My introduction to the Berserk mythos came much too late in the game -- in 2000, thanks to the tragically obscure and wildly bloody Sega Dreamcast videogame, Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage -- and I quickly found myself working backwards through the saga, first by way of OLM's 1997 anime series, then volume after volume of Kentaro Miura's original manga. Miura's manga continues to thrive (the U.S. edition of vol. 36 arrived in October 2012, vol. 37 is due in the near future), and I remain an insatiable fan. So it was with great excitement... and trepidation that I slid Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King into my Blu-ray player. To call the first film in director Toshiyuki Kubooka and writer Ichir˘ ďkouchi's proposed animated adaptation of the entire manga ambitious would be an understatement to end all understatements, but Studio 4░C is off to a promising start.
Guts prepares to brandish his sword...
Berserk follows the rise of Guts (voiced by Marc Diraison in the original Japanese and Marc Diraison in the film's English-language dub), an orphaned loner and battle-hardened mercenary who wields a massive broadsword and an unspoken authority that makes him a force of intimidating nature on the battlefield. But when Guts meets his match in the powerful leader of an on-the-march mercenary corps named Griffith (Takahiro Sakurai, Kevin T. Collins), he pledges himself to the deadly swordsman, joins the Band of the Hawk, and lends his skill to Griffith's cause. It isn't long, though, before Guts begins to question his newfound loyalty to Griffith and the strange gem that hangs around the man's neck, the Egg of the King.
The Golden Age Arc I is expected to accomplish quite a lot in its much too short 77-minutes, and in many regards it succeeds. The flipside being those moments where it fails; storytelling shortcuts and shortcomings that make the first film in Kubooka and ďkouchi's soon-to-be sprawling adaptation feel more episodic than epic. Only by the end of the first steps on Guts' journey does everything begin to congeal, hinting at a stronger, more cohesive tale to be told in Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey. Thankfully, Guts, Griffith and female freedom fighter Casca (Toa Yukinari, Carrie Keranen) are handled well (particularly by each character's voice actors), giving newcomers just enough backstory and motivation to propel the Band of the Hawk toward the fate that awaits its warriors in the future, and granting longtime Berserk fans enough of a foundation to make later installments in the series (presumably) more compelling.
Animation and character design is where Arc I shines, and the swordplay, castle sieges and grand-scale battles are as fierce and devastating as any. Studio 4░C has a grasp on the palette, atmosphere and framing needed to deliver a more cinematic experience, and you can almost picture the live-action stunner The Egg of the King would be if it weren't an animated feature. At the same time, Kubooka and ďkouchi never sacrifice character on the altar of style, spending far more time establishing who Guts and Griffith are as swordsmen than what they can do with their weapons. For some, the bursts of explosive action followed by long conversations will be a disappointment. For others, particularly those weened on the manga, it will be a godsend, as it suggests, perhaps more than anything else, that Kubooka and ďkouchi's adaptation will strike a welcome balance between story and action. The end result? A somewhat fractured first chapter that oozes potential.
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King features a solid 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that only suffers from a few pesky issues; the first being banding, which crops up too often to earn a pass, and some slight macroblocking and exceedingly minor (most likely inherent) aliasing, neither of which amount to much a distraction. Otherwise, everything looks as it should. The film's diffuse softness and desaturated hues are intentional, primaries are restrained but lovely, black levels are deep and contrast, though a touch underwhelming on occasion, adheres to its animators' vision. Detail remains rewarding throughout, with refined line art, revealing background textures, and a welcome stability in any given scene's hand-drawn and CG elements. All told, The Egg of the King may not offer the most absorbing or technically proficient presentation, but it does a fine job setting the stage for the saga and the filmmakers' chosen aesthetic.
Viz Pictures has included comparable Japanese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks, and both deliver a confident, capable lossless mix. Voices are clear, neatly prioritized and reasonably well-grounded, LFE output boasts plenty of low-end strength and presence, rear speaker activity is engaging (albeit a tad light on the whole), and dynamics are quite good. All the while, pans are smooth and directional effects are accurate, making either choice -- Japanese or English -- an engrossing, technically polished experience for the listener.
Arc I: The Egg of the King lays the groundwork for a film series with lofty ambitions, and does so with poise and prowess. Newcomers to the Berserk series will find it takes a bit too long for the story and characters to connect (a particular problem considering the relatively short runtime), but future installments will hopefully reveal such seemingly apparent flaws to be nothing more than mild growing pains. Thankfully, Viz presents the good, the bad and the ugly with a solid video presentation and a pair of strong DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks, which goes a long way toward making The Egg of the King a worthwhile investment. And with two more films and Blu-rays already on the way, that bodes well both for the series and its high definition releases.
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In the fall, Warner Home Entertainment and Viz Media will bring Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King to Blu-ray. This anime series draws inspiration from volumes four, five, and six of author Kentaro Miura's manga series. Berserk: The Golden Age ...
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