The higher the climb, the longer and more striking the fall.
What They Say:
For three years, Guts believed his mission was to pursue Griffith’s dream together with him. But in order to become Griffith’s equal and truly be called his friend, Guts realizes he will have to leave the Band of the Hawk. At the same time, a bloody battle to capture the impenetrable Fortress of Doldrey from the Empire of Chuder is about to begin. The Band of the Hawk will face an army 30,000 strong!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As the adaptation of the manga, streamlined as it is here, continues with the second feature, we get primarily one larger story that takes place in it but also a number of smaller ones. The structure of the film is fairly familiar as it works to adapt different parts of a very lengthy series while still focusing entirely on the “before” part of when things go bad for this group. The first installment in the trilogy did far better than I expected when it came to providing the right feeling even if it was going over familiar territory because it made it feel fresh as it had the right kind of pacing and the progress overall covered the right ground, even if it felt like it excised some of my favorite quieter moments from the TV series itself and the original manga.
With the second feature, the events from the first are still looming large in the mind after Guts and Casca heard what Griffith really thinks of them in a way. The view of them through the prism of his dreams and goals and the way they latch onto his rather than their own is a pretty telling thing, but it also makes a great deal of sense since it reduces them in his eyes to their own value and meaning in the world. Griffith’s past, which gets touched on lightly here a couple of times with it made obvious that there’s an immense amount of pain and internal shame to it, has defined him in a particular way and that has made him cold towards others, even while he presents a friendliness that can be hugely off-putting. A lot of this comes through with the way that only Guts is the one that he’s befriended in a larger way, more than any of the others, but he’s still not on the level of an equal for him.
Unfortunately, the problems that exist between Guts and Griffith doesn’t come to the forefront until the third act here, but the first two acts more than make up for it. The opening act moves us into the latest stage of the war against Chuder as the Band of the Hawk faces off against another of the many armies that it has. It’s a decent battle, but it’s focus is on Casca as the main general there is a huge ass as he taunts her mercilessly and his attacks manage to actually have some impact on her. It’s Guts that saves the day, but the two end up separated from everyone else as she’s wounded and they’re on the run while she copes through a fever and “women problems” that has Guts frustrated about. The two do finally manage – after three years of serving together – to bond a bit. But it’s a tense and frustrating bond that forms because of her fever and general feelings and the way he handles things. But the two of them are definitely engaging to watch, especially as we see a slightly softer side to Guts.
The middle arc of the show is insanely fun as it revolves all around the war itself, and the title of the film, with the fortress of Doldrey. This particular place was once a Midland stronghold along the border of the two nations, but it was lost a hundred years ago and has been the main foothold of Chuder into Midland. It’s decadent on the inside, at least with the man in charge there, but is filled with lots of soldiers and powerful men who are very, very capable at what they do. With the main thrust of the war always being that there is this place sending out more soldiers, every attempt to take it back has fallen over the century. It’s little surprise that Griffith volunteers to take it, to the shock of everyone else, since it will allow him to further his own goals of gaining power and influence, even if it creates more enemies within the military of Midland because of it. The fight takes a good chunk of the feature and while the tactic is a bit obvious from the get go, it doesn’t diminish the fun of it and the way it unfolds, from Guts’ absolute brutality at times to the way Casca grows and literally dances her way through one of the fights.
The power side of the feature with Griffith is hugely entertaining since he’s managed to come so far considering his station. His influence has grown, but there are daggers eying him. But he looks to seize more power, which comes from a very intense sexual situation with Charlotte, but that has its own traps to it that are laid down before him. It’s something that comes at the same time that Guys has opted to leave and forge his own path towards his own dream, and it’s that kind of pivotal moment where the fates and fortunes change for everyone involved, with Griffith being the first to fall. Part of it is just his overreach, as he does go far with what he does here, but when you have that moment where Guts and Griffith revisit their fight and it goes differently, the look on Griffith’s face makes it clear that his luck has ended and everything is about to change.
While the second feature is a bit different tonally from the first, since it’s less about introductions and more about how the group dynamic has changed after certain revelations, it’s still a very strong feature, equal in footing with the first. The action is more continual throughout and there’s more meaning behind it as the Band of the Hawk raises its stature and achieves more. But it’s also kept personal, from what we see of Casca’s past and hints of Griffiths to the way Judah goes off completely on Guts. The big set pieces are a real thrill to watch as the battle unfolds at Doldrey but it’s also the smaller moments that win you over, from the amazement over Guts final decisions to the time spent in the forest early on. The second feature manages to do a lot of things here and it has me hugely excited to see the third installment.
Content Grade: A