Berserk Vol. #3 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B
  • Video Rating: B-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Media Blasters
  • MSRP: 29.95
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Berserk

Berserk Vol. #3

By paul     October 09, 2002
Release Date: September 24, 2002



The Review!
Audio:
Thankfully, this volume appears to be free of the dropout problems I encountered on the previous volume. The technical production of the show, including the audio, does serviceable justice to the original source material, which is frequently poorly mixed. The audio engineers who originally put this show together either had little time or little talent, or perhaps little of either. Sound effects all appear to be recorded unnatural volumes, frequently sounding murky and muddled, and with little subtlety in the ambient effects. If you are looking for a show to test out your fancy sound system, look somewhere else.

Video:
If anything, this set of episodes looks a bit worse than previous volumes. The print, especially in the second episode on this disc, is quite dirty. Overall, the video mastering is adequate. Again, this is not a technically impressive show, but the DVD production is transparent and unobtrusive, looking good enough to show off the flaws in the source materials.

Packaging:
In Berserk, Media Blasters has their first real masterpiece in terms of DVD packaging. As with previous volumes, the keepcase is a blood red Alpha, accentuating the detail and trim from the cover. On the front is Griffith, looking lean and hungry and determined. The back perfectly sets up the intensity of the episodes contained within. Again, in typical Media Blasters fashion, the insert is nearly useless, giving more service to advertising other Media Blasters titles, failing even to list the respective episode titles.

Menus:
It's a good thing I like the menus for Berserk a lot, since volume 3 uses the same menu as volumes 1 and 2.

Extras:
Extras include storyboards, a handful of production sketches, the requisite English-dub outtakes, the original TV opening, and a clean ending. I am not entirely sure what the differences between the original TV opening and the clean opening are, perhaps some subtle changes to the title card. The more interesting extra on this disc is the storyboard section that animates the entire fourth episode on this disc with the original production sketches. It's amazing that they were able to extract a show from the sometimes nonsensical scrawls and scribbles shown here, but if you ever wanted to see a show in raw form, this is an excellent, and perhaps the rawest, example I have seen in a while. For some reason, this extra uses only the English dub version (perhaps a requirement by the licensors) and has no inner chapter stops, but those issues hardly diminish from what is a very nice, and well assembled extra.

Content:
(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)

So far, the pattern for Berserk has been one awful episode followed by several delightful episodes. What a wonderful surprise, then, that this collection of episodes is solid, varied, and terribly entertaining, with nary a dud among them. I am really starting to understand why people love this show so much.

Things get started off with a real bang as Guts continues on his mission to assassinate Count Yurius in retaliation for his attempt on Griffith's life. While Guts has always been little more than a sword for hire, there is something different about him this time around. This time, he acts, not so much out of a sense of personal gain or reward, but out of something approaching loyalty and responsibility. In a moment of tragic urgency, the mission goes horribly wrong. In an instant of pure instinct, one simple error leaves Guts responsible for a terrible mistake. In the scenes that follow, we see Guts, not as a mercenary, but as a confused and frightened man, full of remorse, and unable to make sense of his sins. In these few scenes, we see Guts as the man he has become, grown and nearly unrecognizable from that angry youth we met only a few episodes ago.

The second half of the episode, in a way, feels very much like a totally separate episode. While Guts is knee-deep in the dirty side of political assassination, Griffith is fully ensconced in the more visible work of castle politics, and we see him in the world of grand balls and noble ideals. The better part of this episode is taken up by a stirring monologue by Griffith in which he spells out his philosophy, a fascinating exposition, which taken at surface meaning is appealing, but carries with it a darker shade of Griffith's master plan. A lesser show would never have allowed its characters to go on so long, but credit Berserk for Griffith's speech is never boring, frequently riveting, and wonderfully thought-provoking. The expressions on Guts' and Caska's faces as they listen to their master are wonderful. We can see in them admiration, inspiration, devotion, and suddenly surprise as the darkness of his words sink in. From the first episode of the series, we know that the Band of the Hawk is doomed, but perhaps in this moment, a scene of ideals and ideology, the seeds for that doom are sown.

The next episode features Griffith and the Band of the Hawk's toughest mission yet, a large-scale engagement with the armies of Chuder. During the battle, Caska, weakened by a fever and uncomfortable from her period, falls to the buffoonish Chuder general who serves both as the series' comic relief and Griffith's main military rival. Guts rushes to her aide, and the two find themselves separated from the rest of the army, and given up for dead.

This sets up the remainder of the episodes, in which Guts and Caska must work together to survive. Given that their only real interaction up until this point in the series has been bickering over details of leadership of the band, it is quite satisfying to see that Guts and Caska have real chemistry between them. We learn quite a bit about Caska, including her reasons for following Griffith and her determination to be taken seriously as a warrior. Guts picks up on this quickly, driving Caska to overcome her illness and encouraging her reach her potential. In return, Guts seems to draw some comfort in her company, something that the younger, solitary would never have found pleasurable. The disc ends, unfortunately, on a particularly nasty cliffhanger, a situation which Guts and Caska will almost certainly not escape unscathed. In fact, for them to escape or be rescued would be a betrayal of the harsh and violent world that the show has created for them. We watch, knowing these characters are doomed, wanting them to be saved, wanting them to find happiness and peace, but knowing that they will not. We watch, knowing that the worst will come to pass, but still wanting to know how these characters will respond. In Berserk, perhaps more than any other series in recent memory, it is not so much the events that draw us in, but the context for those events.

In all, these episodes featured some fascinating storytelling, and would have easily earned an A- rating from me, except for the fact that the show looks and sounds awful so much of the time. I am certainly not one to believe that flashy animation and surround sound makes for a good show, and Berserk is not a bad show for having cheap animation and sound design. Quite the contrary, Berserk is rapidly becoming a truly excellent show. However, it could have been better, with a slightly larger budget and slightly greater care by the production team.

There are flashes of brilliance here, especially Guts's prophetic dream / memory in the sewers of Midland Keep and the faded pastels and weeping strings of Caska's flashback – scenes unrivaled by anything in the first two volumes. The extended fight scene in the last episode on this disc is masterful, with surprisingly vibrant, fluid animation occasionally. But at the same time, the battle scene in the second episode, are completely mishandled, lacking establishing shots and ambient sound effects to give a sense of the scale of the battle. This show is so good that I feel comfortable recommending it, but at the same time, I feel like I have to apologize for its production values, and that continues to bother me.

Even so, production flaws aside, this is rapidly becoming one of the most satisfying animated experience available in the Region 1 marketplace for mature viewers. Having only seen about half of the series up to now, it is an easy recommendation, a recommendation that grows stronger with each release and each episode. With its shocking twists, dark revelations, and engaging characters, I am eagerly waiting to find out what happens next.



Review Equipment
Panasonic Panablack TV, Codefree Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)

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