Berserk: Egg of the King (Golden Age Arc part 1) is screening at the Madman Reelanime Festival, 13-26 September. Check the website for screening times at a city near you.
Okay, I’m going to say this once and only once – be warned. If you’re already familiar with the original 1997 anime series then you’ll be aware that it is, possibly beyond all expectation, a surprisingly gripping story. If you’re not already a fan and just thought you’d check it out because it looked cool then be prepared – Berserk: Egg of the King is a surprisingly gripping story.
Right about now you might be thinking – why is the fact that Berserk has a gripping story a problem? Well, it’s not, except for the part where this is only the first part of a three-part reboot collectively entitled The Golden Age. Originally, the anime and the manga it was based on started a significant amount of time after the story featured here – this is in fact the backstory. In the old anime, you’re introduced to the protagonist Guts as the Black Swordsman, a ruthless demi-god of a man mercilessly hunting down members of the Apostles of the Hand of God. Why this is the case is something you discovered later; later being now in the 2012 reboot.
Set against a backdrop of medieval warfare of the old school sword and sorcery variety, Berserk is bloody, violent and wonderfully epic, but it’s also built upon one of the strongest narrative vehicles imaginable – the friendship and enmity between two driven men. In the first installment, Egg of the King, this relationship between our young, talented and perpetually angry anti-hero Guts, and Griffith, the charismatic (and inordinately pretty) leader of the Band of Hawks mercenaries, is only really in its fledgling stages, but there’s enough happening by the end of part 1 to see the train wreck coming down the tracks. Guts doesn’t care who he’s working for or what their cause is as long as he can Hulk smaaash at his personal demons. Griffith on the other hand has loftier goals and sees in Guts a means to attain them. Guts gets cranky, Griffith tricks him into giving his word and joining the Hawks and voilà, instant recipe for epic male friendship.
It’s practically textbook – Guts isn’t all bad and Griffith isn’t all good and somewhere in the middle they recognise in each other some unspoken kinship. But as all such stories must go, events soon begin to take a slightly sour turn as the characters’ secrets and weaknesses begin to come to light – how far is Griffith – deadly little cherub that he is – willing to go to realise his ambitions? And will Guts be able to reconcile the things he will be asked to do as Griffith’s main attack dog with the intrinsic goodness locked away inside him? Will Casca ever not be a sexy psycho stalker who can’t make her mind up between her loyalty for her leader and her attraction to our big bad hero? Inquiring minds want to know.
You will however have to wait to find out, and that’s why I’m warning you. This production of Berserk is more sophisticated than the original, both in terms of visuals as well as some of the already dark-enough themes, but even before they splashed it with glossy colours and all new and improved CG it was already immensely watchable. This new approach – dispensing with the Guts-to-be persona and just starting at the beginning – has eliminated the arguably sloppy story-telling hooks that so many classic manga once liked to employ and pretty much gone straight for the heart. By the time the third installment rocks around, I will happily challenge anyone watching to deny they’ve been waiting on the edge of their seat for the angsty Hollywood blockbuster conclusion. Actually, what am I saying? If only the average Hollywood blockbuster was this exciting.