Review: Berserk Movies 1-3

Toshiyuki Kubooka
Studio 4°C
Manga Entertainment

Now this may be a little late considering that the third Berserk movie came out on DVD in the UK almost a month ago, but now that I’ve had the chance to watch it, alongside the other two in the series, now seems like a good time to discuss the three Berserk movies.

If you don’t already know, Berserk is a dark fantasy manga by Kentaro Miura, that’s really popular among seasoned otaku everywhere. It’s well known for being gruesome, violent and very dark in tone, with its main character Guts (such a badass name) devoted to turning every monster and human that crosses his path into a huge bloodstain with his giant sword. It had an anime series a while back that covered the same part of the manga as the movies did, but we’re not here to talk about that right now, we’re here to discuss the latest attempt to adapt it, and all in all I’ve gotta say…it’s not great.

Well not great might be a bit too much, the high points are really high but the movies have a couple of problems, pretty big ones. The biggest problem with it is some really strange stylistic decisions that have been made in the animation, CG gets to play a huge role in a good chunk of the scenes but it just looks really strange and takes you out of the experience. So you’ll be happy watching the very good looking 2D animation and then all of a sudden bam! Weird looking CG models replace the characters and it takes you right out of the story. I wont deny that it does become less noticeable in the second and third films, so it seems like Studio 4°C were finding their feet with the animation.

The other problem I have with it is that a good chunk of story content from the manga gets cut in the first film, which is probably why it’s 30 minutes shorter than the other two. Now the content that they choose to cut is all of Guts’ origin story before he joins the Band of the Hawk, where the story really picks up. This won’t be a problem for you if you read the manga first but if you didn’t, you’re missing out on a lot of very interesting character development for one of the most interesting protagonists around, and that’s a damn shame.

But beyond these two problems the films are good adaptions of the source material, they don’t do any more serious cutting after the first film and it adapts a lot of iconic scenes very skillfully. The action is visceral and entertaining once you get past the funny looking CG and the story is excellent, which isn’t surprising because it’s Berserk. It explores the same themes and characters and is successful in getting you to care about characters like Guts and the Band of the Hawk members. It also sets up that the movies are going to keep being made to adapt the rest of the manga, unlike the anime series of years ago which ended and never continued. Some of my favorite characters make little appearances in the background as the movies go on and it was a joy to see them and think ahead to where the films could go.

To round this review off, the three Berserk movies are pretty good. The story they adapt needs no introduction, and beyond some strange looking CG use it looks very pretty. The fact that they cut a good chunk of character development out really sucks though. I’m definitely not against someone watching this, but I’d suggest reading the manga first, that makes it an interesting retelling. Or you could read the manga after and see what you missed, either way is fine.