Kentarō Miura’s “Berserk” manga series is a dark and brutal fantasy epic that began in 1990 and is still going strong to this day. It was very popular for being such an adult and graphically violent series, earning an anime show in 1997. Since the series is still ongoing, and the overarching plotline is still very unresolved, the show covered one of the lengthier story arcs that was complete, allowing it to have a beginning, a middle, and an end (albeit a bloody and depressing one). This was the Golden Age Arc, the story which covers the earlier life of the brutal protagonist Guts and his time spent among the mercenary Band of the Hawk, led by the brilliant and mysterious Griffith. This arc still seems the best place to begin for, fourteen years after the show ended, the “Golden Age Arc” movie trilogy chose the same exact storyline to adapt. This is a reboot of the story, meaning there are no ties to the previous incarnations in the anime series. All of the voice actors are different, the animation is different, and the music is different, although Susumu Hirasawa (who did the music for the anime series) did provide the movie’s title theme.
“The Egg of the King” begins with a war. It’s a fitting start for a mercenary’s tale, and that’s exactly what Guts (Hiroaki Iwanaga) is; a sword-for-hire. He manages to bring down a famously powerful enemy in a duel amidst the chaos, earning him the notice of the Band of the Hawk, an elite group of mercenaries. After initially being attacked by them, he’s recruited into their ranks by the uncanny skill and strategy of the leader, Griffith (Takahiro Sakurai). Griffith has a dream to rule his own kingdom, despite having come from humble origins (in medieval times the class system was big, making his goal unlikely to say the least). By winning battles and rising in the ranks among the nobility, it seems almost like his impossible dream could become a reality. Guts becomes his right hand in his unstoppable rise to power, something which reeks of fate and a sense of foreboding.
The animation is somewhat striking in this, and probably what distinguishes it most from the show. A lot of characters are rendered using computer generated models, as opposed to traditional 2D animation. This was done for one reason only, and that was to stage the war scenes. There’s no stressing the difficulty it requires to animated hundreds of hand drawn characters in an epic battle scene, so for this movie the problem was dealt with using CG models. It allows for dynamic camera angles over a battlefield in which every character is performing simultaneous actions. As far as the eye can see in some shots, people are hacking away at each other. It gives the war scenes a sense of depth and chaos, but unfortunately at the cost of smoother character animations. While it’s hardly distracting, the more computer rendered characters often move stiffly and don’t seem as natural as they do when they’re stationary or animated normally. At times, it’s as though the individual frame rate takes a dip and characters seem to move in a strange slow motion. It’s not always the case, but it’s noticeable at times nonetheless. The rest of the animation is fantastic. Kentarō Miura’s character designs look as unique and memorable as ever, and the lush, colorful backgrounds bring vibrancy to an otherwise dark and bloody story.
Giving the short running time and the amount of story they adapted into a single movie, I was very impressed by the story’s pacing. Given that a movie’s pacing differs greatly from that of a comic or a show, I was surprised by how faithful they managed to be without feeling rushed or forcing every little detail into the plot. We are given all that’s necessary to move the story along and develop the characters. In fact, I wish the movie was longer. Part one of this arc is short and sweet, ending somewhat abruptly on the promise of more.
I thought it nearly impossible to replace the actors from the show, but the voice acting here is very good, and each performer feels pretty natural in their respective roles. The story focuses heavily on the relationship between Griffith and Guts. The two of them seem different in almost every way. Guts is a lost soul who knows only how to kill things with his overly large sword while Griffith is a strategist and an expert fencer ruled by his desire to fulfill his dreams. Their relationship is a strange one, for in Griffith’s eyes he owns Guts, body and soul. There are others among the Band of the Hawk, such as the group’s female warrior Casca (Toa Yukinari), but their presence is reduced in the movie due to the short running time.
Taken into account that there’s an anime show and the original manga telling this exact same story, does this movie version do anything different? Not really. If you're one who's seen the show and/or read the comics, then there’s likely nothing here you haven’t already seen done (and done really well). That said, on its own merits “The Egg of the King” is a strong adaptation and perfect entry point for newcomers to the series.