Immortal Soldier, volume two of this dark, violent, swords-and-sorcery anime series picks up the story of beefy, sword-wielding warrior 'Guts' and his adventures with mercenary boy-soldiers the 'Band of the Hawk' where volume 1 War Cry left off. Having proven themselves in battle, the Hawk have earned a knighthood for their enigmatic leader Griffith, and a permanent place in the King of Midland's regiments. However, a commoner such as Griffith taking such a prominent and influential position at court ruffles the feathers of the nobles and ministers already ensconced there. Soon schemes begin to be hatched against him and his loyal followers. But hey - results talk and bullshit walks, as they say, and while Guts keeps winning battles, these young brigands ain't goin' nowhere fast…
Episode 6: Zodd the Immortal
With the Hawk breaking through into yet another enemy castle, Guts and his raiders attempt to clear the remaining defenders from the keep. However, little do they know that a huge demon - Nosferatu Zodd - is fighting on the side of their foe. Soon all of Guts' raiders are dead and Griffith himself goes in to help his friend. Zodd is more than a match for the two strongest of the Hawks warriors, but he guttos-out at the last minute after spotting Griffith's Beilet - a funny shaped, blood-red necklace thingy.
Episode 7: The Sword's Owner
Guts and Griffith may be recuperating after their narrow escape, but the Hawk are now the most successful division in the King's army. However, it's success that also brings jealousy from the other nobles at court, especially the King's scheming brother the Earl of Yurius. Griffith's keen eye also spots a beautiful lady at court - the king's daughter Charlotte. Sparks they are a flyin…
Episode 8: Conspiracy
Yet another impossible task for the Hawk - an impenetrable castle blocking the only route over the river dividing Midland and Chuder. How will they breach the castle and defeat the Blue Whale Heavy Assault Knights? Sneakily from behind that's how! And, as usual, Guts is the man of the hour. For the victory, Sir Griffith is made Count, much to the chagrin of Yurius whose own division, the White Dragons, are quickly loosing face at court. And so an assassination plot is hatched...
Episode 9: Assassination
The royal fox hunt is joined, with the Band of the Hawk taking the pride of place as escorts to the gentry. When Griffith rides off after the princess and her skittish horse, he is shot by a poison arrow, But yet again the Beilet saves his life! With the plot foiled, Griffith sends Guts to pay Yurius a very special visit...
Unfortunately, while continuing the so-called plot from the first volume, volume two also continues the series' many problems. Somewhat clunky and rather dull, the central narrative is painfully slow and far too obfuscated to permit reasonable character development. So too, the motivation of the central characters is kept from the viewer, and their actions, therefore, must be taken at face value. Maybe they'll explain it all in the last episode, but as it is the resulting level of empathy felt for the characters, even at the end of episode nine (more than a third the way through the 25 episode series) is abysmally low; a fatal flaw for a series in which the majority of characters risk their lives in bloody battle every two minutes. The level of blood and gore is certainly maintained from the earlier episodes, maybe even increased, but it's all wasted on a bunch of characters you just don't care about.
Continuing the audio and video presentation from the first volume, Madman's full-frame transfer remains a tad below their normally high standard in anime for DVD; mainly due to deficiencies in the source material and telecine job. Colours are again full and rich, and in general blacks are deep and solid. The exception is one instance in episode 8 where some low-level noise can be seen in an image filled almost completely with shadow. The almost constant level of background grain that appeared in the first five episodes can also be seen here, as can the light peppering of film artefacts and the small yet regular amount of telecine wobble. Apart from the one instance of low-level noise, Madman's compression job is impeccable; with no instances of posterisation or chroma noise sullying the large expanses of bright colour. Basically, in terms of quality volume two is a carbon copy of the first disc.
Similarly, the Dolby Digital stereo mixes, in both Japanese and English, also continue in identical fashion to the first disc. Firmly ensconced in the front soundstage, the mix contains little in the way of channel separation and makes only cursory use of the surround channel. A small number of effects do find their way to the rear - several explosions and ambient sounds such as distant birds - but nothing to get excited about. Meanwhile, the all-important dialogue remains clear and distinct from the centre speaker throughout - the Japanese easily being the language of choice - and separation across the front channels is minimal. The subwoofer is effectively silent.
I'm sorry to report that the promised improvement in Berserk from the second volume onward never actually eventuated. Well, not for me at least. This is a shame because I was really looking forward to enjoying Berserk; a series that has all the makings of a classic. That is to say it has lashings of bloody violence :).
Still, if, unlike me, you got a kick out of the first volume of Berserk, then you'll again find much to like here.