Berserk - movie 1

Rating: 3

A boy born from a hanged woman. A sword capable of defeating semi-divine beings. A beautiful mercenary leader. Ambition so all-consuming that it destroys souls, friendships, love, and the barrier between worlds. Mythological creatures walking the earth.

MIURA Kentarou (三浦 建太郎) started writing his epic manga in 1990: the first few chapters look like a supernatural splatter horror story, with the main character Guts felling monsters with his huge sword. By the third volume we get to see a 11-volume long flash-back: how Guts became a mercenary, how he got recruited into Griffith's "Band of the Hawk", how Griffith got induced into the group of semi-divine beings known as the God Hand. There follows and increasingly confused series of battles, wars, political ploys, and various levels of magic. We're now up to the 36th volume, with on end in sight. The pacing of the manga is very variable: sometimes dozens of pages are spent on a battle that lasts only a few minutes, sometimes weeks pass between pages; we may get very detailed briefings on socio-political situations, or we may just get "this is the king, he's evil". Despite this, the manga is still gripping, and I'm still buying it (we get about 1 volume a year…).

The first part of the story, up to about volume 14, was adapted as an animated series between 1997 and 1998, to a mixed reception. To fit the story into 25 episodes, much had to be cut and reworked, which didn't please some fans, even if all changes were approved by the author.

Now, a relatively unknown production company has embarked in a much more ambitious project: adapting the whole story into a series of movies. During the opening credits, we see images of most of the characters, including some that were introduced in the last few volumes published, which at the very least shows that the production is committed to the whole project.

The first movie covers about 6-7 volumes' worth of story starting from the 3rd volume, compressing some spans of time, skipping over some sub-plots, relegating some back-story to flash-backs. I suspect that someone who's not read the manga would not get the whole significance of some of these flash-backs (Guts' relationship with his father, for example), but maybe they were considered just important enough to include, but not enough to devote much time to.

Of course, this is a first movie in a trilogy, which is itself only going to cover a third or maybe a fourth of the manga. There's no way to get proper closure, but it still stands pretty well on its own: you want to see the rest of the story, but you don't feel short-changed for it.

What I did feel short-changed for, though, is the quality of the animation. It's completely computer-generated, and if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say there was very little motion capture involved (more probably none at all). Movements and facial expressions are wooden, acceleration curves are unnatural, the lighting model feels wrong. It's very similar technology to that employed for the recent Appleseed movies: it looks like cell-shaded machinima, not feature-quality animation. I was repeatedly jarred out of the story by some shortcoming of the animation, and I feel this lets down the entire movie.

If you like that kind of animation, or are better at ignoring its problems than I am, you'll find this a very good movie. But even with its visual flaws, it's still a promising beginning to a hugely ambitious project that I'd love to see to the end.

DatesCreated: 2013-01-21 21:15:33 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24