I first saw the original Berserk TV series about 2 years ago and thought it was pretty good. By ‘pretty good’ I mean I consider it to be the greatest story ever told, better than The Odyssey, Hamlet, Citizen Kane and Big Oiled Butts 3 combined. 15 years later they’ve brought out a Berserk movie. A trilogy no less, the first of which was just released in good old illegal format for all of us dirty foreign pirate scum to watch. Early impressions: They’ve changed a few things. Very few things.
The movie covered about 10 episodes of the original, from when Guts first meets Griffith to the part where the assassination attempts start happening in the royal court. They cut out a fair amount of scenes, the most noticeable of which being there was no naked water fight. Seriously, no naked water fight means you might as well not call it Berserk anymore. Not that the homoerotic subtext isn’t there anymore. Forget subtext, Guts outright states that he’ll happily be Griffith’s whore. Berserk has always ridden on their relationship and how closely interlinked their goals in life are and how they define each other, so at the very least they got that part right.
The movie did cut out a lot of content, as I mentioned before, but the fact that the only content I can recall them skipping was the naked water fight goes a long way to showing how what they cut out wasn’t vital to the story. It did feel a bit mechanical the way they jumped from plot point to plot point, making the movie feel disjointed like you could feel the gaps where the episode would normally end or the manga chapter would cut out, but perhaps this is only noticeable to me as a fan of the original. They still got across the importance of the relationship between Guts and Griffith, along with Casca’s jealousy, which is all that really matters.
The main big change they made, apart from streamlining the story, was the animate the movie entirely in CG. As much as I hate to chime along with everyone else who talks about this movie, but the majority in correct in this case. The CG simply does not look good. It might look good compared to many of the other CG anime I’ve seen over the years, but it still looked awkward and unnatural. From the trailers I thought the character animation for the CG looked fantastic, but now having watched the movie I have to confess that those scenes I thought were great CG were actually just standard 2D animation. When they cut to the free-flowing CG stuff it looked plasticky and artificial.
The use of CG ties into something else bigger going on with the tone of this Berserk movie. In his review, psgels pointed out that it was going for a more high epic fantasy adventure rather than the gloomy gritty affair that was the original TV series, which I’d have to agree with. This does come with its own set of problems though. The fight scenes in Berserk are as bloody as hell, with characters heads being cleaved in two and arms flying around and the camera being smeared with blood. The original Berserk had all this as well, but here it felt gratuitous and immature, like you had some suger-rushing 15 year old boy off camera going “fuck yeah now cut his head orf yeah!”.
The original Berserk was harsh and brutal. The level of violence fit the tone because it was a tough world they lived in and people die and have brown smeared over everything. By no means do I have anything against high fantasy, what with the Lord of the Rings movies being my favourite movies of all time. But with this mechanical look and bright colour palette, the gore feels out-of-place. I maintain that the best fully CG anime is Fireball, precisely because the fake mechanical look to CG works when the characters are all robots. It doesn’t suit something that’s as gritty and dirty as Berserk is. God only knows how they’re going to handle what happens later on in the story when shit really gets brutal.
That brings me on nicely to my final point about this movie. This Berserk remake trilogy plans to cover the ‘Golden Age’ arc, which is exactly the same material the original TV series covered. It’s still the same old Berserk story. That story may be fantastic. The duel between Guts and Griffith where Guts bites down on the sword is still an awesome scene, as is the washed up Guts standing on the stairs after the assassination and looking up at Griffith as he gives his speech about dreams. These are still powerful scenes that show Berserk is as great a story as it always was, even in this streamlined version. But it brings so little new to the table to Berserk that I don’t get why it exists. What little it does bring, shifting the tone to a more high fantasy one, makes the darker and more brutal elements of the story seem gratuitous and silly. I’ll have to wait to watch the rest of the trilogy to make some sort of final statement on this, but I don’t think this is really worth watching. If you’re a newcomer, watch the original TV series or pick up the manga if you’re more of a manga person. At least those versions have the naked water fight.