Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 13th 2014
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc III
Blu-Ray - The Advent
Griffith has been captured by Midland's king, vengeful over the despoiling of his daughter. The Band of the Hawk has been scattered, its last remnants hiding in the deeps of the wild. Led by an exhausted Casca, they plot Griffith's rescue. When a mercenary attack brings Guts back, he and Casca have a bitter reckoning, from which a tender bond springs. Reunited, the core of the Hawks executes the rescue. But what's rescued isn't the Griffith of old. Broken by years of torture in the bowels of Midland's dungeons, Griffith is little more than an inarticulate ragdoll. Hearts crushed anew, Casca, Guts, and the Hawks must figure where to go next. But their plans are for naught. For inside that ragdoll body, all his ambitions made impossible, his feelings left without outlet, Griffith's conqueror's sprit finds ultimate despair. And in that despair the Band of the Hawk finds its doom. For it is time that the Egg of the King returns to its owner. Time for the Four Angels, the immortal fingers of the Godhand, to descend. Time for the Advent. The Eclipse. And nothing will ever be the same.
The Eclipse. Those two words can send a shiver through the souls of certain fans. The ones who came unwittingly upon the Eclipse, either while riding the red-blooded ferocity of Naohito Takahashi's television adaptation or while heedlessly devouring Kentarou Miura's twisted manga epic. All of us thought we knew what Berserk was capable of. Even at its happiest, it wasn't for the faint of heart. It was gory and nihilistic and unforgiving, capable of terrible, irrevocable things. We thought we knew that. The Eclipse taught us that we knew nothing.
It was the evil capstone of the Golden Age arc, the crowning horror of Takahashi's meticulously crafted masterpiece. All the most vicious impulses of the tale; every intimation of doom; all that was bloody and mad and unnatural, seething just below the surface; all the rich, complex relations; the cannily interwoven feelings; the perfectly sculpted personalities; every delicately spun character thread; the hidden darknesses; the dreams of the future; the crisscrossing ambitions; the whole human tapestry, in all its ugliness and beauty—the Eclipse took it all, pulled it together, and then exploded it in a gut-splattered feast of unparalleled narrative cruelty. It didn't stab you in the heart so much as burn it to ashes. To this day it stands as a kind of unhealed singularity in the middle of Miura's ongoing tale, a vicious disruption that divides the landscape, looming black in the background no matter how much distance you put between you and it.
This film is all about the Eclipse. But it's a different Eclipse, a fitfully effective shadow of the original. The reason is the same as it was in the second film, and goes back to all that talk of character threads and human tapestries. Toshiyuki Kubooka and Studio 4°C's films have the same basic structure as Miura's original, but they've simplified the tapestry, trimmed the threads. They've glossed over complexities, smoothed away human textures. It's an inevitable byproduct of Ichiro Okouchi's streamlined plot. All along details have been lost, characters' roles foreshortened, events left out or combined with others. And this is where we reap the dubious benefits. Pared of the context that made them so piercingly tragic and further weakened by technical shortcomings (we'll get into that later), the events that once scorched us black now merely singe.
Mind you, it's a heck of a singe. Even with their excoriating power diminished, these are still the same events, and they've got muscle. Enough muscle, in fact, that they can disguise what a clunker of a movie this really is, the gut-punch of the Eclipse's progression eclipsing—pun totally intended—the film's persistent digest feel. All that tangled history with the Berserk franchise doesn't help either. It can be damnably hard to untangle what feelings are inherent to the film and which are left over from the franchise's earlier incarnations. Often those leftovers heighten the experience beyond what it deserves, but the brevity of the effects betrays them for what they are: not the fresh pain of new wounds, but the dull ache of old scabs torn away.
It's increasingly clear how much of the clunkiness is director Toshiyuki Kubooka's fault. There are, of course, the glaring issues: mainly with the awful 3DCG character animation, which makes Guts and the rest look like awkward video game avatars. But there are subtler problems too. An over-reliance on flashy computer effects for magical happenings, making them feel too clean and modern. A lack of emotional shading in the performances he elicits. A quiet dearth of imagination in framing and composition. Stop-start pacing and a marked clumsiness in connecting scenes, emphasizing the spliced-together nature of the condensed script. Even individual scenes—his strength in previous films—seem more poorly assembled; not so much cheap as lacking an intuitive grasp of their purpose and strengths, of their subtleties and implications.
When 4°C gets extra showboaty, things can get pretty interesting—Griffith's transformation into Femto is gloriously weird—but, for all its technical shortcomings, the rough-hewn imagery of Takahashi's production, now nearly twenty years old, is brutally superior, infinitely more mythic.
Kubooka also uses Shiro Sagisu's score in ugly ways. It's a good score, especially the big, soaring themes, but when Kubooka thrusts, say, a cheesy burst of overwrought strings (repeatedly) into the film's most devastating scene, that distracts rather than heightens.
Viz's dub continues to acquit itself honorably, which continues to be a bit of a surprise given how dishonorably the same cast performed the same material back in their Media Blasters days. The strain of all the oppressive emotion starts to show, resulting in some less-than-natural performances, but what they lack in conviction and polish the actors make up for in color and verve. Especially when compared to the under-acted Japanese. The script remains tight and faithful, if not spectacularly creative.
Viz's Blu-ray comes in a standard Blu-ray case with a nice, crisp hi-def transfer. The film looks as good on a big screen as its terrible CG will allow it. For extras, the disc includes a passel o' promos, a music video for a lame theme song, a decent collection of conceptual art, and an interview with 4°C honcho Eiko Tanaka with terrible audio and standard-issue answers to standard-issue questions. Far better are the outtakes, all fifty minutes of them—twenty for this film and, interestingly, an additional thirty for the first. Both collections are more fun than the movie is, but the outtakes for Advent are especially side-splitting—perhaps because of the contrast with the horrifying content.
There's plenty more to say about Advent. A warning about the content would certainly not go amiss. The sexual content in particular is more disturbing even than what the famously transgressive TV series would allow. A mention of the film's reach—it extends past the television version, into the aftermath of the Eclipse—would also be proper. But ultimately, it's all moot. In the end this is a film, along with its two mates, that simply has no compelling reason to exist.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Excellent outtakes.
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