Following the first entry in the Golden Age Trilogy, The Battle for Doldrey manages to surpass its predecessor in almost every regard. After a brief recap of the first film, we’re thrown right back into battle accompanied by “Aria”, the theme composed by the great Susumu Hirasawa. I also need to make mention of the rest of the fantastic music here, done by Shiro Sagisu, which is fittingly dark and brooding.
The Band of the Hawk has been on a winning streak in the Hundred Years War, earning considerable renown in the kingdom of Midland. Guts is still hacking away at everything in sight, contributing more than his fare share to the glory of the lowborn band of mercenaries. Their exploits earn Griffith a spot at the King’s war council, where he undertakes the challenge of recapturing Doldrey, a long thought impenetrable fortress. He not only wants to take this fortress, but he sets out to do so using only 5,000 men against its modest 30,000. The movie can be divided into two basic halves, the first contains the bloody and brutal campaign that the series is known for, and the second is the character drama of the aftermath. In both cases, the movie works extremely well. Much like the first, director Naoyuki Onda knows how to pace the story, cutting what he needs to and keeping in all that is necessary without sacrificing the flow. The result is a very tightly packed drama with a lot of development for even some of the lesser characters that went somewhat ignored in the first entry. The other captains, who were little more than extras before, are now given important roles to establish who they are, particularly the female warrior Casca.
The battles are epic in scope and don’t overstay their welcome. There’s only so much hacking and slashing that we need to see, so the fights scenes are kept fast and decisively brutal. With his giant sword, Guts tears through enemies like they’re made of tissue paper. In the end, the movie flows much better, not having to deal with large gaps of time and keeping a more focused view on the characters and their struggles, linking the main three together with their brutal, cruel pasts.
There are plenty of stories and subplots that were cut from either the original comic or the animated series, but they're done so efficiently, leaving the main story unhindered by their absence. Where the movie really distinguishes itself however, is in what’s new. Given that an entire show has already covered this exact material, much of it is familiar to say the least. This time however, there are new sequences that you won’t find in any other version of the story, and this is what was missing from the previous movie. Taking liberties for the sake of diversity is not unwelcome in a retelling.
Keeping with the animation style of the trilogy, the movie is a blend of CG and more traditional animation. The 3D models are used predominately for the battle scenes, allowing for a lot of characters to flesh out the massive armies onscreen. When these characters are shown up close, it’s still a bit stiff, but it’s also a noticeable improvement over the first movie. It’s used sparingly and often intermixed with the regular animation, making it considerably less obvious throughout. Like I said, it’s a major improvement. The rest of the animation is stunningly beautiful, particularly in the gorgeous backdrops and colorful locations. The city of Windham, during the parade for the Band of the Hawk as flower petals fall from the sky is particularly triumphant and memorable, just as the morning light creeping in through the trees over a hundred man massacre in the forest is equally haunting and oddly serene.
I enjoyed The Egg of the King quite a bit, but The Battle for Doldrey is an improvement in almost every way. It has a better grasp on the characters and their complexities, improves on the animation style, and just tells another great part of an incredible story.