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Griffith's words about true friends still resound in Guts' head. They haunt him on the battlefield and in his downtime, making him question his moves and motivation. This doesn't stop him from fighting for Griffith as the Band of the Hawk joins the other forces of the king to take down Doldrey, a nigh impregnable fortress that has never been successfully besieged. In between battles, Guts continues to ponder where his life is headed if he sticks with the Band of the Hawk, strengthens his bond with woman warrior Casca, and ultimately makes a decision that will have a great impact not only on his future, but on the rest of the Hawks' as well.
Debuting on Viz's Neon Alley channel for PLAYSTATION Network and XboxLive months before it will be available on either DVD or Blu-Ray, the second film in the projected trilogy that attempts to recreate the experience of Kentarou Miura's Berserk manga, The Battle for Doldrey is both lesser and more than its predecessor, The Egg of the King. There is a higher-stakes feel to the battles, which definitely ups the excitement of the action, and less time on the battlefield in general helps to round out the characters, which in general is a good thing. Unfortunately the story suffers from pervasive misogyny that was not nearly as pronounced in the first film and some weak animation, which was present previously, continues to drag what otherwise should have been a visual treat to a lower level.
While I would not suggest watching this second film without having seen the first one, there is a brief recap of its events to open the show. We are then moved forward in time to yet another epic battle. Heads, hands, and other assorted body parts fly about as swords swing and slash with impressive energy, rendered only slightly less effective by the blatant and clumsy use of 3D animation. The film quickly runs into its first major issue, however, when Casca, the capable female fighter, clutches her stomach and says something to the effect of, “Oh no, not now.” She then proceeds to be nearly killed by a viciously misogynist warrior, and a short time later we find that her fighting skill was drastically reduced by the simple monthly fact known as menstruation. Yes, Casca couldn't fight and got a fever because she had her period. The cruel words of her enemy and other characters disparaging her for daring to be a female doing “a man's job” can be, if not excused, than at least explained by Berserk's medieval setting, which is quite well done. What is harder to forgive is the notion that a woman in her late teens or early twenties would be totally incapacitated by something natural that she experiences every single month. This sort of anti-female mythology does no one any favors and drastically decreases Casca's power as the lone female character with agency at this point in the story.
A better depiction of Casca can be seen in the two attempted rape scenes. While both are unsettling, the way she handles the latter shows growth in her character, similar to the way that Guts is actively taking his experiences and using them to set out on his own path in life. Neither Guts nor Casca will allow another to take advantage of them by the end of the film, and that is a satisfying thing to behold. We see a similar devolution in Griffith's character as he grapples with the realization that things will not always go his way. This culminates disastrously at the end of the film and creates a real urge to know how things are going to pan out in the third movie.
While the first Golden Age Arc film had one scene of full-frontal female nudity, the primary cause of its M rating was clearly violence. The Battle for Doldrey is still fairly violent, but it has dramatically upped the sexual factor as well, with full-frontal female and male nudity portrayed, complete with pubic hair. As has been mentioned, there are two attempted rape scenes (admittedly the dialogue is more disturbing than the images) and also one full-out consensual sex scene. It clearly isn't hentai – no genitals are shown – but it is still quite graphic, although not, as we find out later, gratuitous.
The animation tends to be a low point for the film, as it continues the first movie's habit of using 3D animation for battle scenes or unimportant characters talking. This is jarring and doesn't look particularly good from an aesthetic standpoint. By contrast, 2D segments look quite nice, and the detail on clothing and furnishings is excellent. Regrettably continuity is less good, and the details of a character's jewelery changes from scene to scene; this gets worse as the film nears the end. Voices are in general good, and Marc Diraison's Guts gets a little more lighthearted for a while here, both in terms of lines and delivery. Unimportant characters are more likely to be distinguished by poor animation than poor voice acting, keeping the sound good even if the visuals are at times lacking.
Watching on Neon Alley is in and of itself an interesting experience. The app is easy enough to download through the PlayStation Store, although you must sign up for an account on their website in order to log in, and once you have it installed, the station will show up in the TV section of the PS3's menu. For those of us used to streaming our anime or popping in a DVD, the fact that you may find yourself in the middle of an episode once the channel begins broadcasting is a bit disconcerting. Likewise for those of us on the East Coast, the fact that all times are exclusive listed in Pacific time is a bit strange. The lack of ability to pause the broadcast is also enough to give those of us spoiled by modern television pause, so set your brains back ten years before you watch – if you have to go to the bathroom mid-episode, you're going to miss some content. Fortunately for needed breaks, there are commercials, which was odd in a film but would make more sense in a television episode. All adds are strictly anime/game/manga related, and some viewers may be surprised to see ads for shows licensed by Funimation and Sentai as well as the expected Viz fare. The broadcast quality will vary depending on the strength and stability of your internet connection. I experienced small buffering pauses, which resulted in brief jumps as the show caught up with the broadcast. This was more prevalent in the latter half of the second film and was very annoying. Video quality was decidedly not HD, but certainly no worse than the average TV broadcast. A Neon Alley watermark is visible at all times in the lower right corner of the screen; it's irritating at first, but one does get used to it.
On the whole, The Battle for Daldrey is a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses. Casca's treatment will be a major issue for some, but Guts' and Griffith's character arcs are interesting and well defined. Shoddy-looking 3D animation drags things down, but lush colors and details on court clothing and Griffith's armor bring them back up. Perhaps it is best to say that there is something to like and something to hate in this movie for almost everyone. While that may be true of most things, there are few places where those lines are so clearly drawn as in this film.
Overall (dub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : C-
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Guts and Griffith's thoughts and motivations are sorely tested, with good results. Casca does appear to learn from parts of her past. Details on clothing and accessories are luscious, good voice acting in general.
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