get over how good the flow of action is in this movie, as his lunge swinging around the corner of the door to attack was very powerful looking and the impact of his sword piercing the kid’s lung was striking to say the least. The scene the movie ends on(a baffling point to end the movie I thought) was also lovely, where Griffith speaks like a philosopher to the Princess regarding his ideals and the importance of chasing a dream at the expense of everyone who follows him. I felt the raw depression surge through Guts as he realized in his own mind that Griffith doesn’t regard him as a friend- which is a case of irony since Guts wasn’t meant to hear this and in truth Guts was the only exception Griffith had to call a true friend. This misunderstanding is what will ultimately drive the wedge between the two and lead them to become the man and demon they end up becoming. Speaking of, I found the foreshadowing to be a little too blunt… I mean, yeah what they say happens in the manga but it felt a little too blatant when put into motion as the camera lingers on them as Griffith says “Oh I’ll never change, Guts. I’ll always be the same old Griffith…” *cue laughtrack*.

I went into this Berserk movie knowing exactly what it would be. A very trimmed down and castrated Berserk… but if you love Berserk as much as I do, you’d still fine plenty to love in this movie. I have a higher hope for the other two films in the trilogy as they have longer runtimes and also have less things they need to cut. They shouldn’t be as stripped down as this first one was. But yeah, solid stuff still.