Thursday, 10 June 2021

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II - The Battle for Doldrey



Toshiyuki Kubooka's Berserk trilogy continues with Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II - The Battle for Doldrey, a more assured attempt at adapting Kentaro Miura's long-running, now never-ending, manga. The lifeless computer animated dolls, that stood out like a sore thumb in Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King, have melted into the background for this sequel. Although figures and their movement routines are still often sourced with 3D animation techniques, Kubooka's follow-up does a much better job of arranging them in ways that are sympathetic to tone and visual style of the overall piece. While it's likely every single frame has at least some element of computer-assisted correction, the stuttering, glaringly artificial, touch that marred the previous film is largely absent. 

The Battle for Doldrey's server banks are instead used to provide the massive backgrounds and frothing extras that add a sense of scale to events that teeter on the edge of world-changing. Tolkien-sized castles come under siege - hammered with rotting livestock hurled from enormous trebuchets; scaled by expendable knights who are blasted and burnt for their trouble. When considering our main characters, a digital affect is most obvious in the film's swirling, repetitive, action. Real, observational, detail remains pointedly two dimensional - hand animators trusted to communicate snarling disgust or the first prickles of human affection. For their centrepiece, Kubooka and his animators quote the swirling, simulated, ballroom of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, staging a choreographed dance in which The Band of the Hawk (now elevated to the level of nobility as a reward for their consistent military successes) effortlessly match the Baroque movements of a ruling class who previously spat on them.

Where The Egg of the King centred Guts and his horrifying past, Battle for Doldrey selects Casca, the Hawk's only female commander, when exploring an interior perspective. Her early life, much like Guts', was one marked by violence and cruelty. Casca is preoccupied with one moment in particular, Griffith rescuing her from a brutal nobleman attempting to rape her. In Casca's recollection Griffith is a beautiful fairy tale prince who towers on his horse, radiating light and warmth - a prophet portrayed as an armoured innocent. Casca's dream is at odds with her slowly dawning realisation that this outwardly angelic man views people in stark, transactional, terms. Clarifying this point, Griffith concludes the film by mechanically seducing a na├»ve Princess, partly to subsume his fixation on a now departed Guts, but also to reassert the sexual power that underlines his hold over other people. While Princess Charlotte responds, delightedly, to his every touch and tweak, Griffith remains impassive. When their mouths first meet, Griffith doesn't even close his eyes. 

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