What They Say:
He trusts no one; only his sword. He doesn’t have a place to call home. The lone mercenary Guts travels the land, where a hundred-year-old war is taking place. His ferocity and ability to take down enemies attracts the attention of Griffith, the leader of a group of mercenaries called “The Band of the Hawk” who wants to recruit Guts for his band.
As the Band of the Hawk fight together and their bond as a unit is strengthened, Griffith and Guts’ bond deepens even more. Thanks to their continued success on the battlefield, Griffith achieves the first step in fulfilling his goal: his band of mercenaries becomes a full-fledged army within the Midland Kingdom. But despite all their success, Guts begins to question his reasons for fighting for Griffith’s dream. Unknown to Guts, this unyielding dream is about to bestow a horrible fate on them both.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in 5.1 using the DTS-HD MA codec and does the same for the new English language dub. The feature has a good mix of music and action that utilizes the rear channels well to create a pretty good sound mix to enhance the action and build up the mood. The forward soundstage is no slouch either as ther’s plenty of directionality and impact to it with some solid bass throughout. Dialogue is well placed and it works some good depth at times as well. The opening song in particular worked really well for me in how it used all the channels to get its feel across. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally in theaters in 2012, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The feature, animated by Studio 4C, has a rich feel to it with the dettail in the backgrounds, though the CG modeling is something that may not work well for some. The overall visual design for it is good though and the transfer captures it well, with its muted colors and the smoothness of the animation itself. Colors are strong with a solid look to them and there’s plenty of shading going on here. Detail stands out well and the camera movements that are used allows it to feel more vibrant and stylized than we usually get for a lot of features.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case which manages to work well enough with the darker colors of the cover artwork. The main image is a familiar one as we get Griffith and Guts together with familiar expressions to their faces while they’re surrounded by others from their side and a look at the locales that they deal with. It’s a good collage style that works well to set the mood. The back cover goes for a simple approach with a red background that lets the white logo stand out as well as two small strips of shots from the show itself. The summary is kept minimal and is a bit hard to read with black on red. There’s a lot of production credits in even small font size that’s even harder to read though. The discs features aren’t laid out in a grid but are done under one of the picture strips that’s hard to read as well, especially in trying to find the basics of how it’s set up. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design certainly sets the mood for the feature well as it goes for a letterbox approach where clips play through the middle, but it’s obscured by dirt and dark blood splatters that feels very appropriate. The upper right corner brings in the logo and feature name while the left has a banner which has the selections for the navigation that also doubles as the pop-up menu. Language setup is a breeze and the menu as a whole is easy to navigate. The feature defaults to the English track as you’d expect and it ignored player presets that I had to pick up the Japanese track and English subtitles.
Other than the Neon Alley trailer, the only extra here is a production gallery with about thirty images that show off the character designs, some color model pieces and a few background combinations to it.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As excited as I was when the announcement cam down that there were going to be three Berserk movies, there was also a huge amount of trepidation to it. I had been exposed to the property first through the 1990’s anime TV series, which was a cruel work that didn’t get as far along as it could, but the show as a whole made me an ardent fan of it, especially with that opening music. I eventually got into the manga as that came out, but I fell out of it along with manga in general after a few years. But Berserk has long been something special to me because it didn’t hold back, it struck into darker areas and it worked with some engaging characters. Can a movie trilogy, with relatively short running times each, really achieve the same kind of thing?
The opening feature doesn’t stray far, though it’s streamlined, as we get the introduction of young Guts, a mercenary for hire who is quite good at what he does but is just unknown as it’s early in his career. A career that takes off rather well after a battle leads him to killing one of the more dangerous opponents there in a brutal way. While the mercenary force there wants to sign him on, he’s intent on finding his own way, which for better or worse later has him encountering a group known as the Band of the Hawk. It’s almost comical how they try to kill him at first and then end up bringing him within the group since he does have skill and Guts impresses their somewhat effeminate leader, Griffith. But Griffith is one that has earned and commands great respect for his own abilities and he’s able to make Guts a member, one that after three years has grown decently into the role of a captain within the force.
Berserk works forward progress in some interesting ways, but I’ll admit that it’s difficult to be sure how much of it is truly in the feature itself and how much of it is just my own overall knowledge of the property and where it goes, filling in the blanks along the way. The story is one that is for the most part kind of standard fantasy fare where the mercenary band ends up aligning with Midland in order to fight and we see them gain more recognition as time goes on and as they deal with enemies, such as the Black Rams of Chuder. Each new step adds more to what Griffith is able to do because of their accomplishments, and seeing him become a member of nobility – a rarity for someone of common birth – provides a tweak to things that keeps you guessing about where it’ll go and what Griffith is after. The obvious is there with power, but you know there’s more to it than that as more tidbits come out, particularly with the Egg of the King pendant that he has.
The enjoyment for a lot of this comes from seeing how Guts interacts with this stable crew of mercenaries even after three years. He’s fully accepted there, outside of Casca since she finds him to be problematic and gets between her and Griffith since she has such an interest in him, but for the most part Guts has found his place and is content. For the first time in his life at that. The bond between them is one that is explored here in very engaging ways, especially as Griffith moves further up the social ladder, but even more so when Griffith asks him to do some dirty work and it goes right yet wrong. And it’s here, that accidentally, Guts learns the truth about his relationship with Griffith and it makes him realize things about himself as well. It’s a brutal moment when you find out something about a friendship and discover that it’s far different than you thought.
The general premise for this film in the trilogy is all about setting the foundations and it works well. We get some good action scenes, personal and larger in scale, with plenty of bloodshed and dismemberment. Some of the layout of how the lands work and we’re introduced to the Band of the Hawk as the key players, which are covered pretty well even if the supporting characters are all pretty basic. But we also get the introduction of the supernatural elements with Nosferatur Zodd showing up, making it clear that there’s something very special about Griffith, but also Guts based on what he’s able to do in holding his own against such a beast. It hints more of what’s to come and it’s an event that opens up Griffith to him a bit more now that he knows more of what to expect from him. There’s a lot going on in the film, and while there are quiet moments, everything does consistently move along in an engaging way, leaving me wanting more when it finished.
I’ve long loved the Berserk property and seeing it get such an engaging and well done opening movie has me excited for the rest. I love that they went against the norm and made it 2.35:1 for its aspect ratio, I’m finding the animation style perfect for it and I’m glad they didn’t ease up on the bloodshed. The first feature naturally skims some things from the original work, but it tells an engaging story here and does it well. This is a property that is one of the few that I really want to get a big screen Hollywood adaptation of, or even more hopeful is a proper HBO style serial that covers the manga faithfully, but what this opening feature does is to cover a lot of familiar ground but in a great way with a slick production. Very recommended.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Production Gallery
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: November 27th, 2013
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.