Monday, December 10, 2012

Anime Gets Medieval: Berserk the Golden Age Arc I—The Egg of the King

They were not called dark ages for nothing.  Battlefield carnage and an inflexible class system are the realities of the day.  Yet, the charismatic leader of a band of mercenaries has unthinkably lofty aspirations in Toshiyuki Kubooka’s Berserk the Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King (trailer here), the feature anime adaptation of Kentara Miura’s popular manga series, recently released on DVD and Blu-ray by Viz Media.

The relatively young looking Guts is a ferocious sword-for-hire if paid well enough, but he is not a joiner.  Nonetheless, the mysterious Griffith is determined to recruit him for his “Band of the Hawk” mercenary troupe.  While Guts easily overpowers Griffith’s best warriors, including the fiercely loyal Casca, he is no match for their angelically effeminate leader.  Bested in a fair fight, Guts swears fealty to Griffith, quickly becoming his favorite.

Thanks to Guts’ reckless courage, the Band of the Hawk earns the gratitude of the Midland Kingdom.  Much to the shock and disdain of the nobility, Griffith is rewarded with a title.  However, he has even further ambitions, including catchy the eye of the Princess.  It will probably end badly if you believe the prophecy of Nosferatu Zodd, but you can’t always accept the word of giant demonic mercenaries.

While the Berserk series was produced in Japan (with the original Japanese soundtrack available as a DVD option for purists), it was clearly shaped by the Medieval Europe that served as the foundation of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and most subsequent epic fantasy series.  Yet, the anti-heroism of Egg is rather distinctive.  Indeed, the opening battle sequences are unusually stylishly by anime standards, yet surprisingly brutal.

Intended for mature audiences, Egg should be considered anime for Game of Thrones fans.  Blood will definitely run.  There is even some brief fan service provided by Casca.  While most of the target audience is probably already familiar with the franchise characters, new arrivals pretty much have to roll with the punches.  We can glean there were some difficult childhoods in the past, forging everyone into lethal warriors.  Of course, how much characterization do you need in the middle of a full scale siege?

As dark and moody as Egg gets, it never lets the angst interfere with the action.  As a result, the awkwardly titled Berserk the Golden Age Arc I: the Egg of the King delivers all kinds of hack-and-slash, making it a fitting stocking stuffer for a reasonably “grown-up” fantasy fanatic awaiting the new season of Thrones and the final Wheel of Time novel.  Recommended pretty enthusiastically for genre and anime fans that prefer blood and guts over magical devices, Berserk … King is now available for home viewing from Viz.