Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1: The Egg of the King (VIZ Media, 18+)

The battle scenes are spectacular, and in general anything large-scale, scary, or bloody comes off well.



For those of us who live in regulated, corporatized societies, there’s something inherently attractive about bands of warriors gathered around a charismatic leader (think Robin Hood and his merry men) or lone warriors facing down evil all by themselves (think Gary Cooper in High Noon). Americans have their Westerns, the Japanese have their Sengoku period stories, and, thanks to the manga and anime series Berserk, we also have a Japanese take on the European Middle Ages structured along these same lines.  
I’m going to admit upfront that I haven’t read the manga version of Berserk or seen any of the previous anime in this series—my total knowledge of the Berserk universe is based on the first movie in The Golden Age Arc, produced by Studio 4°C. My initial impression is that it’s a pretty cool place to visit in fantasy, alternating between a fairy-tale version of the Middle Ages with beautiful princesses and gleaming castles, and the far grittier world of bloody battles and wholesale slaughter carried out largely by people who have very few choices in their lives. There’s also a supernatural element in this invented universe, and it’s no friend of mankind, giving you three worlds to move among: that inhabited by royalty, that inhabited by nearly everyone else, and things outside of human knowing.
For all that, the basic conflicts in Berserk come down to characters and relationships familiar from any high school romance. That’s not a complaint, particularly in light of research that suggests that many of us continue playing out high school relationships for the rest of our lives (see Jennifer Senior’s take on this phenomenon here), but just information about what to expect with this series. The key players are Guts, the bad-boy hero who just has to do things his own way (and surely over the course of the series we will learn how he got that way); Casca, the rebel girl who likes to do boy stuff but also has feelings for Guts; and Griffith, leader of the Band of the Hawk, a charismatic, long-locked bishie boy who clearly has more than a merely professional interest in Guts.
It’s hard to say too much about the story of Berserk because this film is clearly incomplete by itself, introducing lots of plot details that will presumably be explained and resolved in later installments. Nonetheless, Berserk is an interesting historical fantasy, and I’m eager to see what happens in the remaining installments.
The animation quality is similar to that of Inuyasha—it’s not anything that’s going to get nominated for an Academy Award, but it at least fulfills the expectations of its audience, and sometimes does a good deal more than that. The battle scenes are spectacular, and in general anything large-scale, scary, or bloody comes off well, while the more static scenes among the royalty are a good deal duller and more conventional. The only extras on the disk are the trailer and some character sketches. | Sarah Boslaugh

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